Free Study Guide for The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

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The destructive potential of unchecked authority

The major theme of this novel is that authority, when unchecked, can be very destructive. Despite the efforts of Brother Jacques and the black box, both Archie and Brother Leon are able to do whatever they want, with terrible consequences. Furthermore, each villain (Emile Janza included) is manipulated by another.

This theme must be seen in light of the political events of the era. During the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal many Americans were questioning the actions of those in power. This theme would register with many Americans during its time of publication. The power of this theme is its universal nature. The current war in Iraq has caused many people throughout the world to consider the authority of the United States. Furthermore, much like The Vigils campaign to popularize the sale and Brother Leon’s association of the sale with school spirit is similar to how many nations deal with war. In times of doubt, war is associated with patriotism; he who opposes the war opposes his nation.

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 the 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 the Watergate scandal, it was apparent that those in positions of power did not have all the answers and were often looking out for only themselves.


This novel is written in the limited omniscient point of view. The narrator is a detached voice that has access to the thoughts of only certain characters. The novel is in the past tense.


1.“It doesn’t take nerve, Obie. When you march down to the rail, you’re receiving the body. Me, I’m just chewing a wafer they buy by the pound in Worcester.”- Archie, pg. 8.

This is one of the first things Archie says in this book. He is responding to Obie’s disgust of him receiving communion.

2. “Square boy. Middle aged at fourteen, fifteen. Already caught in a routine. Wow” - A hippie, pg. 20.

One of the hippies says this to Jerry as he waits for his bus. The hippies are a contrast to Trinity High School, which demands absolute discipline and conformity. Jerry is caught between the two schools of thought and it trying to decide what is right.

3. “an assigner could go off the deep end if there wasn’t some kind of control. The box provided the control.” - Narrator, pg. 37.

This is an important statement because it shows the disastrous potential of unchecked authority. Archie is the controller of The Vigils, and arguable the most powerful person at Trinity. His power must remain in check or he could easily become destructive.

4. “I’m in charge don’t you see.” - Brother Leon, pg. 73.

Leon says this to Archie after watching all of the furniture in Brother Eugene’s classroom fall apart as the result of a Vigil’s assignment. The irony of the statement is that while Leon is technically in charge of the school while the head master is sick; yet, the event in room 19 as well as Leon’s request for Archie’s help show that Archie wields the real power.

5. “Those of you who are true sons of Trinity, that is. I pity anyone who is not.” - Brother Leon, pg. 86.

When Jerry refuses to sell the chocolates, Leon becomes upset. At the end of the roll call, he says that anyone who does not sell the chocolates is not a true son of Trinity. He is trying to instill a sense of pride in the boys. This rhetoric is actually very common during wartime. National leaders often try to equate going to war with patriotism; therefore, opposing the war means someone is not truly a citizen.

6. “Were teachers like everyone else, then? Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies and television?” - David Caroni, pg. 112.

David wonders this as he figures out that Leon is trying to threaten him with a bad grade if he does not make Jerry Renault sell chocolates. This is a pivotal quotation because it reveals Cormier’s larger metaphor of this novel--Trinity high school is a microcosm of the larger world. Leon represents corruption in government. The students are citizens who must decide how to live their lives.

7. “It’s a free country.” - Jerry, pg. 205.

Jerry takes an important stand when he does not back down in front of his class mates. Although Leon says that it is unoriginal for Jerry to express that he is refraining from the sale because it is a free country, this is an important statement. Jerry a right that is very fundamental to our American heritage--the right to dissent. In this novel, Cormier presents an oppressive authority (Leon) who is able to force the masses (the students) to do what he wants through coercion, and by equating his cause, which is not legitimate, with pride in Trinity. This method is similar to despots and illicit wars that are promoted by evoking sentiments of patriotism. Jerry refuses to buy into Leon’s rhetoric and is exercising his right to disagree, no matter how unpopular he becomes.

8. “You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set up here. The greed part--a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part--watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they're safe in the bleachers. That's why it works, Carter, because we're all bastards. ” - Archie, pg. 241.

This quotation exemplifies Archie’s world view. A good deal of this novel is dedicated to Jerry’s quest for his identity in the universe-for how he wishes to “disturb” it. Archie has developed a very basic and animalistic view of human nature. He fails to see any good in it.

9. “They tell you to do your 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. It's a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.” - Jerry, pg. 259.

These are Jerry’s thoughts as The Goober sits with him, awaiting the ambulance. Jerry has been defeated for the final time, the result of disturbing the universe--the natural order.

10. “Maybe the black box will work next time, Archie...Or maybe another kid like Renault will come along.” - Obie, pg. 263.

Obie says this to the apathetic Archie in the last chapter. This quotation reveals the inevitability of Archie’s downfall. Eventually Archie will be beat. He cannot live the way he is forever.

Edition used: Dell Laurel-Leaf Press, 2000


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