The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier
“Was life that dull, that boring and humdrum for people? He hated to think of his own life stretching ahead of him that way, a long succession of days and nights that were fine, fine—not good, not bad, not great, not lousy, not exciting, not anything.”
(Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War.)
The Chocolate War follows Jerry Renault, a freshman at Trinity School, an all-boys Catholic school, who just lost his mother to cancer. Within the school there is a secret society that runs the school: The Vigils. The Vigils create “assignments” for the students to complete. The Vigils run the school more so than the actual teachers. In fact, the assignments that they create are often cruel pranks and practical jokes in which the other students never refuse to complete.
The students at the Trinity School complete an annual chocolate sale, but this year things are different. Archie, the head of The Vigils, is asked by the acting headmaster to help with the sale this year. Leon, the acting headmaster is power-hungry and wants to sell more chocolate than ever before and at a more expensive rate. Leon asks Archie to help him by telling him to recruit The Vigils to help with the sale.
Archie gives “assignments” to many of the students, but the one he gives to Jerry is for him to refrain from partaking in the sale for ten days, which will make him go against Brother Leon’s requests. Jerry goes through with his assignment, defying both Trinity School and The Vigils. He witnesses the greediness, deceit, and cruelty that surround his life at Trinity School. Jerry is vandalized, beaten, and embarrassed by The Vigils, for his going against what the school and The Vigils want him to do. Archie and Brother Leon are both at odds and feel that they will be destroyed if the sale doesn’t work.
“They tell you to do your own thing but they don’t mean it. They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too.”
(Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War.)
Why has it been challenged or banned & why should we read it?
Out of 460 challenges as reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, The Chocolate War makes number 10 on the list. The book has been challenged for reasons such as nudity, offensive language, sexual explicitness, and that it is not suited for a particular age group. In 2004, the book topped the list of most challenged books according to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Although the novel has been challenged, there are so many valuable things that lay within the pages of this book. The main character, Jerry, faces challenges. Jerry must decide whether or not to go against an oppressive group and choose his own fate, or if he should succumb to the authority that is pressing down on him. Jerry is a lonely, motherless, high school student, who is dealing with issues of belongingness, and trying to find his identity. Although the exact circumstances Jerry is in might not be the exact same as those that teenagers of today face (a secret society forcing chocolate selling), the realities of peer pressure and obeying authority are issues that our teenagers face on a daily basis. The struggle between good and evil exists in the lives of our students, and in this novel. Shielding them from the realities of their world doesn’t help them to grow; it makes them feel alone and helpless. Giving our students models of courage and persistence is something that must be done, and this novel is a great gateway.
Want to read more about challenges to this book?:
More about Robert Cormier:
This book is now a movie!:
A short interview with the author: