Free Study Guide for The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier|
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FREE STUDY GUIDE - THE CHOCOLATE WAR BY ROBERT CORMIER
Keeping in mind that this novel was published in 1974, hippies were a
much more prevalent subculture than they are today. In the 1960s and 1970s
many Americans were becoming disillusioned with the power and integrity
of authority. The Vietnam War and Watergate challenged the idyllic version
of American that many believed was possible in the 1950s (the 1950s were
by no means tranquil for everyone, especially minorities). In this section
the hippies are setting up an important theme for this novel: challenging
authority. The hippies contrast Jerry’s school, Trinity. In the upcoming
chapters we will see how Trinity is a strict school built on discipline
and conformity. When Jerry sees the “Why” and “Why not” on the advertising
blank, his conflict in the story is foreshadowed. Jerry will have to decide
where he fits in between the hippies and the authority at his school.
He will decide between fighting the system and accepting the system.
In the opening of chapter four, Archie is meeting with Brother Leon, the Assistant Head Master of Trinity High School. Brother Leon tells Archie that he wants the boys (Trinity is an all boys school) to sell 20,000 boxes of chocolates. The chocolate sale is an annual fundraiser at the school. However, the boys normally sell 10,000 boxes. Leon was able to get the chocolates at a discounted price because they were left over from the previous Mother’s Day (this scene takes place in the Fall). Archie realizes that with only 400 boys in the school, each student would have to sell fifty boxes. Normally, they have to sell twenty-five boxes at one dollar a box; this year Leon wants each kid to sell fifty boxes at two dollars a box.
Leon tells Archie that the Head Master is gravely ill and the school will soon be under his charge. The school is in a financial bind and is really dependent on the revenue from the chocolate sale.
Archie knows that Leon is appealing to him because he is an important member
of The Vigils. However, Leon will not reference the organization because
the school chooses to ignore it, since they could never condone its actions.
Trinity needs The Vigils to keep things in order, so they allow it to
continue. Archie and Leon continue talking evasively and have a showdown
of sorts. Archie, realizing he has Leon for his weakest subject (Algebra)
says he will check with The Vigils to see if they can help.
In this chapter we learn how powerful Archie is. He is the "Assigner" of The Vigils, which appears to be an extremely important position since he says he is The Vigils. This sentiment is affirmed by Brother Leon’s plea for Archie to help him. The word vigil comes from the Latin vigilia, which means wakefulness or watch. In contemporary English we often use vigil to mean a watch kept during the night. This watch seems to be the function of the organization--they maintain control off hours. They work after school, and control the boys through various non-academic assignments. Their watch and power has become important to the functioning of the school.
In this chapter we also meet Brother Leon. The reader should be suspicious of this teacher. We must wonder about his motives in contacting a student to aid in his sale. It seems that as an authority figure Leon should not be consulting with a student organization that is not condonable by the school. Furthermore, he appears nervous and at Archie’s mercy.
The reader also learns a bit more about Trinity. It is a Catholic school that serves mostly middle class families. It is not a prestigious private school. Brother Leon mentions Tommy Desjardins’s family (Des Jardins means gardens in French) as the wealthiest in the school. Tommy’s family has a summer home and two cars. While many families have two cars today, this was not typical in the early 1970s.
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. 09 May 2017