Hem and Haw (Who Moved My Cheese): Character Analysis

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Who Moved My Cheese" by Spencer Johnson. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here.

Who are Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson? How do they handle change differently, and who’s more successful?

We’ll cover the differing reactions to change of Hem and Haw (Who Moved My Cheese) and discover which has a healthier and more productive response to change. From Hem and Haw, learn how to handle change in your own life more effectively.

Who Are Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese

No matter what environment we operate in — whether a town, city, family, relationship, workplace, or other setting — change is inevitable. “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson is a parable about a place that changed, and how its inhabitants reacted. Through the characters’ triumphs and travails, the story offers lessons and tips for coping successfully with change in our lives by changing our attitudes and behavior.

Who are Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese? Hem and Haw are the two human characters in the parable.

The parable unfolds in a maze, where four characters — two mice (Sniff and Scurry) and two tiny humans (Hem and Haw), search for cheese, which represents happiness. They get pretty good at this. The mice use their simple, rodent-specific talents of sniffing out cheese and scurrying around until they find it. Hem and Haw use their human thinking and analytical skills to also find cheese. They find a huge supply and all four enjoy its benefits for quite a while.

One day the maze dwellers, including Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese, confront a crisis: The cheese is gone. All four characters must adapt in one way or another to their changed circumstances. 

How the Mice Deal with Change

The mice are the best equipped at the outset. 

  • They’re not surprised at the change because they noticed it happening. They stayed observant and noticed that the cheese was getting old and the pile was shrinking. 
  • They’re ready to act because they’ve stayed alert and anticipated change. 
  • They act quickly to adapt – they immediately put on their running shoes, which they’ve kept at the ready, and set out to find new cheese. 
  • They’re persistent, eventually finding a new stockpile. 
  • Even with new cheese at hand, they monitor the situation and check around for new supplies because they know things will change again.

How Hem and Haw (Who Moved My Cheese) Deal with Change

Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese deal with change differently.

Hem

Because he rejects change, Hem is the character most people wouldn’t want to be, but we all probably share some of his characteristics some of the time. 

  • Hem has come to regard the cheese as his entitlement. He feels he deserves it. 
  • When the cheese disappears, he complains about the unfairness. He gets angry and seeks someone to blame. 
  • Hem denies reality, believing and insisting to Haw that the cheese will reappear. 
  • Hem holds onto the past. He thinks that digging in and doing what he’s done in the past will negate change. (He keeps exploring the neighboring area for cheese, instead of venturing out for new cheese)
  • And despite a lack of success, and despite the fact that he is hurting himself, Hem refuses to act any differently.

Haw

Of Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese, Haw is the character who experiences the most change in the story. Initially, like Hem, he’s upset, overwhelmed and also in shock that the cheese has disappeared. At first, he follows Hem’s lead in sitting around complaining and waiting for the cheese to reappear. He whines about the injustice of it all. 

But eventually, Haw realizes that things aren’t going to improve unless he acts. Despite Hem’s attempts to discourage him, Haw strikes out on his own to find new cheese. He is afraid of failing, but he overcomes his fear by asking himself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” He keeps going. This is the primary difference between the reactions of Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese.

Taking control increases his confidence, and he starts to enjoy moving in a new direction. He finds some small pieces of new cheese, which he takes back to the starting point to share with Hem, but Hem isn’t interested in trying the new cheese or looking for more. He still just wants things to return to the way they used to be. Haw realizes he can’t change Hem — Hem will have to change himself, or not. 

Haw returns to his search for new cheese and finally comes upon the large new stockpile that the mice had found earlier. After celebrating success, he reflects on the experience and pledges to anticipate change and adapt quickly in the future. This is the lesson of Hem and Haw in Who Moved My Cheese.

Hem and Haw (Who Moved My Cheese): Character Analysis

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "Who Moved My Cheese" at Shortform. Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less.

Here's what you'll find in our full Who Moved My Cheese summary:

  • The absolute worst thing to do when change is coming
  • How to adapt to change, like the key characters
  • How to handle change in work and life
Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *