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BACKGROUND INFORMATION / BIOGRAPHY
Robert Cormier was born, lived, and died in the small town of Leominster, Massachusetts. He was born the second of eight children in 1925. By the time he was in seventh grade, Cormier realized that he was a writer, and was declared so by his teacher, Sr. Catherine. However, not all of Cormier’s Catholic School experiences were so positive. A year after “becoming a writer,” in the eighth grade, Cormier saw his own house burning from his classroom window and was not allowed to see that his family was safe until his prayers were said. This event created a lasting impression on Cormier and can be seen in his many of his novels.
Cormier continued writing throughout his youth and eventually became a professional writer. His first paying piece was a story he wrote while attending Fitchburg State College. A teacher secretly typed a short story that Cormier had shown her (written in pencil) and submitted it to a magazine; he was paid seventy-five dollars.
After college, Cormier wrote ads for radio and, eventually, became a journalist. In 1948 he married. Cormier and his wife raised four children. He worked as a writer and editor, earning numerous journalism awards. However, it is the work done during the evening for which he is best known: in the evenings he worked on his novels.
The Chocolate War was published in 1974 and began Cormier’s career as a young adult author. While the book was well received at first, it soon became a subject of controversy. Due to it “inappropriate content” the novel became banned in libraries and schools across the nation.
For his great contribution to Young Adult literature, Cormier received the Margaret A. Edwards Award. Robert Cormier passed away in November of 2000; he was 75 years old.
His works include:
After the First Death Beyond the Chocolate War The Bumblebee Flies Anyway The Chocolate War Eight Plus One Fade Frenchtown Summer Heroes.
I Am the Cheese I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small Town Editor In the Middle of the Night Other Bells for Us to Ring Rag and Bone Shop: A Novel.
Tunes for Bears to Dance To We All Fall Down
LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION
This novel was published in 1977, which is very important to its overall theme of corruption in government. The 1960s were a particularly tumultuous decade in American history when many people began to distrust government. The Vietnam War and Watergate were two major factors that made many Americans lose faith in the integrity of the federal government.
The Vietnam War was the longest and probably most unpopular war the United States ever fought; 58,000 Americans died in the war. Students, and other activists, throughout the nation protested the war. The United States became involved in the war in 1955 and stayed in until 1973. Many Americans believed the government was sacrificing their sons for its own agenda. This theme can be seen in I Am the Cheese-the government agency sacrifices the Farmer/ Delmonte family for its own purposes, which are not explicit.
Watergate refers to political scandals under the administration of President Richard Nixon between 1972 and 1974. Watergate directly refers to the hotel into which burglars broke in, seeking the offices of the Democratic Party’s National Committee (Richard Nixon was a republican president). Essentially, this scandal illuminated corruption at the highest level of the government: the President. Nixon resigned, and America was left jaded.
These events expose a nation much different that the idyllic post-war 1950s (which, in truth was idyllic for only a few). Cormier writes I Am the Cheese within the context of these larger issues.