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The Use of Ambiguity to Strengthen Suspense in Robert Cormier’s Novel

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In certain novels the author uses ambiguity to help strengthen the suspense. Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese contains many examples of ambiguity. Adam Farmer is an adolescent boy whose parents are under the protection of the government. He and his family are living a fake life after his dad testified against a criminal. There are many times in the novel where ambiguity is used. The novel is open to interpretation in certain parts since Cormier is not directly clear with what he intends on the reader to understand. Cormier’s use of ambiguity helped strengthen the suspense by allowing the reader to interpret parts of the novel in their own way.

Throughout I Am the Cheese, Robert Cormier uses ambiguity when Brint is trying to get information out of Adam during their sessions. In the book, there are many scenarios where certain phrases or actions could be perceived differently depending on the reader. Cormier uses ambiguity in times where there is heavy suspense. When Adam is speaking to Brint you never know what Brint is trying to get out of Adam, which is an example of ambiguity. In the novel the author states, “Because you always direct me along certain paths” (page 187 paragraph 9). Adam is saying to Brint that he thinks Brint is directing him to say certain information. The reader does not know what information Brint is trying to reveal. This moment could be interpreted in many ways, which adds to the suspense. Ben Marcus with the National Public Radio states “The interrogations are relentless, administered from some chilling government organization that seems to think Adam has a secret, if his name is even Adam” (page 1 paragraph 5). During the novel, Adam is being interrogated and you do not know what the investigators are trying to get out of him. Cormier uses this tactic of ambiguity to create a feeling that the reader does not know what Adam may say next, or what Brint is trying to pry out of him. Ambiguity is used throughout Cormier’s novel, I Am the Cheese, which strengthens the suspense.

When Cormier talks about Adam’s bike rides, he uses ambiguity to enhance the suspense since the reader does not know if his bike rides are real. Throughout the book Adam is on a bike ride heading towards Rutterburg, Vermont to visit his dad. Depending on the person you may see this bike ride as real or see it as fake. This interpretation is left to the reader, which is an example of ambiguity. In the novel Cormier states, “I reach out and touch my father’s package in the basket and I keep pedaling” (page 105 paragraph 3). Adam is riding his bike and clutching onto his father’s package, but later in the novel you come to find out that Adam was never going to see his dad. During this part of the novel there is heavy suspense because you don’t know if Adam is actually riding his bike or if he is imagining it all. Melissa Rabey of the YALSA states, “Yet although I knew that the bike ride was a construct of Adam’s mind” (page 1 paragraph 3). The author of this novel knew right away that Adam’s bike ride was in his mind, but other readers may have perceived that differently which adds to the suspense. Cormier’s use of the literary device ambiguity helped strengthened the level of suspense of Adam’s bike rides.

In Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese, he uses ambiguity to enhance the suspense when Adam’s dad is talking to Mr. Grey. At first, Adam did not know why his dad talked to Mr. Grey. Ambiguity is used during this section of the novel because the reader does not know what Adam’s father and Mr. Grey are discussing. These moments are full of suspense. On page 120 paragraph 4 the author states, “He and the gray man would go down there. For about an hour maybe. I never went down with them.” Adam never questioned this man. The reader could have ideas about who this man is, he could be just Mr. Farmer’s employer, or someone more suspicious. Cormier uses ambiguity during these moments to increase the suspense. Ben Marcus of the National Public Radio states, “Who was the ‘gray man’ who would only speak to Adam’s father down in his cellar?” (page 1 paragraph 6). Readers may not understand who Mr. Grey really is. Adam questions who this man is, which is a very suspenseful moment in the novel. Cormier’s use of ambiguity while Adam’s father is talking to Mr. Grey creates a suspenseful tone since you do not know who exactly who Mr. Grey is.

The best authors use ambiguity to enhance the level of suspense in their novels. Robert Cormier, the author of I Am the Cheese, uses ambiguity in his books. This literary device creates a suspenseful feeling because the reader does not know what is going on. Adam Farmer and his family are under the protection of the government. This situation in itself is suspenseful, but Cormier’s use of ambiguity creates more suspense. There are many parts of the book where Cormier uses this tactic. Robert Cormier’s use of ambiguity helped contribute to the suspense of the novel by allowing the reader to control how they perceive the book.

Work Cited

  • Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. Ember, 2014.
  • Marcus, Ben. “I Am the Cheese’: A Nightmarish Nail-Biter.”  National Public Radio, 25, May, 2012,
  • Rabey, Melissa. “New to Me: I Am the Cheese.” 
  • YALSA , 16 Sept. 2009,

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