Challenged Books: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
1. Cormier, Robert. (1974). The chocolate war. New York: Knopf.
2. Summary: Jerry Renault is still reeling after the recent death of his mother. However, at a school like Trinity High School, he is not likely to find much sympathy. Trinity is led by a gang known as The Vigils, headed by Archie Castello. The Vigils make assignments that other students must complete. These assignments range from physical to psychological. Jerry gets an assignment from The Vigils that he is to refuse to sell chocolate at the school’s annual fundraising sale. After the assignment ends, Archie informs Jerry that he is to now participate in the selling of chocolates. Jerry begins to think about a poster in his locker that says, “Do I dare disturb the universe?”. Jerry feels like he must disturb the universe and The Vigils’ plan by refusing to sell the chocolates. This act at first deems him a hero by his peers, but as Archie and The Vigils pick up their intimidation factors, Jerry is turned into an outcast and victim.
3. Critical Analysis: Since its publication in 1974, The Chocolate War has been near the top of the most frequently censored books. According to Tasha Robison, reviewer in an online periodic book review YA Why?, the book has been banned and censored due “its violence and its several brief-but-frank masturbation scenes” (Robison, 2012). With brutality and sex aside, the book is written for teenagers. The story centers around our protagonist, Jerry Renault, in his desire to disturb the universe. He single-handedly takes on the bullies of the school, The Vigils, and a corrupt teacher, Brother Leon. In fact, Jerry is a remarkable character. Although he is all alone in his endeavor, Jerry shows strength, determination, and bravery. His stoicism is tested as he is tormented and humiliated until the very end of the novel. At no point, does Jerry complain about his lot or tell his father.
Cormier’s theme of disturbing the universe is very powerful. No one at Trinity High School has dared to disturb or defy The Vigils or the corrupt teachers. Jerry does disturb the universe, and for a small time, wakes up the rest of the student body to the wild goings-on at Trinity. Nonetheless, Archie and his gang turn the tides again, and Jerry is left alone to fight, literally, his battle. To me, this was the hardest part of the novel to read. After all the torment that Jerry has endured, I wanted the novel to end with Archie and his gang defeated. Cormier ends the novel with a depressing and “winner takes it all” mentality. This is a profound idea to discuss with students today. Is there always a happy ending? Was disturbing the universe worth the trauma that Jerry endured? This book is an amazing portrayal of going against the tide to be one’s own person in a teenage world of trying to fit in.
Robison, Tasha. (2012). Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War is a much-banned, malevolent gem. YA Why? Retrieved June 16, 2014 from http://www.avclub.com/article/robert-cormiers-ithe-chocolate-war-iis-a-much-bann-83405.