The use of structure in Heroes

The structure of a text means the way that the writer has chosen to put it together. Some texts follow a chronological structure, relating events in the same order that they took place. These texts will start at the beginning, then move through the events towards the ending. Other texts can be presented differently if, for example, the writer has decided to play around with time and has chosen not to present events in the right order. Often, a writer who does this will use flashbacks, with the action being moved back and forth in time or the characters remembering events from the past.

Robert Cormier has chosen to place Francis, his narrator and main character, in post-war America around 1945-46. Then Cormier allows Francis to remember events from about 1939-1940, when he was a seventh grade schoolboy of 12 or 13. Francis also talks about his experiences during the war, from the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1942, through the following three years until the war ended.

Heroes is written in 17 chapters, and there are flashbacks in nine of the first 12 chapters. The flashbacks themselves move back and forth in time, so that the reader gradually builds up an understanding of Francis’ motive for wanting to kill Larry LaSalle. Cormier’s slow reveal is very effective in creating tension and intrigue. The approximate dates of the flashbacks are as follows; 1944/1939/1943/1939/1940/1942/1945/1943/1943. If you imagine that these flashbacks always bounce back to 1945/46, you could almost make a comparison with the game of table tennis which Francis loves so much – a constant to-ing and fro-ing of the action. The flashbacks allow the reader to contrast how the three main characters – Francis, his girlfriend Nicole Renard, and their teacher and mentor, Larry LaSalle – behave or react in different ways at different times.

The flashbacks

Chapter one (1944): Francis remembers his friend Enrico Rucelli; he prays for him in St Jude’s Church.

Chapter two (1939): Francis thinks back to the very first time he saw Nicole Renard, when they were both in the seventh grade at St Jude’s Parochial School.

Chapter three (1943): Francis remembers being with Norman Rocheleau in a village near Rouen in France. They discussed Nicole’s disappearance from Frenchtown as well as how Francis forged his birth certificate.

Chapter five (1939): Francis remembers how the Wreck Centre was opened for the young people of Frenchtown by Larry LaSalle. He relates the story of the wedding massacre that took place there in the old days.

Chapter seven (1940): Francis explains how Larry encouraged him to take up table tennis and how this made him grow in confidence. He won the tournament and Nicole called him her champion.

Chapter nine (1942): Francis describes how patriotic fever hit Frenchtown; Larry was one of the first men to join up; Francis and Nicole started to go out together.

Chapter ten (1945): Francis remembers being in London after he had been injured. He recalls the reactions of people to his face, and says that this was when he first started wearing the bandage and scarf.

Chapter 11 (1943): Francis tells how Larry came home on leave, and was greeted as a hero by the town and the mayor. On the night of his return he raped Nicole.

Chapter 12 (1943): Francis tells how he waited outside Nicole’s building for days until she finally came out. She told him he had betrayed her and he then wanted to kill himself.

How to analyse structure

To analyse the structure of Heroes you need to:

  • Remember that the action moves back and forth between the end of the war (1945-46) and when Francis was in the seventh grade in 1939. Between these dates there are other flashbacks to different points in Francis’ history, whether in Frenchtown or in Europe.
  • Understand that Cormier’s use of flashbacks allows the reader to build a picture of the characters as they change, whilst creating tension and mystery.
  • See the significance of the constant movement back and forth through time, in that it echoes the importance of table tennis in Francis’ life.