The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 34–36 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 34

Back at school, Jerry finds himself virtually ignored by both students and teachers. His vandalized locker has been cleaned out, and The Goober, Jerry's only true friend, is absent. Just as he is beginning to relax into his sense of anonymity, however, Jerry is nearly pushed down the stairs by an unseen attacker. In Brother Leon's office, Brian Cochran declares the sale finished. All but 50 boxes—Jerry's 50—have been sold. Cochran finds this unusual, but Leon is simply happy with the results. Elsewhere, Archie and Obie plan a "special assembly" at which Jerry's chocolates will be sold off.

Chapter 35

The next evening, Archie stands in the stadium atop a boxing ring that has been pressed into use as a stage. To the teachers, he has represented the event as a students-only "football rally." The students, however, know to expect a fight between Jerry Renault and Emile Janza. Jerry has been baited into coming by the promise of revenge against Janza and an end to the harassment. As the bleachers fill with students, Obie grudgingly admires Archie's handiwork. Jerry, meanwhile, is having second thoughts as he stands on the platform in boxing gear. He has heard the rules of the fight and feels he doesn't have much chance of winning. Janza, however, is ready for the fight to start.

Chapter 36

The nature of the mysterious raffle tickets is finally revealed. In addition to giving the entrant a chance to win $100 and the chocolates, the tickets contain a space for a boxing blow and a name. The fight is to be carried out one blow at a time as tickets are drawn. Carter, president of the Vigils, congratulates Archie on orchestrating such an event, but he worries—momentarily—about being complicit in such a cruel spectacle. As Archie makes his way to the stage to begin the match, he is surprised to see Obie carrying the black box. If Archie draws the black marble, he will have to take the place of one of the fighters. Hiding his anger, he quickly draws two marbles—one for Jerry and one for Janza—in plain view of the audience. Both are white. Archie walks free.

Analysis

In a more traditional young adult novel, this is where Jerry would triumph, beating Emile Janza fair and square and going on to win the approval of his peers. Cormier, however, doesn't write that way. His characters, Jerry included, are more likely to be crushed by the world's indifference than vindicated or applauded. Even random events, like the raffle drawing and the black-box lottery, fail to provide Cormier's protagonists with an escape from the beatings life has in store. When outside help finally comes in Chapter 37, it is not a magical deus ex machina (a convenient solution to a character's problem). Instead, it is too little too late.

Archie's labeling of humanity as "greedy and cruel ... all bastards" may be a bit cynical, but Cormier's portrayal of mob mentality is hard to fault. Brother Leon already made this point in Chapter 6 by showing how reluctant his students are to stand up for one another. Now, in the stadium, the crowd is "yelling for blood. And they don't care whose blood it is anymore." This downward spiral of peer pressure is one of the main points of resemblance between The Chocolate War and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (1954). Cormier's novel has frequently been compared to the latter work, in which a group of schoolboys run murderously amok on a desert island.

It is somewhat surprising that Carter goes along with Obie in his plan to have Archie draw the marbles in front of the entire school. The two boys are not natural allies: Carter is a jock who likes to solve problems by force, while notebook-carrying Obie favors brains over brawn. They are united, however, by their resentment of Archie. This raises the question: If Carter and Obie are willing to challenge Archie like this, who else might follow their example? In the short term, having Archie "try for the marbles" is ineffective, as he escapes the "assignment" of having to enter the boxing ring. Nonetheless, the gesture sends a clear signal to Archie, whose psychological grip on his fellow Vigils has weakened even more than he realized. Archie's day of reckoning has been postponed, but as Obie repeatedly observes, his luck cannot last forever.

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