Heroes (novel)

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Heroes (novel)

Heroes is a 1998 novel written by Robert Cormier. The novel is centred on Francis Cassavant, who has just returned to his childhood home of Frenchtown, Monument (in Massachusetts) from serving in the Second World War in France, and has severe deformities as a result of an incident during the war.

Plot[edit]

Francis Cassavant has specifically returned to Frenchtown for a purpose, which is to kill Larry LaSalle. LaSalle was classed as a social good-doer at the time when he was encouraging Francis to take part in activities at the 'Wreck Centre' to bring him out of his shell. He is shown to bring out the best in people and uses his talents to teach others to dance and play sports. He introduces Francis to the sport of table tennis and teaches him how to play. Francis goes on to beat LaSalle in a table tennis competition and became well known as a 'table tennis champion'. His success in this sport at the Centre gives Francis a feeling of confidence and accomplishment, something which he had not previously experienced. However, we later find that Larry simply let him win. During this time, a new girl arrives at St Jude's School who he immediately falls in love with; Nicole Renard. She had moved from Albany, New York and Francis described her as "the most beautiful girl" he had ever seen, despite the fact that he is around twelve years old at the time. His relationship with Nicole Renard and the way he interacts with her reveals that Francis is an extremely dramatic character and describes emotions well beyond what most boys his age would experience. Shy and 'timid', Francis thought of Nicole constantly but never had the courage to talk to her until she started dancing at the 'Wreck Centre'. Nicole immediately becomes an important figure in the life of Francis following her introduction to the text. They begin to date and often visit the Plymouth (the local cinema) together. Their relationship is innocent and gentle, emphasizing their youth and inexperience in love.

However, the main plot of the story destroys their love when Larry LaSalle sexually assaults Nicole in the 'Wreck Center', the local community center, one night when on furlough. The 'Wreck Centre' had previously been a wedding hall, until a disastrous event happened where a woman called Marie Blanche Touraine was murdered during her wedding reception by her ex-boyfriend. The hall was later re-opened as the Rec. Centre, the locals of Frenchtown immediately referred to it as the 'Wreck Centre' instead, a name which foreshadows the later events of Nicole being raped by LaSalle.

Francis is pressured to leave the 'Wreck Centre' by LaSalle so he could have "one last dance" with Nicole, and did so because they always did what "Larry LaSalle told them to do". Despite the fact that Nicole specifically asked him to stay, Francis leaves as he has been brainwashed into doing whatever Larry LaSalle tells him to. Francis was nevertheless concerned about Nicole so he stayed outside the studio until it was over. However Francis then heard noises and realized that LaSalle was in fact assaulting Nicole. In a major panic, Francis had no idea what to do, perhaps out of cowardliness or maybe innocence, and did not go to help or protect Nicole. After the attack, Nicole, distraught, saw that Francis was still there and was extremely horrified by the thought of Francis not saving her. She feels extremely betrayed by Francis, who she previously regarded as her protector, as Francis told her that he would "never leave" her. Their relationship breaks down at this point.

For weeks afterwards, Francis tried to apologize to Nicole, but Nicole would not give him a chance to explain his actions. Therefore, Francis saw their relationship entirely broken, and heartbroken himself, decided to enlist for the army in World War II. Underage at fifteen or sixteen (His age is never specified in the novel but if he is based on Cormier as he seems to be, he was born in 1925, and if he joined the army in 1941 that would make him sixteen), he forged his birth certificate and went to fight in France.

We additionally learn that during his army experience in France, Francis obtained his facial injuries by jumping on a grenade; saving many men's lives. He then received a Silver Star Award for his bravery, and then returns to Frenchtown with "plenty of money" but with no happiness in the slightest.

In the end, when he meets Larry, LaSalle is surprised that Francis is distraught about what happened to her. LaSalle, however, claims that "we all love our sins". Although Francis he has already planned his actions and words against LaSalle, he cannot bring himself to kill Larry and walks away. As he leaves the building he hears a gunshot from Larry's room, revealing that Larry has shot himself. After the ordeal he visits Nicole, who has moved back to Albany, New York. She no longer wants to be a nurse but a teacher of English. We discover that Nicole never told anyone about the attack but tells Francis that staying in touch is a bad idea because of the memories that it will bring back to both of them. They both know that the affection that they once shared has now been lost anyway, so Francis decides to leave Nicole.

Themes[edit]

The themes of betrayal and trust are portrayed when we find that Francis' Uncle Louis is found to be a traitor and the Monument comb shop is closed down while the military police investigate. Some have said that this might be based on Cormier's father as Cormier wrote *during* Summer in Frenchtown that his father was very mysterious. The novel has a very complicated outlook on heroism and what defines a hero. Francis is considered to be a hero as his actions during the war saved the lives of others.

Characters[edit]

  • Francis Cassavant: the main protagonist of the book. He narrates the story in a series of flashbacks, after throwing himself on a grenade to supposedly save his fellow soldiers in the war. This disfigures his face badly; his skin being burnt, 'no ears to speak of except for bits of dangling flesh', his teeth being blown out by the explosion but replaced by dentures, his hair has also been described as falling out. Francis's nostrils are often spoken of as the physical disfigurement which plagues him the most, as they often run and have caused him to wear a bandage over them, secured with a pin at the back of his head which makes it difficult for him to clean. Francis tells how his unsightly appearance often shocks and disturbs passers-by, and as a measure to prevent this wears a white, silk aviator's scarf around the lower half of his face given to him by his hospital friend Enrico, and a Red Sox cap lowered down over his face. Whilst at school he met Nicole Renard and instantly fell in love with her, and continues to be so until at the end of the book. Francis is skilled at table-tennis after having been taught by Larry LaSalle at the 'Wreck Center', and in his Wreck Center days won a trophy for winning a series of table-tennis matches, culminating in the winning match against Larry LaSalle, despite LaSalle 'letting him win'. Although Francis did not enlist as he was not of age when the war began, after Nicole Renard was sexually assaulted and he, mentally traumatized, decided to 'kill himself'. He decided against jumping off the chapel top, and instead lied into the army and some time in the war threw himself on top of a grenade. His plan backfired as this did not kill him, merely mutilated him horribly, and his actions were seen as bravery for defending his comrades and he was given a Silver Star medal for outstanding courage. Throughout the book Francis's main mission is to wait for Larry LaSalle to come back to Frenchtown so he can shoot with a gun he carries in his duffel bag in revenge for LaSalle assaulting Nicole. However he leaves that job to Larry who kills himself anyway.
  • Nicole Renard: Nicole moves to Frenchtown from Albany and immediately becomes the subject of Francis's attention. Later she is involved in the events concerning Larry LaSalle, who taught her dancing in the 'Wreck Centre'. At the end of the novel, she returns to Albany in an attempt to escape the traumatic memories of her ordeal with LaSalle. Nicole has clearly moved on from the experience with Larry, when Francis visits near the end of the novel the love between the two has disappeared, something which deeply upsets Francis.
  • Larry LaSalle: LaSalle is the main antagonist of the novel, but during the earlier chapters he is described as a very positive and talented person. He holds classes at the Wreck Centre after his return to Frenchtown and uses his wide range of talents to bring out the best in the young people he works with. He had a very close relationship with Francis and Nicole. and he is the main focus of Francis's mission due to his treatment and abuse of Nicole, but after his encounter with Francis, he ends up committing suicide himself.
  • Arthur Rivier: another veteran from Frenchtown. He takes Francis to the St Jude Club and buys him a drink. He interacts in a positive way with the other veterans but it later becomes clear that he too is traumatized by his experience at war. He once played baseball for the Frenchtown Tigers and recognizes Francis by the sound of his voice.
  • Mrs Belander: Francis's landlady. She feels sympathy towards Francis, as he is a veteran and is the person who inadvertently reveals that Larry LaSalle has returned to Frenchtown.

Joey LeBlanc: Joey and Francis were childhood friends and went to the cinema together. He was a troublesome figure at school as he used to be talkative. He is a confident person and seems to be the antithesis of Francis. He also became a soldier, and is said to have died at Iwo Jima.

Enrico Rucelli: Francis met Enrico during his time at war. His experiences are used to show the extent of war as he lost both his legs and his left arm. He has a cheerful attitude despite his injuries but he does feel despair.

Context[edit]

The Depression[edit]

Many of the flashbacks in the novel refer to The Great Depression which was an effect of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Many families within this era were poor and underfed. in 1932 President Roosevelt took office and began The New Deal which aimed to solve some of the problems within the country, such as unemployment. One of the schemes was for the government to employ people. This is seen in chapter 5 where Francis talks about people renovating the Wreck Centre who had been hired under a new municipal program."

Patriotic Fever[edit]

On the 7th of December 1941 the Japanese Empire attacked a port at Pearl Harbor on a Hawaiian island. This lead the USA into WWII and also created "Patriotic fever," which we see in Larry LaSalle as he is one of the first to sign up. This lead to fighting both in Europe and in the Pacific. Francis was deployed in Europe. The novel explores the effects of Pearl Harbor on Frenchtown as the Wreck Centre closes due to Larry's absence, many of the male residents are recruited to the Armed Forces and women are given service jobs in the local factories making products to contribute to the war effort.

The GI Bill[edit]

The GI Bill is mentioned in the text in regards to the later plans of the veterans which they discuss in the St Jude Club. Joe LaFontaine speaks about how the government would be willing to pay for his college education and intended to become a teacher. However, this positive outlook is shown to be false as the veterans are later presented as pessimistic people, especially Arthur Rivier, who struggles to cope with not talking about the war.

Reception[edit]

Publishers Weekly called it a “thriller”and “will hold fans from first page to last.”[1] Publishers Weekly also said it had "complex characters" and the “audience will tensely await the inevitable.”[1] Publishers Weekly complimented the book saying it had "complex characters" and that Robert Cormier was "at the top of his game."[1] Publishers Weekly added "what really lurks behind the face of a hero, and Hassan Hassan."[1]

Education[edit]

As of 2012, the novel 'Heroes' has been studied all over the UK by students aged 15 and 16 as part of the GCSE English Literature syllabus under the WJEC examination board.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Weekly, Publishers. "HEROES". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved February 26, 2013.