- Before they even go to war, LaSalle is a hero to the kids of the Wreck Centre. He brings out the best in them and they adore him. Even at the end he is still making Francis feel better about himself, and prevents him from becoming a murderer. Is this more or less heroic than his war record? Francis is something of a peacetime hero as well – by becoming table tennis champion and beating LaSalle he becomes an icon to the other children.
- The scrapbook kept by the ‘Strangler’ at the St. Jude’s club contains newspaper clippings about all the ‘heroes’ of Frenchtown, including both LaSalle and Francis. The other men regard it as something of a symbol, something to be proud of, but Francis is ambivalent.
- The Silver Star is the only medal awarded for ‘heroism’, we are told. Both LaSalle and Francis have been awarded this medal, for saving the lives of their fellow soldiers. LaSalle does so by taking out a machine gun nest, Francis by falling on a grenade – the grenade that destroys his face.
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- When Francis talks to LaSalle he admits that he fell on the grenade not out of heroism, but because he wanted to die, so he is not a hero. LaSalle counters this, by telling Francis that deep down it was an heroic act, driven by his instincts to save his fellow men. But it is LaSalle telling him this – can he be trusted?
- Francis tells us that he always wanted to be a hero like LaSalle, but that when he finds himself one he wants to get rid of the ‘fakery’. For him being called a hero can’t disguise what he feels underneath, the guilt at failing Nicole, and the fact that he wanted to die, so he feels like a coward. This links to the question that LaSalle asks at the end: ‘Does that one sin of mine wipe away all the good things?’ The whole book questions whether people can really be heroes, when they have all their human failings underneath.
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- Francis dreams of the German soldiers that he killed, but in his dreams they cry ‘Mama’ and he sees them as boys, like him ‘too young to shave’. In real life they didn’t have time to speak, but the dream emphasises a common idea in war literature – that the soldiers on both sides often have more in common with each-other than with their commanders.
- Throughout Francis never questions whether the war itself was just – he describes it at the end as the ‘good war’. However, the depiction of violence, and its effects, is quite brutal. The clinical and grotesque description of Francis’s facial injuries at the beginning of the novel is a good example of this. War is presented as horrifying and terrifying, with a massive effect on those who fight in it, but Cormier is not concerned with the politics of the war, nor does he make Heroes a pacifist novel.
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- Arthur’s collapse behind the club one evening suggests that many of the veterans have similar issues to Francis – although Arthur appeared normal he is finding it very difficult to cope with the memories of what the war was like. Because he is physically unharmed, it is easier for him to pass as ‘normal’ than it is for Francis, but this episode shows that doesn’t mean the soldiers who came back in one piece are actually okay.
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Innocence/ the end of childhood
- There are many points in the book which represent an ending of naïveté. One is a major event in American history – the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Francis notes that ‘We had discovered in one moment on a Sunday afternoon that the world was not a safe place anymore.’ This was not just their discovery, but the discovery of the whole United States, that they could not remain in isolation from the rest of the world.
- When Francis confidently leaves Nicole alone with LaSalle in the Wreck Centre, he does so in complete innocence of the danger she is in. Taking people at face value is something which the novel constantly warns us against – the apparently happy Arthur is found crying behind the St Jude club, and the villainous LaSalle ends by doing something positive for Francis, in affirming his heroism, and refusing to let him become a murderer.
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Innocence/ the end of childhood
- LaSalle’s **** of Nicole in the Wreck Centre is the end of innocence for both her and Francis, who waits in the dark knowing but unable to acknowledge what is happening to her. It is also symbolic of the end of their innocent belief in goodness – something that the war ended for many people.
- Francis going off to war with a faked age on his birth certificate is a significant step out of childhood – like many soldiers who signed up underage, he is forcing the issue. He notices that other soldiers – even the Germans – are also very young.
- He maintains a certain innocence even after the grenade – going to London with his face uncovered, he doesn’t think that other people will notice, until he makes a young boy cry. When he is home in Frenchtown he appears to have become very cynical, but at the end of the novel, he has turned back a little from that, perhaps coming to happy balance.
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- Francis’s love for Nicole is highly romanticised – his first meeting with her is compared to a knight kneeling at the feet of a saint. He can barely get up the courage to speak to her, although they do eventually go out, and their relationship is sweet and innocent.
- Later, in the army, he is motivated by both his love for her which has never gone away, and his guilt about his failure to help her when she was attacked. During the war his love and desire for forgiveness turns into the only thing that makes his life worthwhile. From the first chapter where he says ‘it would always be Nicole Renard’ to the penultimate one where he tells us the reason he went to see Nicole was to see if she could still be his girl ‘which could maybe change my mind about the gun in my duffel bag.’ This is verging on the obsessional, and Francis realises as he talks to Nicole that the love they had ended a long time ago
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- Much of what LaSalle did for the kids of Frenchtown, and Francis in particular could be described as loving: he makes Francis a more confident teenager, and continues trying to make him feel better about himself even after Francis has threatened to kill him. LaSalle also describes his sexual desire for young girls (‘sweet young things’) as love. He says ‘we love our sins. We love the thing that makes us evil.’ This is a darker side to what ‘love’ can mean to different people.
- There is an element of brotherly or fraternal love in Francis’s memories of his fellow soldiers, in his remembrance of them every night. His sacrifice, of throwing himself on the grenade, could also be seen as a loving one – certainly LaSalle thinks that Francis’s instinct was to save his fellow soldiers, not to kill himself. There is a sense in which all the veterans are bound together by their experiences, which forms a kind of brotherly bond between them.
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- Francis is intent on taking revenge on Larry LaSalle, rather than forgiving him. He does not offer any forgiveness: when LaSalle asks if his one evil act can erase all the good he did, Francis coldly tells him to ‘ask Nicole.’ However, he does allow LaSalle to redeem himself a little by letting him take his own life. Is Francis’s drive to revenge more about LaSalle’s guilt or his own?
- Francis is driven by the need to find forgiveness for having let Nicole down by leaving her alone with LaSalle. The guilt of the action, and the fact that she blamed him for it, are almost overwhelming. He wants to die, and closes ‘doors to the future’ because he doesn’t feel he deserves either recognition as a hero or to live.
- The theme of forgiveness is set in the context of Nicole and Francis’s Catholic school, where they are taught by nuns. After the ****, Francis climbs the steeple to throw himself off, but cannot, at least partly because it is the ‘greatest sin’.
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