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Free Study Guide for The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

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THE CHOCOLATE WAR FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY / ANALYSIS

THEMES

Major Theme

The destructive potential of unchecked authority

Cormier creates a metaphor for a government in this novel. Trinity is a microcosm of a nation. Leon, the leader, is completely corrupt. The students are the nation’s citizens who are coming of age and realizing that authority does not have all the answers and is often corrupt. Much like American citizens during the 1970s, the boys are leaving their blissful childhoods during which they believed in heroes. For many Americans the 1970s was the first time that they truly questioned the authority of government. They once believed that their leaders had America’s best interests at heart. However, after Vietnam and Watergate, it was apparent that those in positions of power did not have all the answers and were often looking out for only themselves.

Minor Themes

Guilt

Cormier compares the unfounded guilt (for not selling chocolates) with guilt placed on Catholics by the teaching of the Church. It is a common criticism of the Catholic Church (with which Cormier himself was disillusioned) that it uses guilt to coerce its followers into doing what the Church wants. Historically, the Catholic Church has often guilted its followers into donating money which, ultimately, served corrupt causes.

War/Battle

Sports in general, and aggressive sports such as football in particular, are often used as a metaphor for battle or war. Cormier has several chapters, which are dedicated entirely to football plays. Jerry’s battle against, and subsequent victory over, Carter (also the President of The Vigils) foreshadow his later encounter with the organization. The other war references include the battle for power between Leon and Archie (such as the event in Room 19 in which Eugene was an innocent casualty) and the actual chocolate war.



MOOD

The mood, or tone, of this novel is serious bordering on disturbing. Because it is geared toward teens, the disturbing nature of the novel is not overly emphasized; however, characters such as Emile Janza, Archie Costello and Brother Leon should alarm the reader, particularly because they are so real. The serious tone of the novel is derived from the nature of the plot--a young boy’s discovery of the world. The outcome of the plot, in which the bad guys win, is all too common in real life and should cause contemplation in the reader.


Robert Cormier - BIOGRAPHY

Robert Cormier was born, lived, and died in the small town of Leominster, Massachusetts. He was born the second of eight children in 1925. By the time he was in seventh grade, Cormier realized that he was a writer, and was declared so by his teacher, Sr. Catherine. However, not all of Cormier’s Catholic School experiences were so positive. A year after “becoming a writer,” in the eighth grade, Cormier saw his own house burning from his classroom window and was not allowed to see that his family was safe until his prayers were said. This event created a lasting impression on Cormier and can be seen in his many of his novels.

Cormier continued writing throughout his youth and eventually became a professional writer. His first paying piece was a story he wrote while attending Fitchburg State College. A teacher secretly typed a short story that Cormier had shown her (written in pencil) and submitted it to a magazine; he was paid seventy-five dollars.

After college, Cormier wrote ads for radio and, eventually, became a journalist. In 1948 he married. Cormier and his wife raised four children. He worked as a writer and editor, earning numerous journalism awards. However, it is the work done during the evening for which he is best known: in the evenings he worked on his novels.

The Chocolate War was published in 1974 and began Cormier’s career as a young adult author. While the book was well received at first, it soon became a subject of controversy. Due to it “inappropriate content” the novel became banned in libraries and schools across the nation.

For his great contribution to Young Adult literature, Cormier received the Margaret A. Edwards Award. Robert Cormier passed away in November of 2000; he was 75 years old.

His works include:
After
the First Death
Beyond
the Chocolate War
The
Bumblebee Flies Anyway
The
Chocolate War
Eight
Plus One
Fade
Frenchtown

Summer
Heroes
I Am the Cheese
I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small Town Editor
In the Middle of the Night
Other Bells for Us to Ring
Rag and Bone Shop: A Novel

Tunes for Bears to Dance To
We All Fall Down


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

This novel was published in 1974, which is very important to its overall theme of corruption and the destructive potential of unchecked authority. The 1960s were a particularly tumultuous decade in American history when many people began to distrust government. For many Americans in this time period, it was the first time they questioned the honesty of authority. The Vietnam War and Watergate were two major factors that made many Americans lose faith in the integrity of their leaders.

The Vietnam War was the longest and probably most unpopular war the United States ever fought; 58,000 Americans died in the war. Students, and other activists, throughout the nation protested the war. The United States became involved in the war in 1955 and stayed in until 1973. Many Americans believed the government was sacrificing their sons for its own agenda. This theme can be seen in The Chocolate War when Brother Leon coerces the boys into selling chocolates (the chocolate war) to cover up his mistakes.

Watergate refers to political scandals under the administration of President Richard Nixon between 1972 and 1974. Watergate directly refers to the hotel that burglars broke into, seeking the offices of the Democratic Party’s National Committee (Richard Nixon was from the opposition republican party). Essentially, this scandal illuminated corruption at the very highest level of the government: the President. Nixon subsequently resigned, and America was left jaded and the trust we placed in our elected officials was forever impacted.

These events expose a nation much different that the idyllic post-war 1950s (which, in truth was idyllic for only a few). Cormier writes The Chocolate War within the context of these larger issues.

 

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