The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 13–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 13

In his classroom, Brother Leon is calling roll and asking the students whether they will participate in the chocolate sale. The Goober morosely reflects on the incident in Room 19, Brother Eugene's homeroom. Rumors have begun to circulate that Brother Eugene "had a nervous breakdown" as a result of the prank, a thought that fills The Goober with guilt. As Leon cheerfully continues the roll call, each boy accepts his 50 boxes with a "yes" (or, on occasion, a flippant "why not"). When Jerry Renault's name is called, however, Leon is astonished to hear a "no" answer. He asks again, and again Jerry answers with a plain "no." Flustered, Leon continues with the list and dismisses the class before the bell has rung.

Chapter 14

This chapter consists of a series of vignettes in which students embark on the chocolate sale. John Sulkey, a Trinity senior, eagerly makes out his list of potential customers. "Lousy at sports and a squeaker at studies," Sulkey sees the school's annual fundraisers as his one chance to shine. Elsewhere in town, Tubs Casper—so nicknamed because of his weight—sells chocolates and pockets the money to buy a bracelet for his girlfriend. Paul Consalvo has one door after another shut in his face as he attempts to hawk the candies in a low-rent apartment complex. Brian Cochran, the senior "volunteered" by Brother Leon to be the sale's treasurer, is already getting weary of Leon's constant, anxious micromanaging.

In between these short scenes, the narration cuts to Brother Leon's classroom, where students are reporting their boxes sold each day. Other boys report sales of 3, 6, or even 10 boxes a day, but Jerry Renault still refuses to participate. Leon grows exasperated, and the nonconfrontational Goober becomes frustrated with his friend's act of defiance.

Chapter 15

Outside the school, Emile Janza and Archie Costello are discussing "the picture," which is revealed to be a compromising photo of Emile. Unbeknownst to him, the picture doesn't even exist—there was no film in the camera with which it was supposedly taken. Archie promises Emile he can have the picture in exchange for a favor "when the time comes." Emile waylays a freshman, whom he bullies into buying him a pack of cigarettes. He and Archie share a cruel laugh as the freshman dashes to the nearest store.

Analysis

Chapter 13 is a major turning point in the novel. Jerry Renault has just started to get his bearings at Trinity High School, as illustrated by the successful football practice in Chapter 12. Unfortunately, this uplifting episode will turn out to be the high point of his career at Trinity, at least as far as The Chocolate War presents it. With a single word, he goes from mild-mannered freshman to teen rebel, making an enemy of the school's head administrator. Brother Leon is shocked by Jerry's defiance—all the more so because Jerry has seemed so easygoing and cooperative up until now. He does not yet know The Vigils are behind Jerry's boycott of the sale, though he will soon find this out from an informant.

Jerry, however, will keep refusing to sell the chocolates even after his Vigil assignment is up. The chapter and its aftermath might thus be seen as an instance of situational irony: Jerry is peer-pressured into becoming an individual. Meanwhile, in Chapter 15, Emile Janza shows himself just as susceptible to peer pressure—some forms of it, anyway—as Jerry and The Goober are. This might not immediately be evident since Janza is a known bully and seems to be at the top of the school's food chain. Moreover, he's the one pressuring another student, an underclassman, to miss homeroom and buy him a pack of cigarettes. But Janza is not just trying to score some free smokes; he is also trying to impress Archie, whom he admires and wishes to emulate. It doesn't work: Archie is put off—creeped out, even—by Janza and his psychotic giggling.

In Chapter 14, Cormier slaps a fresh coat of paint on the "backdrop" of the novel. He devotes most of the chapter to minor characters, such as John Sulkey and Tubs Casper, sending them across the unnamed town in which the book takes place. By featuring multiple secondary characters in brief snippets, Cormier shows how deeply entrenched the chocolate-sale tradition is at Trinity. Sulkey, Tubs, and Paul Consalvo also offer some clues as to how the chocolate sale has blossomed into a perennial success. It's not just that Brother Leon is an effective orator and a charismatic, intimidating leader, though these facts are well established in Chapter 10. Rather, the chocolate sale provides roles for many different types of boys at Trinity. Boys like Sulkey finally have a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment, while boys like Tubs use the sale as a sort of short-term loan to supplement their allowance. In other words, not everyone is as cynical about the sale as Archie, even if they are not as committed to it as Leon.

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