Evidence and explanation of the language used

The use of subject-themed vocabulary


How is it used?

The smell of burning wax and the fragrance of old incense, the odours of forgiveness, fill the church.

Saying a prayer before committing the worst sin of all: despair.

Why is it used?

At the start of the book, Francis tells the reader that he intends to kill a man. These references to the aspects of the Catholic Church in which Francis has been brought up emphasise how a person needs to feel sorry for their sins to earn forgiveness.

What is its effect?

Any reader, whether familiar with the rituals of the Catholic Church or not, will be brought into Francis’ world through this description. The word forgiveness hints at some future hope, even though Francis seems intent on killing either Larry LaSalle or himself here.


How is it used?

I had survived more games than I could count...

My opponents went down in rapid succession.


Even before Francis joins the army, he is engaged in a sort of war. He sees himself as a warrior fighting for the prize of Nicole Renard. Francis sees every other boy as a competitor whom he must defeat.

What is its effect?

The reader will see that Francis has changed from the shy, meek boy he used to be and is now somebody to be reckoned with. This is the beginning of his journey to manhood, which of course arrives early for him with his forging of his birth certificate in order to join the war.


How is it used?

I silently pledged her my love and loyalty for ever.

...I wanted to shout from the rooftops: ‘I love her with all my heart.’

Why is it used?

Francis uses words such as pledge and loyalty which would not be out of a place in a medieval romance. He overcomes his shyness because his feeling is so strong.

What is its effect?

The reader has become sympathetic towards Francis because of his injuries and loneliness, but knows little about his life before the war. Everybody enjoys a love story so the reader is intrigued and expectant here.

The use of short phrases

How is it used?

Finally, I slip into bed.

His second homecoming.

Why is it used?

Francis goes to sleep on his first night at Mrs Belander’s house.

This is the way Francis describes his long wait for Larry to come home at the end of the war.

What is its effect?

The short phrase emphasises how Francis has come to the end of a very long and stressful day. This is the last thing he has to do. The word slip gives an air of secrecy to his action.

There is a marked contrast between the way Larry came back to a hero’s welcome the first time and the way he almost sneaks back at the end of the war. There is also a similarity between this phrase and the Biblical reference to Jesus Christ’s second coming. Larry has been treated as a God-like figure in the past so this is an appropriate link. The use of just three words is effective because it places an emphasis on the fact that this time around is very different.

The use of long sentences

How is it used?

Now each day when I wake up I know that this might be the day when Larry LaSalle will show up and I start to close doors.

Why is it used?

Francis is feeling that Larry’s arrival is not very far away now.

What is its effect?

The use of such a long sentence reflects the amount of time that Francis has been waiting to hear news of Larry’s return to Frenchtown. The repetition of the word day emphasises this wait.

The use of metaphors

How is it used?

...my duffel bag which is always with me, slung over my shoulder.

The weight is nice and comfortable on my back...

...the heart makes no noise when it cracks.

Why is it used?

It is not possible to see a person’s sins, so Cormier makes the duffel bag a visible symbol of Francis’ guilt, which is always with him.

Cormier sustains the metaphor of the bag right through the novel.

Francis’ heart has become a breakable, brittle object.

What is its effect?

When Francis first refers to the duffel bag, the reader does not yet know the full story. At this point the bag is only a bag stuffed with money. However, the way that Cormier makes Francis take his bag wherever he goes is extremely effective, as its weight not only drags Francis down but also serves as a reminder to the reader that Francis is carrying a heavy burden of guilt with him.

As Francis leaves Nicole, he feels unburdened of his guilt – both Larry and Nicole have told him that he has nothing to blame himself for.

This metaphor makes the reader empathise with Francis because this is such a stark statement – it almost seems like a scientific fact that a heart cracks silently, emphasising his loneliness.

The use of similes

How is it used?

My nostrils are like two small caves...

I am like the Hunchback of Notre Dame...

...the blue veins in her legs bulging like worms beneath her skin.

[Enrico] laughed, making a sound like a saw going through wood...

...drops of perspiration on her forehead like rain drops on white porcelain...

The gun is like a tumour on my thigh...

Why is it used?

Francis is describing his facial injuries in detail.

Francis compares himself with a grotesque creature.

This is how Francis describes his landlady, Mrs Belander’s legs.

Francis is remembering his conversations with Enrico Rucelli when they were in hospital during the war.

Francis is describing Nicole after she has been dancing.

Francis is on his way to kill Larry LaSalle.

What is its effect?

A cave is a dark, mysterious place, which adds to the reader’s feeling that Francis is concealing information at the beginning. A cave is also, of course, damp and dripping, like his nose.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, written by Victor Hugo, has a character called Quasimodo (meaning 'misshapen'). He is a figure who is shunned by society, which is a clue about the way that Francis is treated.

The use of the word worms is a reminder of the death that is at the end of life, because of the way that worms live in the ground and eat dead material. Francis is intending to kill a man and then kill himself, so the thought of death is never far from his mind.

This is an appropriate comparison because Francis tells the reader that Enrico had to have both legs and one arm amputated. Cormier is deliberately showing how awful his injuries are by implying that the amputations are carried out using a saw.

Porcelain is the finest kind of china and is easily breakable. Here, the comparison of Nicole’s perspiration with rain is effective because rain drops are pure and natural. When the reader learns about what happens to Nicole, these comparisons seem very appropriate.

A tumour is a cancerous growth, representing disease, fear, death and evil. All of these emotions are summarised neatly by Cormier’s comparison here.