The novel I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier makes use of many sophisticated narrative and textual features as well as a twisting plotline. Due to this, many teenage readers find this novel confusing, pointless and unenjoyable. However there are a number of teenage readers who relate to, understand and even enjoy this novel. There are numerous reasons for this. The reasons for young adults not enjoying this novel are use of complicated narrative structure, textual features, vocabulary and the etymology of this, the context of this novel and the ever-changing plot.
The reasons why I Am the Cheese should not be considered a mind-boggling, deliberately confusing detective story with no real ‘solution’ are its targeted audience, its purpose, plot and its benefits. Many readers find I Am the Cheese mind-boggling, and deliberately confusing due to the style this novel is written in, mainly the narrative structure used. The novel I Am the Cheese is written from three perspectives, a third-person limited when Adam is retelling his memories and two first person voices during the taped interview.
The constant switching between characters and keeping track of who is who can be very confusing. This will put many people off the novel. The textual features used in this novel, particularly those relating to the narrative structure, used also create problems for the average reader. Strong use of descriptive languages in some parts then an instantaneous switch to long sentences of confusing, difficult to track dialogue. This is particularly obvious in the tapes of the interview when the reader must remember each character by only a letter.
Also many of this descriptive language is rather heavy reading in places and this can make people who prefer a novel that is easy reading and can be read anywhere with no real drain of the mind to avoid I Am the Cheese. Added to these problems is of course the problem of the ever-changing plotline. Many readers, particularly people who skim read, find novels in which they must constantly keep flicking back pages to find what is missing immensely annoying and time wasting. The novel I Am the Cheese is one of these novels.
If you accidentally skip a page then at some point in the foreseeable future you will start scratching your head and wonder what is going on. This detracts from the enjoyment and readability of this novel. The fact there is no tangible solution to this novel annoys many readers. The fact the end of the novel is a repeat of the start can be confusing to most readers. It shows that nothing has been achieved making readers feel like their time ahs been wasted reading the book An additional difficulty readers face reading this novel is the context in which it is written.
This story was written in the 1970’s and the novel reflects the attitudes, thoughts and beliefs of Robert Cormier at the time. This can potentially make this novel much more challenging for people of a later time period. Many of the fears expressed in this novel, particularly the corrupt government are, while relevant in part today, out dated and in the minds of today’s readers, cliched. The final problem people find with this novel is the etymology of words, particularly those relevant to the context. Many of the words, particularly slang terms, are from the 1970’s and these words have since been taken out of our everyday language.
This leads to confusion in students as they don’t know what these words mean and looking each one up detracts from enjoyment. Also attached to this is the problem of simply not understanding the everyday words. The vocabulary used in I Am the Cheese is rather complex in itself and readers of lower reading level will struggle through it. This of course makes the novel seem deliberately confusing to many readers. This novel is not mind-boggling, and deliberately confusing to other readers because they are part of the audience it is aimed at. The novel was never aimed at low-level readers.
This was aimed at people who would both relate to and understand Cormier’s style of writing. So while it may be confusing to some readers, there are people who will enjoy and understand it. This is supported by the writing style used and the context in which it is written. By writing in the way Cormier has he assumes that people have at least some background knowledge of events in America during the 60’s and 70’s, proves that he is writing for more learned readers. I Am the Cheese is not deliberately confusing in its themes. Themes of a novel define how readers react to it.
This novel depicts one persons struggle against the government, a search for identity, the loss of family and the loss of one’s self which is something that many people can relate to. By allowing people to relate to his novel Robert Cormier sought to avoid people finding the undercurrent of his novel confusing. Whilst the plot seems confusing in I Am the Cheese it is not necessarily confusing. In actual fact the events in the first person narrative aspects in the plot are reflected in the interview process. Each piece of first person experience gives a new set of questions for the interview.
These questions lead to more first person retelling and so on in a cycle. This shows that while the plot seems to be confusing in fact it is simply a logical progression from event to event. Also attached to this is the solution to this novel. The fact that this novel has no quantifiable solution in itself is the solution. The lack of solution and the fact that the books ending is also its beginning shows that humanity’s struggle against oppression and corruption is never ending. This novel should be enjoyed by many readers is because of its many relevant benefits.
The novel I Am the Cheese teaches many positive values such as sticking by your family, resistance against adversity and of course old fashioned courage. These are all demonstrated in Adam’s life and in particular his discussion with Brint and the bicycle ride to Rutterburg. Another set of benefits are the tangible ones. These benefits are increased knowledge, vocabulary and the joy of challenging one’s horizons. These benefits may not have been intentional, however, they add much to the readers understanding both of the novel and of life.
While it can not be denied that I Am the Cheese is a complicated and sophisticated novel, the varying responses of readers show that it attracts and repels people for many reasons. These reasons are its plotline, use of sophisticated vocabulary and textual features and it’s context. I believe that the values, issues and knowledge that this novel teaches makes this novel well worth while for all young adults. Even if they struggle through the novel, the end reward of increased knowledge is more than enough to compensate.
I Am the Cheese may be mind-boggling and deliberately confusing and in places written far beyond the sophistication level of young adults but they will not increase their sophistication without novels of this calibre. As the African Proverb says “Smooth seas do not skilful sailors make. ” I disagree that I Am the Cheese is a mind-boggling, deliberately confusing detective story with no real ‘solution’, written far beyond the sophistication level of young adults even though these negatives put forward above far outweigh, in quantity at least, the positives.