Research Paper Chocolate War
What is the overriding feeling in Trinity school? What is the "rottenness" that some characters detect?
Possible Answer: There is a vein of evil running through the school that stems both from The Vigils and from the administration - namely Brother Leon. Most teachers and students seem to have abandoned hope, perhaps because they feel that they have no choice other than to obey the dogmatic authority structure that is currently in place.
There are no female characters in this novel. What do girls and women mean to the boys at Trinity?
Possible Answer: Girls and women are largely unknown to the boys of Trinity School. Those whom the boys do encounter are often misunderstood or disappointing. The scarcity of female characters is indicative of the boys' confusion and ignorance about the female sex, and is also a symptom of the fact that they have been taught only by celibate Brothers.
Is the chocolate sale significant? What is represented by the huge number of boxes of candy that the boys at Trinity must sell?
Possible Answer: The chocolate being sold was originally packaged for a different purpose - Mother's Day - but since the holiday has passed, Brother Leon has been able to secure a good deal. From the beginning, the chocolate sale is thus fraudulent. The boys are forced to sell a huge number of useless products for the sole purpose of inflating the ego of a power-hungry dictator.
How does Jerry's relationship with his father facilitate the crisis in this novel? Would a different relationship, or a different father, have changed Jerry's experience?
Possible Answer: Jerry's father is both physically and emotionally remote: he keeps strange hours, and has never recovered from the death of his wife. The fact that Mr. Renault sees himself as a failed man - a pharmacist who never became a doctor - gives Jerry a distorted, hopeless view of adult life which may influence his decision to not seek out help from adults.
Emile Janza is represented as an "animal." Do you detect any recognizable psychological problems that might explain Emile's cruelty?
Possible Answer: It may be Emile Janza's inability to understand himself that inspires such cruelty towards others. He appears to be a truly disturbed individual - a sadist, in fact - who derives sexual pleasure from hurting other people. He is the most physically cruel person in the novel, but he is not as deliberately calculating or evil as Archie.
Describe Archie's odd motivations. He has been compared to Shakespeare's Iago, in that he seems to have no reason for his actions. Why is he so cruel to other students?
Possible Answer: Early in the novel, Archie reveals a great deal about his motivations when he says, "Life is shit." Archie is an example of a character who, at a young age, is already disillusioned by life. He has been failed by his parents and teachers, and has no enduring hope or faith in the goodness of humanity.
What is the function of the Goober in this novel? Does he disappoint his friend when he quits football? Is Goober a good friend, or is he just as weak as the others?
Possible Answer: Goober is a good friend for most of the novel, but in the end he too is defeated by the evil running through Trinity. When pushed to his limit, he - like most of the boys - gives up. Jerry is atypical, in that he feels that he must fight the cruel oppression found at Trinity.
Where are the parents in this novel? Is the lack of parental involvement at least partly to blame for what happens to Jerry?
Possible Answer: Parents, when they are mentioned in this novel, are invariably caught up in their own affairs or are oblivious to what is happening to their sons. This is partially because the boys hide everything from their parents, but also because the parents seem to assume that their boys attend an excellent school and place their faith in the Brothers.
Do you feel that Jerry could have averted the catastrophe at the end of the novel? Would he have kept his personal integrity had he done so?
Possible Answer: From an adult perspective, Jerry's actions seem odd. He could have easily informed his father or another Brother at Trinity about the harassment, or asked to be transferred. Jerry, however, sees his troubles at Trinity as his own affair: it is up to him - and no one else - to resolve it.
What does the character of Carter represent?
Possible Answer: Carter, who represents the pinnacle of achievement in both the athletic sphere and The Vigils, perfectly exemplifies just what, exactly, is wrong at Trinity. At any other school, Carter would have been content with the power accorded to him as Captain of the football team, but at Trinity the power structure is such that he feels the need to dominate The Vigils, as well.
“They murdered him.” Thus begins The Chocolate War, a novel about evil and the abuse of power in a private boy’s high school. Jerry Renault is not literally murdered that day, only tackled on the football field. However, by using that sentence, Robert Cormier sets an ominous tone for the book and hints at a grim ending.
The novel comprises thirty-nine chapters, each short but with significant impact. The author’s writing has been called “cinematic” because the book’s scenes are very tight and the dialogue is brief. Action and dialogue move the story along; there are no long, descriptive paragraphs. Cormier’s career as a newspaper reporter and editor influenced his style. Journalists are trained to use the lead to draw readers in and to keep their sentences short. Cormier does not give away the ending, however. He draws readers in with little dramas, creating suspense with pacing and dialogue. “Rather than waiting for one big climax, I try to create a lot of little conflicts,” Cormier explained, “a series of explosions as I go along.”
The point of view changes from chapter to chapter. Some chapters are narrated from Jerry’s perspective, while others are narrated from the perspectives of Obie and Archie. By shifting the point of view from one character to another, Cormier develops connections between a reader and every major character.
The metaphors and similes in the book are dark, comparing, for example, Brother Leon’s breath to rancid bacon or a sunset to bleeding and spurting veins. Cormier draws upon his upbringing as a Roman Catholic for much of the symbolism: He describes goal posts that resemble empty crucifixes and names the bullies’ group the Vigils in reference to the eve of a religious holiday.
The struggle of the individual against an evil system is a major theme of the book. Cormier was a practicing and moral Catholic. Individual moral choices shape the lives of his characters, but he is interested in bigger issues than a freshman refusing to sell chocolate candy. He asks through his novel what responsibility each individual bears when faced with injustice. He portrays a choice between merely observing such injustice or, in the words of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) quoted on Jerry’s poster, “disturb[ing] the universe.”
Cormier’s last editor, Karen Wojtyla, wrote, “He often places his characters at crossroads, exploring what happens depending upon which choice they make.” The Chocolate War is about choosing defiance or conformity. Jerry chooses defiance, refusing to participate in the candy sale. The other students and Brother Jacques, by contrast, know of the Vigils but do nothing to stop or disband them. Cormier demonstrates the outcome of doing nothing. Someone gets hurt, and the evil Archie sits calmly on a bench, ironically wishing he had a chocolate bar.
Cormier ends the book the way it began, with the word “murder.” Jerry is brutally beaten to the point of unconsciousness. He says to Goober, “Just remember what I told you. It’s important. Otherwise, they murder you.” Although Jerry does not die, his spirit is broken as he succumbs to the manipulations of Archie and Brother Leon. Jerry dared to disturb the universe, but he has lost.
The Chocolate War is historically significant in two ways. First, according to biographer Patty Campbell, “The Chocolate War initiated a new level of literary excellence in the fledgling genre of young adult fiction.” Cormier created books for teens that were literature and paved the way for other writers in this genre to achieve literary recognition.
Second, Cormier’s book represented new thinking regarding the types of books to which youth should be exposed. By rejecting the idea that endings must be happy and that the hero must prevail, Cormier opened the door to controversy, exposing teenagers to the real world. In this world, heroes can get hurt and they may not win in the end. This does not mean that the world is all bad or that Cormier was a pessimistic person. Cormier did his job as an author: He told a great story, with honesty, and created realistic characters with whom his readers could identify.
While there were objections and formal protests to the book because it contained violence, offensive language, and an upsetting ending, The Chocolate War has earned many honors since it was published. In 1974, the novel received a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year Award and an American Library Association (ALA) Award for books for young adults. Margaret Sacco of Miami University of Ohio wrote, “It is considered the best young adult novel of all times by teachers, professors and librarians.” The ALA named The Chocolate War one of the one hundred best books for teens written between 1966 and 2000.