1. The character of Larry LaSalle is vital to the plot and themes of Heroes: Cormier presents him in opposition to Francis and uses him to explore the central issues of the novel. From the very first chapter of the novel it is clear that LaSalle is going to be a very important character, as Francis tells us that he is ‘the man I am going to kill.’
Initially there is some ambiguity about this: Francis’s description of his own horrific injuries combined with this statement are designed to suggest he is a monster, and therefore might give sympathy to LaSalle. However, even by this stage the reader is empathising with Francis, and therefore suspects that LaSalle may not be the victim.
2. This ambiguity about LaSalle’s character is continued through the book, reflecting the theme of concealment and revelation. Despite LaSalle’s ‘dazzling movie-star’ good looks when he arrives in the town, there is a sense of uneasy mystery about him, as to why he turned his back on show-business. Cormier uses this technique of foreshadowing and undermining throughout the novel, reflecting the uncertainty of many of the themes and characters of the book.
In addition to this, Cormier’s structuring of the book, with the three interweaving time lines, leads to the reader being fed information bit by bit, creating a sense of suspense about the events of the past, and what will happen when Francis finally confronts LaSalle. This is supported by the use of the first person narration, so that we only see LaSalle from Francis’s point of view; we experience Francis’s changing feelings, always in the light of the knowledge that sooner or later Francis will want to kill him.
3. LaSalle is also presented as a man whose public appearance conceals what is really beneath the surface. Both in the first timeline, as a glamorous youth leader, and in the present as a ‘Silver Star’ war hero, LaSalle receives public admiration. In the St Jude Club, the war veterans toast him as the ‘patron saint’ of the Wreck Centre, and he is the main feature of the scrap book of Frenchtown’s war heroes.
The fact that only Francis knows what he is really like makes this appearance seem more sinister. The heroic exterior is undermined throughout by foreshadowing and our eventual knowledge of what LaSalle has done, which contributes to the major theme of what a hero really is. Cormier contrasts the hideous exterior of the veteran Francis, who has our sympathy, with the memory of the beautiful LaSalle.
4. Ironically, after Francis has created the picture of the beautiful but dangerous monster, when he finally confronts him, LaSalle is presented as a shell of his former self. He is ‘fragile’ and his eyes are ‘sunk into the sockets’. He is not immune from the effects of war which have been shown to have such an impact on Francis and the other war veterans elsewhere in the book. This image is reinforced a few pages later when Cormier reveals that LaSalle’s legs are ‘gone’. Both the reader and the narrator are taken aback slightly by this turn of events. The bathos of this image undermines the climax to which the entire novel has apparently been building, the confrontation between Francis and his antagonist; it becomes clear later that it is fact Nicole whom he needs to see in order to resolve his problems.
However, the sinister aspects of LaSalle’s character are fully highlighted in this scene, when he talks of the ‘sweet young things’. He is presented as being highly manipulative – as in the way in which gets rid of Francis the evening that he rapes Nicole, and indeed his whole construction of that evening – and he continues to manipulate Francis to the very end. Part of this is his ability and intention to make Francis feel better about himself; right to the end, he is trying to convince Francis that his motives in throwing himself on the grenade were heroic. Cormier also uses this to show that the characters in his novel are not black and white but inhabit a grey area.
5. It is LaSalle that Cormier uses to ask the central question of the book: ‘Does that one sin of mine wipe away all the good things?’ He doesn’t answer it directly, but allows Francis to; his reply is that LaSalle should ask Nicole. In this question Cormier manages to present LaSalle as deluded about the damage which he has caused, but also contrasts the two sides of his character.
Cormier uses LaSalle to show that people need to see heroism, even if on closer examination that heroism is flawed. For example LaSalle says faking the table tennis result to let Francis win is a good thing for the other kids. He also has LaSalle ask the question of whether his heroic acts are devalued by his crimes. LaSalle does not feel any guilt over his actions. This limits our empathy with LaSalle. Cormier is asking how far any good he did achieve, in boosting the children’s confidence, and in giving the town a war hero, was flawed by this. At the end of the book Francis thinks about the ordinary soldiers in his own platoon. Boys who ‘didn’t receive a Silver Star. But heroes anyway. The real heroes.’ Cormier is suggesting that these heroes need to be remembered, not only the famous war heroes.
Therefore, LaSalle is presented as being central to the themes of concealment and revelation, and of what makes a hero; he is never allowed to become a complete monster, but is a much more subtle character, which means the reader must think much more carefully about the moral questions which Heroes raises.
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