By the time Heroes begins, Francis’s childhood is already over. Even before he was traumatized by the horror of war, his innocence was shattered by the rape of his childhood sweetheart, Nicole. Cormier uses flashbacks to present Francis’ childhood as an ideal time, characterized by innocence and a tendency to both simplify the world and magnify the significance of trivial problems. By presenting Francis’s simple childhood problems alongside his complicated postwar problems, Cormier shows coming of age to be, in part, a process of learning to carry heavy burdens and grapple with their complexity.
The main focus of Francis’s childhood flashbacks is his relationship with Nicole. These memories, which retain the innocence of childhood, show how simple obstacles can have profound significance in the life of a child. For instance, the largest “battle” Francis fights in these flashbacks is his struggle to answer Nicole in full sentences whenever she teases him. Without any larger or more pressing problems, the quest to win Nicole’s affection consumes Francis’ life with an exaggerated importance. This childish tendency towards over-simplification is also evident in the younger Francis’s ideas about heroism. To the children of Frenchtown, Larry LaSalle is a hero simply because he opens the Wreck Center, providing them with entertainment in an otherwise boring town. In this simplified form, heroism does not carry implications of bravery or morality, only usefulness and popularity. For Francis, this means that he can become a hero to himself and the other children simply by becoming the Wreck Center Ping-Pong champion.
Even as World War II comes rolling into Frenchtown, Francis still views the conflict through the simplistic lens of childhood. While he knows that the war means fighting, war is an abstract idea in Francis’s mind, something that happens far away in “exotic” locations. For him, the more immediate signs of the war are ones to be met with excitement: Uncle Louis is rumored to be involved with a secret wartime project at the Monument Comb Shop, for example, which thrills Francis and makes him wonder if there might soon be spies in Frenchtown. However, when the war arrives home in the form of Larry being on furlough, Francis’s veil of innocence cannot endure.
After Larry rapes Nicole, Francis is suddenly faced with an adult problem that he cannot simplify—a problem that dwarfs all his previous struggles—and he is woefully unprepared to face it. Witnessing Larry raping Nicole destroys Francis’s innocence, which means that, in a way, Larry is responsible for the abrupt end of Francis’s childhood. In that light, Francis’s subsequent quest to murder Larry can be seen as a misguided attempt to deny adulthood and return to the innocence of childhood—a way of not grappling with the reality of his problems. Francis’s ultimate inability to pull the trigger when given the chance to kill Larry signals Francis’ full transition into adulthood and a willingness to face his problems rather than deny them, repress them, or run from them. Thus, the novel can be seen as the story of Francis growing into himself by realizing that adult life is full of pain, difficulty, and ambiguity. A central part of adulthood is learning to grapple with complex problems rather than simplifying them or running away.
The Simplicity of Childhood ThemeTracker
The Simplicity of Childhood 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.
I knelt there like a knight at her feet, her sword having touched my shoulder. I silently pledged her my love and loyalty forever.
Why hadn't I answered her? Did she now think I was stupid, unable to start a conversation? Had she merely been teasing me? Or had she been really afraid that I might fall off the banister? The questions left me dazed with wonder. I never knew that love could be so agonizing. Finally, the big question: Had Marie told Nicole that I liked her?
I have places to visit now that I have returned and one of them is Sixth Street and the gray three-decker where Nicole Renard lived with her mother and father on the second floor at number 212. I know she doesn't live there anymore and I have nothing to gain by going there but it's inevitable that I look at her house again.
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.
The Wreck Center became my headquarters in the seventh and eighth grade, a place away from the sidewalks and empty lots of Frenchtown. I had never been a hero in such places, too short and un-coordinated for baseball and too timid to join the gangs that hung around the street corners.
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."
Never before had I known such a sense of destiny. I felt invincible, impossible to defeat, the ball always under my control.
Like a dream coming true, Nicole took the trophy from Larry LaSalle and handed it to me, the radiance of her face mirroring my own. The crowd grew silent as I pressed the trophy to my chest, my eyes becoming moist
"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."
We always did what Larry LaSalle told us to do. Always carried out his slightest wish…I saw Larry raising his eyebrows at me, the way he looked at me when I made a stupid move at table tennis.
"Are you all right?" I asked. “No, I'm not all right" she answered anger flashing in her eyes. "I hurt. I hurt all over." I could only stand there mute, as if all my sins had been revealed and there was no forgiveness for them.
I could not die that way. Soldiers were dying with honor on battlefields all over the world. Noble deaths. The deaths of heroes. How could I die by leaping from a steeple? The next afternoon I boarded the bus to Fort Delta, in my pocket the birth certificate I had altered to change my age, and became a soldier in the United States Army.
I am calm. My heartbeat is normal. What's one more death after the others in the villages and fields of France? The innocent faces of the two young Germans appear in my mind. But Larry LaSalle is not innocent.
I had always wanted to be a hero like Larry LaSalle and all the others, but have been a fake all along. And now I am tired of the deception and have to rid myself of the fakery. I look away from him, out the window at the sun-splashed street. "I'm not a hero” I tell him.
Downstairs, at last, after what seems like a long, long time, I pause at the outside door. The sound of a pistol shot cracks the air. My hand is on the doorknob. The sound from this distance is almost like that of a Ping-Pong ball striking the table.