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Free Study Guide for The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

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FREE STUDY GUIDE - THE CHOCOLATE WAR BY ROBERT CORMIER

CHAPTER 3

Summary

At the opening of this chapter, Jerry looks briefly at a Playboy magazine in the drugstore, afraid the owner will see him. He remembers how he once bought a girlie magazine but was so afraid it would be discovered in his room that he threw it away. He worried that a girl might never love him, or that he might never get to intimately experience a girl before he died.

As Jerry waits at the bus stop he notices the group of people across the street-hippies. They always yell at passersby. Jerry notices the contrast between the shirt and tie he is required to wear to school and the carefree clothing of the group of people. A man from the group calls to Jerry, asking why he stares at them everyday. Although he really does stare, Jerry pretends he does not. The man calls him square and tells him to get on his bus. He tells Jerry he is sub-human because Jerry is already caught in a routine everyday-wearing a tie and doing his work. Jerry sees Why? written on a blank advertisement space; underneath, he sees Why not?


Notes

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.


CHAPTER 4

Summary

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.

Notes

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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