Throughout Heroes, Cormier presents a disconnection between outward appearances and internal realities. By revealing the contradictions of characters, places, and even the war itself, Cormier highlights how pleasant appearances will never be able to erase the pain and suffering they conceal—and, in certain instances, they may even exacerbate the problem. In Heroes, a new appearance often has the purpose of attempting to erase an uncomfortable past. For instance, Francis’ scarf, hat, and bandages serve the practical purpose of hiding his injuries from the public, but they also grant him a degree of anonymity when he returns to Frenchtown, which enables him to literally hide from his past. However, his new identity does not take away any of the pain he feels when he stalks the streets of his hometown, recalling all the painful memories of his adolescence. This disconnection between appearance and reality is also seen in the renovations to the Wreck Center. While the building takes on a new purpose and a new exterior, the memory of its bloody past as the site of a brutal murder still lingers in the minds of many characters. Ultimately, Joey LeBlanc’s constant predictions that the Wreck Center, despite its change in appearance, will continue to be a site of suffering come to pass when Nicole is raped.
On a societal scale, Cormier explores how public perceptions of the war were shaped by unrealistically positive media depictions. Specifically, he examines how the war was packaged and presented to the public as glamorous or mysterious. For instance, the “war reels” that preceded films at the local Frenchtown cinema cast the war as exciting and exotic and conflated war footage, in viewers’ minds, with harmless Hollywood movies. By associating the excitement and glamor of the movies with the war, the war reels hid the gruesome reality of combat from the public. Similarly, Cormier describes how this also occurred on the radio, where news of the war was punctuated by catchy “wartime songs,” thereby using a veneer of excitement to mask the violence that the news was relaying to the public. Cormier contrasts these media portrayals of an exciting and innocuous war with accounts of the war from veterans who reveal the gritty reality of combat. Furthermore, several veterans, including Arthur Rivier, lament that the war was nothing like the papers or the newsreels portrayed it to be. Thus, the euphemistic public image of the war made it harder for soldiers and veterans to cope with the violent reality of combat.
Cormier also suggests that, in addition to the media, the characters themselves create false images of the war in order to hide from its violent reality. Namely they use celebrations to mask pain, or they focus only on a particular part of the war to make it easier to process. For instance, to the patrons of the St. Jude Club, the “Frenchtown Warriors” scrapbook is a catalogue of heroes, showcasing the bravery of local boys. In reality, this celebration of bravery masks the fact that the scrapbook really represents Frenchtown’s personal involvement in the violence of war. Frenchtown residents employ a similar tactic when Larry returns on furlough after winning his Silver Star and the entire town throws him a party. While Larry had obviously killed enemy soldiers, the town chooses to focus instead on the abstract idea of his heroism in order to avoid the gruesome reality of Larry’s enlistment. In fact, throughout the entire novel, the only person who talks about the death of any Frenchtown boys is Francis, who is unable to return to the sanitized view of the war he held before his enlistment.
Cormier ultimately shows that all of these attempts to use appearance to conceal reality are dangerous. For individual characters, putting on a false appearance does nothing to help them process their past traumas—in fact, it isolates them and intensifies their suffering. Francis succumbs to his war flashbacks alone in his room at night, Larry rapes Nicole, and Arthur Rivier breaks down in the alley, away from the posturing of the St. Jude Club and its catalogue of heroes. The war reels are doubly dangerous. Not only do they mislead men into a brutal war, but the disillusioned men coming home feel pressure to align their stories with the media image of war, which only makes their suffering worse. Thus, Heroes shows the consequences of not dealing with difficult realities head-on, and suggests that to run from demons only makes them stronger.
Appearance vs. Reality ThemeTracker
Appearance vs. Reality Quotes in Heroes
My name is Francis Joseph Cassavant and I have just returned to Frenchtown in Monument and the war is over and I have no face.
Here is the point where my life becomes a lie. "Raymond" I tell her, using the name of my dead brother. "Beaumont," I add. My mother's name before she married my father.
In the alley that day I encountered the German soldiers, all right, but my bursts of gunfire killed the soldiers quickly, no exploding head no body cut in two, although one of them did cry Mama as he fell. When I looked down at them…I saw how young they were, boys with apple cheeks, too young to shave. Like me.
Dazzled by his talent and his energy, most of us didn't dwell on the rumors. In fact, the air of mystery that surrounded him added to his glamour. He was our champion, and we were happy to be in his presence.
"There are lots of medals," the big bartender croaks, "for outstanding service, but only the Silver Star is for heroism." His old voice is suddenly formal and dignified. "For gallantry."
"Heroes," he scoffs, his voice sharp and bitter, all signs of drunkenness gone. "We weren't heroes. The Strangler and his scrapbook. No heroes in that scrapbook, Francis. Only us, the boys of Frenchtown. Scared and homesick and cramps in the stomach and vomit. Nothing glamorous like the write-ups in the papers or the newsreels. We weren't heroes. We were only there…
Larry LaSalle stood before us that afternoon at the Wreck Center, the movie star smile gone, replaced by grim-faced determination. "We can't let the Japs get away with this," he said, anger that we had never seen before flashing in his eyes. As we were about to cheer his announcement, he held up his hand. "None of that, kids, I'm just doing what millions of others are doing."
The Movietone News brought reminders of the war that was raging around the globe, as the grim narrator spoke of places that had been unknown to us a few months ago—Bataan in the Pacific, Tobruk in Africa. We cheered our fighting forces and booed and hissed when Hitler came on the screen, his arm always raised in that hated salute.