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Analysis of Robert Cormier's 'The chocolate War'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2091 words Published: 10th Aug 2021

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This novel was inspired by an event in Robert Cormier’s own life when his son refused to sell chocolates in his school. However, the outcome was not like the novel, but Cormier used this as inspiration to write about what could happen if something entirely different happened at his refusal. The psychological tactics employed in the novel makes the novel disturbing and controversial. As a young adult literature novel, the themes of individual protests and resistance are an importance way to introduce this to students.

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This novel takes place in Trinity High School, an all-boy Catholic school. Jerry Renault, a freshman who has lost his mother, reunites with the school gang, The Vigils, who specialize in making assignments that other students must complete. The purpose of these assignments is to impose as much psychological damage as possible. Jerry’s assignment is to refuse selling chocolates at the school chocolate sale for ten days, even though Archie Costello, assigner of The Vigils, told the headmaster of Trinity Brother Leon that he and the gang would help in any way for the success of the sale. At Jerry’s refusal to sell the chocolates, everyone at first was surprised. Eventually, it is acknowledged that The Vigils are behind it and everyone is expecting that at the tenth day, Jerry accepts the chocolate. However, at such awaited day, Jerry still refuses which makes Brother Leon enraged. When The Goober, Jerry’s friend who experienced one of The Vigils assignments, asks him why he refused, Jerry says he doesn’t know. He was inspired by the poster that was in his locker that said: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

The Vigils, considering Jerry’s refusal as disobedience of their assignment, demand Jerry to meet with them and tell him to accept the chocolates. Jerry still declines and he becomes somewhat of a hero in school, and soon, other students are refusing to sell the chocolates as well. When the sales drop, Brother Leon gets upset and accuses Archie of disrupting the sale by making Jerry’s assignment. With this, Archie decides to make the sale popular and put Jerry as an outsider. The chocolates are sold fast and students, who have not really sold chocolates, are getting scores as if they had. When Jerry keeps refusing selling any chocolates, The Vigils start making his life difficult by doing prank-calls, swiping homework assignments, trashing his locker and making kids beat him up after football practice.

All the chocolates are sold except Jerry’s, which makes Archie want to get back at him. He plans a student-only meeting to raffle off the tickets. The raffle puts Jerry against school thug Emile Janza in a boxing fight, in which the students who raffle the tickets write how and where Jerry should hit Janza or vice versa. Both of them are hitting each other as directed. A member of The Vigils, then, takes out a raffle ticket that indicates Janza to punch Jerry in the groin. Jerry stops the punch causing Janza not to abide by any rules. He punches Jerry over and over until he falls down, the lights in the stadium go off and Brother Jacques stops the ceremony. Before Brother Jacques could punish Archie, Brother Leon, who was there from the beginning watching, makes sure he isn’t. As Jerry waits for the ambulance, he tells his friend, The Goober, to not disturb the universe because it is not worth it. Archie shows no regret for the past, while Jerry is left with no hope for the future.


In this novel, the author provides background and description by actions and thoughts.

His work could be considered very controversial, considering he puts church principles secondary to personal gain and self-perpetuation. A symbolic theme in the novel is Cormier’s use of character names, which do tend to foreshadow some of the characters actions and situations. By offering different types of students, whether they are the main characters or not, Cormier widens the appeal of the book and makes it easier for readers to relate of sympathize with the events of the novel. The point of view of the story is third person, limited omniscient which the author has access to some of the character’s thoughts. This helps the students understand the character’s actions and why they do what they do. The mood or tone of the novel is serious, closest on disturbing which, in a way, foreshadows the novel’s situations and outcomes. In the novel, young people deceive and control each other and the adults don’t give them positive examples to follow. The conflict in this novel tends to be very general. We see the person-against-self, in which reflects on Jerry’s conflict of feelings; the typical person-against-person conflict that we see between Jerry and The Vigils, Jerry and Archie and Jerry and Emile; and the person-against-society which is the Jerry’s battle with the whole school and how he is separated from everyone.

The most important theme is the coming of age, in which shows how Jerry grows emotionally throughout the whole novel and how his beliefs change. Other themes are fear, power, individualism, peer pressure and violence and cruelty. Jerry’s poster is a symbol of what he does and how it will affect his life of the fact that refusing the chocolates takes strength and courage. In addition, the chocolates which were originally Mother’s Day chocolates are symbolic because it will be over them that Jerry will resolve the conflict of who he wants to become, without his mother. It is a book that can be understood in the context of outsiders in any environment.


Cormier’s attempts to convince young adults of the corruptness and cruelty of their peers as well as the adult word is something that is considered controversial and that may be a problem for parents and educators. I think, however, that his views on the society are very essential in young adults because it will make them acknowledge the reality that they might encounter. Cormier’s novel reflects an effort to persuade acts of conscience and personal courage which make me see that, whether students will be interested in reading the novel or not, it is still a good example of inspiration to students who may have difficulty in doing what they think is right. However, at the end of the novel, Jerry thinks that “disturbing the universe” was not worth it, which makes Cormier’s view differ from mine. I believe that people should always stand up for what they believe in, and it should not matter what others think.

Literary Theories

Archetypal Approach


A lot of factors cause Jerry to act the way he does and the main reason is that he is enforced by The Vigils to reject the chocolates. He is driven by his surroundings and by others to do something. He is separated from his life and usual thoughts by The Vigils and acts upon what they want.


The decision to not sell the chocolates is the initiation to Jerry’s journey in the novel. Jerry knows that his acts are not well received by Brother Leon or The Vigils, in fact, but continues to stand up to them. His courage is what turns him into a hero. His actions are not to save the world or to do something which will help other; they are to take a stand against evil or unjust cause, which makes his act heroic. Despite all the obstacles or evil forces that stand in his way, he continued to fight.

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Jerry’s attitude changes when he realized that he couldn’t get away with saying “no” to the chocolate sale. His refusal upset people and by the end of the novel, he comes to realization after his is beaten up by another student and nearly everyone at school hates him. He couldn’t change the outcome of the cruelty and violence in school. His journey changed him and he, in fact, grew emotionally. However, at the same time, he went back to the beginning of letting others influence his actions and beliefs.

Psychological Approach

Jerry Renault

Jerry’s actions speak much more than words and demonstrate strength. His decision to not sell the chocolates is the ID from his personality. He is driven by others to do so, which is a decision to cause pleasures to others. His sudden decision to not accept the chocolates after the assignment is over is part of the ID as well because, at first, it is just an impulse on his part; he is not entirely sure why he does it. After The Vigils harass him, he hangs on to that decision, even though he knows it is better to just accept the chocolate. Now, the Ego takes over the ID because he is doing what he feels is right. The Superego overtakes his personality because he starts to follow his conscience and keep standing up to evil. At the end of the novel, however, the ID influences in his personality because his impulse is to not dare to disturb the universe and just do what he is expected to do.

Archie Costello

Archie manipulates everyone by being cruel and finds it fun to do so. He understands people, but he uses that to determine what will hurt the person most. He has control over everyone, even Brother Leon, and knows how to act upon it. The ID completely overtakes in his personality because he acts on impulse and on what will satisfy him. He assigns The Goober to unscrew everything in Brother Eugene’s classroom, but then sends two Vigils to help him do the job. His responsibility was to help Brother Leon on the sales, but he assigns Jerry to not accept the chocolates, which ultimately, affected the sales. Later, he decides to make the sale popular and sell all the chocolates, putting everyone against Jerry. Everything he does is on impulse and for his own satisfaction.

Brother Leon

Brother Leon is just as calculating and as indifferent with the cost of his actions as Archie is. Brother Leon uses Archie for power and protection and knows that if The Vigils are behind the sale, his actions will somewhat be protected. In his personality, the ID takes over completely. He likes watching Archie manipulate and control everyone, for he is just the same. He does not act because he finds satisfying punishing people, but also because he wants to have control over the school.

The Goober

Same as Jerry, his decision to follow The Vigils’ assignment is part of the ID because he acts on impulse, or rather, on gratification on what others want. His decision to quit the football team is part of the Ego; because he sees reality settling in, especially when he finds out Brother Eugene has supposedly been transferred, and knows how the assignment he did affected Eugene’s life. Somewhere along the way, the Superego takes over because he sees that “it was a cruel thing to do to a guy like him”, taking into consideration what was right or wrong.

Emile Janza

Emile operates his own way of cruelty by using physical violence, instead of mental, like Archie does. This definitely is part of the ID in his personality because he acts for his own satisfaction or just following others orders. He was being blackmailed by Archie, and that was one of the reasons behind his actions. The photograph that Archie told him he had was one that he supposedly took when he found Emile in the bathroom masturbating. This action can also be considered as part of the ID because it was done over sexual drive. At the end, he beats Jerry over and over again, which makes the ID overtake in his personality.


Obie hates what Archie does to people, but he does not speak out against him. The fact that he knows exactly what Archie does could be the reason why he does not speak of his opinion; maybe he is afraid. What he does for Archie or The Vigils is part of the ID because, like others, he does what others tell him to do. However, the Superego comes when, for a moment, he feels bad for Jerry and the fact that his mother died. He does not agree with Archie when he picks Jerry for an assignment, when only recently, he has lost his mother. The ID comes to picture again when he, on impulse, attempts to get back at Archie with the black box at the end. Archie cannot back out because everyone is watching, and Obie feels satisfaction. Obie is outsmarted by Archie every time, though, and he knows this, which just seals his association with The Vigils and Archie.


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