The theme of appearances and disguise runs through the novel. Francis’ opening statement - that he has no face - can be interpreted as his lack of identity. He says he is on a mission to kill Larry LaSalle so we assume he needs to remain incognito while he prepares to fulfil the task he has set himself.
Francis has a repulsive appearance, and is forced to wear a bandage and a scarf over his face because he scares people. He is accepted by people in Frenchtown after the war as a veteran. Nobody likes to ask him how he was injured – it is accepted that it happened on active service and he receives sympathy because of this.
All the time, however, behind his disguise, he is plotting Larry’s death, after which he intends to kill himself. If people knew this about him, they might not have sympathy. A disguise does not have to be a physical one, though. A person can project a certain personality to other people, whilst deep down being completely different. Larry LaSalle seems to be a perfect man - popular, handsome, talented – a role model for others.
However, it is revealed, through Francis’ narration, that Larry is evil and manipulative. He does not wear a mask over his face, as Francis does, but his appearance is his disguise. The victim of his assault, Nicole Renard, changes her appearance completely afterwards, as if to disown her former self.
The other war veterans put on a brave face to the public, but they are often disguising their inner feelings behind this. Finally, the nuns at the convent wear habits which cover them completely apart from their faces, removing them from everyday life.
In Heroes, Robert Cormier explores the themes of appearance and disguise through:
Francis is the first person narrator, so the reader is able to ‘see’ into his innermost thoughts, even though the rest of the world is unable to do this, due to Francis’ disguise.
I wear a scarf that covers the lower part of my face. The scarf is white and silk...
There’s a Red Sox cap on my head and I tilt the cap forwards so that the visor keeps the upper part of my face in shadow. I walk with my head down...
I keep a bandage on the space where my nose used to be. The bandage reaches the back of my head and is kept in place with a safety pin.
[Mrs Belander] regarded me with suspicion, not recognizing me. This was proof that the scarf and the bandage were working in two ways: not only to hide the ugliness of what used to be my face, but to hide my identity.
At that moment, I knew that I was really anonymous...
The disguise worn by Francis consists of several different layers, like the different layers of a personality. When each one is removed it reveals a new aspect of the character.
Mrs Belander used to know Francis very well when he was a child, and if she cannot recognise him, nobody can. Instead she shows her pity for the war hero she sees in front of her.
As he pays his rent to her in advance, she writes the word Tenant on his receipt. Francis enjoys this anonymity because of the personal guilt he carries.
Halfway through the novel, Arthur Rivier realises who Francis is.
Now I know it. You’re Francis Cassavant.
As he turns to announce my identity, I touch his shoulder. ‘Don’t make a fuss, Arthur. Let me stay like this.’
Francis is worried when Arthur works out who he is, but Arthur respects Francis’ wish to stay anonymous.
When Francis visits Larry at the end of the novel, he reveals his identity at once.
‘Francis. Francis Cassavant,’ I announce. It’s important for him to know immediately who I am.
Don’t be afraid to show your face, Francis. That face, what’s left of it, is a symbol of how brave you were, the Silver Star you earned...
In Larry LaSalle’s presence, Francis feels that he is at the end of his mission (and of his life, since he intends to kill himself straight after killing Larry). There is therefore no need for him to pretend any more. He wants Larry to know that he has come to avenge Larry’s rape of Nicole.
Even after all this time, Larry still manages to make Francis feel like a child, since he tells him what to do and how to feel. It also shows that Larry has seen through Francis’ disguise, since he appears to already know about Francis’ injuries and his Silver Star.
Larry’s external appearance is misleading. People are attracted to him and he takes advantage of this.
The people of the town ignore the rumours about Larry’s past.
Larry’s words are lies.
He uses misleading vocabulary.
A tall slim man stepped into view, a lock of blond hair tumbling over his forehead, a smile that revealed dazzling movie-star teeth.
[He] had the broad shoulders of an athlete and the narrow hips of a dancer.
In fact, the air of mystery that surrounded him added to his glamour.
We have to keep the world safe for these young people – they are our future...
I love the sweet young things.
Larry is almost too good looking. People are attracted to him – adults and children alike. But behind this perfect front there lurks a predatory man, waiting to abuse his position with the young girls of Frenchtown.
The thrill that people felt from being in Larry’s presence, even though there might have been a hint of danger about him, can be likened to the thrill the young people felt when the war began – at the time, and from what felt like a safe distance, they enjoyed the excitement, unaware of the danger lurking behind the façade.
Larry has no intention of making the world a safe place for the young girls whom he abuses. His words are another layer of his disguise.
By saying that he loves the young girls whom he has abused, Larry makes it sound as though he cares for them. What he does to them cannot be described as love. It is certainly an abuse of his power.