The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Plot Summary

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Summary

A Fresh Start

Jerry Renault begins his freshman year at Trinity High School, a private Catholic institution in a small New England town. Having recently lost his mother, Jerry embraces the school year as a chance to move on with his life, or at least find a distraction from his grief. At first, things seem to be going well. He gets on the freshman football team and finds a friend in classmate Roland "The Goober" Goubert. Jerry is quickly singled out, however, by The Vigils, a secret student society with unrivaled influence in the school.

About a month into the semester, Trinity's annual chocolate sale is announced by Brother Leon, the school's acting headmaster. This year's sale is much more ambitious than the last: twice as many boxes of chocolates, to be sold at twice the price. To guarantee its success, Leon asks Archie Costello—the cynical, manipulative "assigner" of The Vigils—to use his influence to help sell the chocolates. Archie pledges The Vigils' support, but initially it seems little help will be needed: virtually all of the school's 400 students agree to take part in the sale.

An Act of Defiance

To upset Brother Leon, however, Archie "assigns" Jerry to refuse the chocolates for 10 days. Jerry surprises everyone, including himself, by continuing to boycott the sale even after the 10 days have passed. The Goober, meanwhile, is assigned to play a cruel prank on Brother Eugene, a "young and sensitive" teacher. With each assignment given out, Archie must draw a marble at random from a black box in the presence of his fellow Vigils. If he ever picks a black marble, Archie has to carry out the assignment himself—but so far, he hasn't.

As news of Jerry's rebellious act spreads throughout the school, other students begin refusing to take part in the sale. Brother Leon starts to panic and demands that Archie do something. The other Vigils are worried, too, seeing Jerry's defiance as a threat to their group's influence over the school. Obie, The Vigils' secretary, already resents and distrusts Archie and now eagerly awaits his downfall. Carter, the society's president, wants to bring Jerry into line by beating him up. Archie summons Jerry to a Vigils meeting to explain himself, and then he asks Jerry to start selling the chocolates. The Goober, who abhors conflict, also urges him to take part in the sale. Jerry refuses to back down.

A Cruel Lottery

Struggling to regain his power within The Vigils, Archie enlists Emile Janza, a bully, to assault and humiliate Jerry. Afterward, Jerry is harassed by late-night phone calls and acts of theft and vandalism. Meanwhile, The Vigils do everything they can to turn the chocolate sale into a popular cause. Soon boys are meeting their sales quotas left and right, sometimes with covert Vigil help. As the money piles up, Brother Leon is placated, but the other students have come to resent Jerry and treat him as an outcast. To dispose of the final 50 boxes of chocolates—Jerry's quota—Archie and Obie plan a special, students-only "assembly," which they describe to the faculty as a "football rally." Raffle tickets are sold to the students, with the remaining chocolates as part of the prize.

The so-called rally, however, turns out to be a staged boxing match between Jerry and Janza. On each raffle ticket, the entrant has written in a name—Renault or Janza—and a boxing blow. Archie announces the rules: as names and punches are called out, the fight will progress one blow at a time, with no blocking allowed. Carter and Obie surprise Archie by bringing out the black box, leaving him no choice but to draw a marble for each of the two contenders. To his relief, both marbles are white. He silently promises to get even with Carter and Obie.

At first, the fight goes according to Archie's rules. Jerry holds his own, but Janza seems to be winning. Then, however, an illegal low blow is called, and Jerry instinctively defends himself. Feeling cheated, the students begin booing and calling for blood, and Janza starts indiscriminately pummeling Jerry. As Jerry crumples to the floor unconscious, a Trinity teacher arrives at the stadium and turns off the lights, ending the awful spectacle. Brother Leon, who has been watching the fight from afar, rebukes Archie but prescribes no punishment, effectively turning a blind eye to Archie's actions. Jerry is driven off the field in an ambulance, having learned a terrible lesson about the price of defying authority.

The Chocolate War Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Jerry Renault tries out for the football team.

Rising Action

2 Brother Leon announces the school's annual chocolate sale.

3 The Vigils command Jerry to refuse to sell the chocolates.

4 His assignment over, Jerry continues to opt out of the sale.

5 Other students join Jerry in refusing to sell their boxes.

6 With The Vigils' covert help, the sale becomes a success.

7 Janza and others beat up Jerry after football practice.

8 Archie organizes a boxing match between Jerry and Janza.

Climax

9 The fight becomes an all-out brawl; Janza thrashes Jerry.

Falling Action

10 Brother Jacques ends the fight by turning off the lights.

11 A broken Jerry warns Goober not to "disturb the universe."

Resolution

12 Brother Leon protects Archie from punishment.

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