Identity from Destructive Behavior: Robert Cormier's Tunes for Bears to Dance To
Janet E. Kaufman and Lynn Kaufman
In Tunes for Bears to Dance To, Robert Cormier presents us with an 11-year-old boy who eventually feels himself coerced into destructive, violent behavior. Henry--a curious, grieving, seemingly gentle, workingclass boy--destroys the artwork, the memory work, of Mr. Levine, a Holocaust survivor who has been a model of creativity and courage. Although Henry commits this act, we know from Cormier that the older man and the young boy had felt compassion for each other. The questions about human behavior and human responses that the book raises do not differ dramatically from the questions that writers, thinkers, and reflective people have asked about the Holocaust and other extreme situations of the twentieth century.
On the very first page of the novel, we meet Henry, the protagonist, who is describing a "crazy house." Of all the comings and goings on his street, the "crazy house" and the old man going to and from the "crazy house" are what catch Henry's eye and capture his imagination. His mother corrects his language, telling him that "it's an institution for the insane" (2). However, the fact that it is known as a "crazy house" poses a question for Henry as he next describes the old man, Mr. Levine, who walks out of that house each morning. "He does not look either crazy or insane," but actually "normal" (2). Henry notices that by afternoon, though, when the old man returns, he looks "like stone worn away by