The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 16–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 16

In his office, Brother Leon is meeting with David Caroni, a nearly straight-A student who has somehow received an F on a recent exam. Alternately consoling and criticizing the boy, Leon gradually insinuates the F might have been a lapse in judgment. Teachers, he says, "are all too human. ... It's possible even for us to make mistakes correcting papers." He then abruptly changes the subject and starts discussing the chocolate sale, remarking on Jerry Renault's defiant behavior. Caroni eventually catches on: Leon is using the bad grade as bait to get him to inform against Jerry. Deeply disillusioned, he tells Leon about Jerry's Vigils assignment, which involves refusing to sell the chocolates for 10 days. Leon offhandedly suggests he will reconsider Caroni's grade at the end of the term.

Chapter 17

The day has finally arrived. Jerry's Vigils assignment is up, and everyone expects him to fall into line and accept the chocolates. The Goober in particular is anxious for the standoff between Jerry and Brother Leon to end. In class, however, Jerry surprises everyone by refusing to take part in the sale.

Chapter 18

That night, in bed, Jerry is at a loss to understand his own "crazy" act of defiance. Panicked and shivering, he thinks about Brother Leon's cruelty—"the way he tortures [students], tries to make fools of them in front of everybody." Jerry loathes Brother Leon, but even this, he recognizes, does not explain why he called out "No" in class. Beset by doubts and worries, he finds himself too restless to sleep.

Analysis

Chapter 16 shows Brother Leon at his worst—his worst so far, anyway. For all his talk of the "invisible line" between teachers and students, he is ultimately no better than Archie Costello. Both are masters of the kind of sly, insinuating rhetoric that Leon uses here to coax and intimidate Caroni. Meanwhile, Caroni himself provides a close-up view of the damage done by Leon's leadership style. A trusting and idealistic young man, Caroni is transformed into a cynic when he discovers Leon's lack of principles. Later, in Chapter 22, Leon will complain about the "disease" of apathy sweeping through the Trinity student body. But as this scene reveals, "school spirit"—the sense of camaraderie and self-sacrifice he preaches about in assemblies—are mere marketing tools as far as Leon is concerned.

The next two chapters show Jerry coming to grips with his newfound independence. He is not sure why he refused to sell the chocolates, but at this point the reader has enough information to make an educated guess. Jerry, as shown in Chapter 9, has a deep-seated desire to "do something, be somebody." He is guiltily aware of all the times he has simply gone with the flow, doing what others—adults especially—expected from him. In Chapter 1, he even likens himself to the apostle Peter, who three times denied knowing Jesus at the Crucifixion. Jerry, however, feels he has denied his own inner voice "a thousand times," making him a contemptible "coward." In this light, it is not too hard to see Jerry's "no" in Chapter 17 as a rejection of this "cowardly" past and an embrace of his own individuality. Before, he was simply caving to Archie's demands by refusing to sell the chocolates, but now he is taking a stand. Still, like most people making a decision they think is irrevocable, Jerry has second thoughts as he watches the door slam shut behind him.

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