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Heroes is a 1998 novel written by Robert Cormier. The novel is centred on the character 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. The structure of the novel involves the use of flashbacks to Francis's childhood in Frenchtown and the events in Frenchtown following the war, when Francis returns.
Francis Joseph Cassavant has returned to Frenchtown following the war for a purpose, to kill Larry LaSalle. LaSalle is classed as a social good-doer when he encourages Francis to take part in activities at the 'Recreational 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 becomes well known as a 'table tennis champion'. His success in this sport at the Centre gives Francis a feeling of confidence and accomplishment, something he had not previously experienced. However, Larry had simply let him win.
A new girl arrives at St Jude's School with whom Francis immediately falls in love, 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 had 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 person in the world of Francis. They begin to hang out and often visit the Plymouth (the local cinema) with each other. 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 sexually assaults Nicole in the 'Wreck Center', the local community center, one night on furlough. The 'Wreck Centre' had previously been a wedding hall until a disastrous event happened: a woman called Marie Blanche Touraine was murdered during her wedding reception by her ex-boyfriend. The hall was later re-opened as the Recreation Centre, the locals of Frenchtown immediately referred to it as the 'Wreck Centre' instead, a name that foreshadows the assault.
Francis is pressured to leave the 'Wreck Centre' by LaSalle so he could have "one last dance" with Nicole and does so because he always did what "Larry LaSalle told them to do". Despite the fact that Nicole specifically asks him to stay, Francis leaves, as he trusts LaSalle and has been manipulated into doing whatever Larry LaSalle tells him to. Francis is nevertheless concerned about Nicole and so stays outside the hall until it was over. However, Francis then heard noises and realizes the assault. In a major panic, Francis has no idea what to do, perhaps out of cowardliness or innocence and does not go to help or protect Nicole. After the attack, Nicole, distraught, sees that Francis is still there and was extremely horrified by the thought of Francis not saving her. She feels extremely betrayed by Francis, whom she previously regarded as her protector. Since Francis had told her that he would "never leave" her, their relationship breaks down at this point.
For weeks afterwards, Francis tries to apologize to Nicole, but Nicole will not give him a chance to explain his actions. Therefore, Francis sees 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 forges his birth certificate and goes to fight in France.
During his army experience in France, Francis obtains his facial injuries by jumping on a grenade, saving many men's lives. After receiving a Silver Star Award for his bravery, he returns to Frenchtown with "plenty of money" but no happiness.
In the end, when he meets Larry, LaSalle is surprised that Francis is distraught about what happened to her, as he was previously unaware that Francis had knowledge of the events between LaSalle and Nicole. LaSalle, however, claims that "we all love our sins" and appears to show no remorse or regret for his actions, opting instead to accept his flaws. Although Francis 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, implying 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.
Nicole had 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.
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 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.
Religion is also a key theme as Francis is a devoted Catholic. The place of religion within the community of Frenchtown is often emphasised and the values instilled through his Catholic upbringing affects the decisions that Francis makes throughout his life.
There are three main characters in the book:
- 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.
There are many other characters in the novel that are important but not as important as Francis, Nicole and Larry:
- 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.
- Dr. Abrams: Doctor to Francis when he was in the war.
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 then were poor and underfed. in 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was elected. He 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.
Second World War
Fighting occurs both in Europe, where Francis is deployed, and in the Pacific. The novel explores the effects of Pearl Harbor on Frenchtown, as the Wreck Centre closes because of Larry's absence. Many men are recruited to the armed forces, and women are given service jobs in the local factories to make products for the war effort
The GI Bill
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 intends to become a teacher. However, the 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.
Publishers Weekly called it a “thriller” that “will hold fans from first page to last.” It also said it had "complex characters", the “audience will tensely await the inevitable”. It had "complex characters" and the author was "at the top of his game." Besides, "what really lurks behind the face of a hero, and Hassan Hassan."
As of 2012, the novel has been studied in Wales and England by many students aged 14 to 16 as part of the GCSE English Literature syllabus under the WJEC examination board.
- Weekly, Publishers. "HEROES". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved February 26, 2013.