Themes in 'Heroes' by Robert Cormier

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  • Created on: 24-02-13 14:13


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. Is it significant that one wins it by committing an act of violence, whereas the other wins it by taking the damage himself? It impresses the townsfolk – but Francis wants to remain anonymous.

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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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Innocence/the end of childhood

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.

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.

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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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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.

 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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Concealment and revealment

Francis arrives in Frenchtown with his face wrapped up and concealed. On one level he’s hiding his injuries from sight, to stop them horrifying others like they did the small boy in London who cried. The idea of a face wrapped up in bandages recalls horror films of the early part of the twentieth century. It may deliberately recall the image of the Invisible Man.

Larry LaSalle also has a secret concealed in his past – the mysterious reason as to why he had left his showbiz career to become a youth worker. We never find out what this reason is, but it is implied by LaSalle’s referring to ‘sweet young things’ in the plural in his last encounter with Francis, that it was for something similar to his **** of Nicole. In the beginning this mystery seems attractive, adding to his ‘glamour’.

 Cormier uses foreshadowing extensively to create tension in the novel – such as when Francis tells us in the first chapter that he has ‘just prayed for the man [he is] going to kill.’ Then he gradually reveals different morsels of information, about Francis’s war experience and the pre-war life in Frenchtown.

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