Francis Joseph Cassavant

An illustration of Francis Cassavant returning to his hometown with his face bandaged to hide his injuries.
  • Francis Joseph Cassavant is the main character and first person narrator of Heroes. As the novel opens, we learn that he has returned from fighting in the Second World War. The war has changed him, both physically and mentally. He is disguised by a scarf and a bandage, which cover up his horrific facial injuries, and nobody recognises him. Therefore he watches events as an outsider, even though he was born and raised in Frenchtown. Through Francis’ eyes we see how soldiers are viewed and treated by the people who never went to war. He also describes his life as a child and teenager, growing up in the town, adding that he was very shy. The novel begins with Francis’ alarming announcement that he has no face. He describes his terrible injuries and says that they have made his life difficult because he has trouble breathing and swallowing. His voice has also changed, becoming hoarse and deep.
  • Francis says he has plenty of money because he did not spend his army pay while he was in battle in France and then in the hospitals. He keeps his money in cash, in a duffel bag which he carries everywhere with him. He no longer has any friends and is extremely lonely.
curriculum-key-fact
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a novel written in 1831 by the French writer Victor Hugo. The hunchback, Quasimodo, is deformed and ugly, and as a result is desperately lonely, like Francis.
  • Francis’ appearance makes people pity him, but also feel afraid of him. He takes lodgings at Mrs Belander’s three-storey house on Third Street. He says he used to run errands for her when he was a child and she used to be very generous – her tips paid for my ten-cent movie tickets at the Plymouth on Saturday afternoons. She does not recognise him behind his disguise and calls him a poor boy. However, she insists that he pays his rent in advance, perhaps not trusting him because of his appearance.
  • Francis is a good Catholic boy. He has been raised in the Catholic religion, like most people in Frenchtown. He went to St Jude’s Parochial School, which was run by nuns, and he used to be an altar boy in St Jude’s Church. He prays often, for his dead parents and brother; for men who were in the war with him; for the girl he has always loved, Nicole Renard; and finally, I pray for Larry Lasalle. He adds that this is the man I am going to kill. As a result of his religious upbringing, Francis also carries a lot of guilt with him.
  • Francis has loved and felt protective of Nicole Renard since he first saw her when they were in the seventh grade. He fell instantly in love with her and used to create opportunities to be near her. He says he used to wait for her to come out of her friend, Marie LaCroix’s apartment, like a sentry on lonely guard duty. He feels that there is a connection between them, and as they grow older, Francis’ feelings change from those of a child to those of a teenager. He tells her that he loves to watch her dance, and she replies that she feels the same about watching him play table tennis. On the day of Francis’ big tournament, he keeps looking up to see whether Nicole is watching him. She is, and he says that he saw her eyes on me, shining for me.
  • Francis admits several times to being jealous of Nicole’s close friendship with Larry LaSalle. As Francis watches Nicole dancing with Larry, he says that jealousy streaked through me as Larry LaSalle tossed her in the air, letting her fly, and later, when Nicole invites Francis to a party at her house, saying that Larry had approved of the idea, Francis feels the instant agony of jealousy.
  • Francis is innocent. He trusts people easily as a young boy, and it is only after the incident with Larry and Nicole that his innocence is lost. He tells of the first time he laid eyes on Nicole – he was on the floor picking up a piece of chalk for the teacher when Nicole came in. He felt like a knight at her feet. Not only does he compare her with a beautiful lady from the Middle Ages, but also with a saint - the pale purity of her face reminded me of the statue of St Thérèse in the church. Unrealistically, he thinks that he will be able to protect her from any evil.
curriculum-key-fact
St Thérèse of Lisieux is a Catholic saint. She was a nun who died in 1897 at the age of 24. She devoted her life to God and is the patron saint of the missions, who help the poor and needy, often in third-world countries. This links with Nicole’s comments on how she would like to "help more" and that there is "such a big world out there."
  • Francis is a hero. He spends most of his time telling the reader that he is not one, but by the end of the novel it is clear that he certainly is a hero – even if it is only by his own definition – I remember what I said to Nicole about not knowing who the real heroes are and I think of my old platoon.

Social and historical context

The writer of Heroes, Robert Cormier, said that he was concerned about the problems which young people had to deal with in modern society. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour there was a great feeling of patriotism across America, and young men and women rushed to join the services to do their bit for their country.

Through Francis, the reader is able to see how a young man, approaching adulthood, had to cope with the pressures of going to fight in a faraway war, where he witnessed horrific things, then faced even more problems when he returned. Many men came back with physical injuries, like Francis, and they were helped, but there was very little support for people with psychological problems, so they were left to deal with these problems by themselves.

Many young men had interrupted their education to go and fight, so the US government introduced the GI Bill which funded ex-servicemen to go back to college. It seems that there was more emphasis on the economy than on individuals’ mental welfare.

Robert Cormier uses the film reels which Francis and his friends watch at the cinema, as well as Francis’ flashbacks, to allow the reader to experience the horrors of the war second-hand. This is exactly how the real inhabitants of small towns across the United States would have experienced the war.

Analysing the evidence

I feel like a spy in disguise as I walk the streets of Frenchtown, hidden behind the scarf and the bandage, making my way through the chilled morning, pausing on the corners, watching the people come and go, and then moving on when I feel their eyes on me filled with either pity or curiosity.

Question

What does this extract tell us about how Francis feels, and how he is seen by others?

In this passage it is clear that Francis feels alone and cut off from the community of Frenchtown. He is physically different from other people because of his injuries and the necessary disguise, but he is also psychologically different because he has experienced the horrors of war, represented by his terrible injuries.

He feels like a spy because he is on a secret mission to kill Larry LaSalle and he is lurking on the streets trying to gather information about him. The fact that the morning is chilled is significant.

The use of pathetic fallacy suggests that Francis is frozen out of normal, human life. People look at him with pity, which shows that they feel sorry for the returning soldiers who are injured, but also they feel curiosity, wanting to see those injuries behind the disguise.