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The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Quotes


He had been Peter a thousand times and a thousand cocks had crowed in his lifetime.

Narrator, Chapter 1

In this startling moment of reflection, Jerry likens himself to the apostle Peter. On the night Jesus is arrested, Peter is accused of being one of his followers. Three times, he denies even knowing Jesus—and then, just as Jesus had earlier prophesied, a rooster crows. Realizing what he has done, Peter weeps bitterly.

Cormier invokes this biblical passage to show the depths of Jerry's inner conflict. He does not want to deny his own thoughts and feelings, but he somehow finds it happening again and again. He is not able to say what he really thinks. Being Peter in this scenario means not only denying, but repenting—hence the inclusion of the crowing rooster in the image. Escaping this painful cycle is one of Jerry's main motivations as he enters his freshman year of high school.


I am Archie. I cannot lose.

Archie Costello, Chapter 5

This weird bit of interior monologue showcases two competing traits in antagonist Archie Costello: his egotism and his need for reassurance. Archie regards himself as superior to nearly every other person he meets in the novel. He finds Obie pathetic and submissive—a "stooge"—and he despises Carter for his lack of intellect. The other boys may resent Archie, but he looks down on them for being impressed with his antics. People, in Archie's view, are all "bastards," easily manipulated by appealing to their greed, vanity, and cruelty.

At the same time, if Archie really believed he "couldn't lose," he would not have to tell himself so. Moreover, he would not be so anxious when confronting the black box. On some level, Archie recognizes how precarious his position in The Vigils is and how much the other boys would like to see him humiliated. "I cannot lose" is part of a myth of personal superiority Archie tells and retells himself to mask his insecurities.


A certain discipline must be maintained ... that line of separation must remain.

Brother Leon, Chapter 6

Brother Leon's remark here is profoundly hypocritical, as he engages in the same forms of psychological abuse as the boys inflict on one another. In this scene, he cruelly interrogates a student in much the same way Archie "interviews" the boys who are brought into The Vigils meetings. The "line," to the extent it exists at all, has to do with Leon's official power and authority, not with any higher standard of conduct.


Nothing usually happened because most kids wanted peace at any price.

Narrator, Chapter 7

Emile Janza, whose point of view the narrator adopts here, reflects on a disturbing lesson he learned in grade school. Most of the novel's characters bear out Janza's worldview with their eagerness to avoid conflict and their willingness to let bullies have their way. Jerry Renault and Brother Jacques are the rare individuals who speak out and disturb the peace that others so anxiously protect. Ultimately, however, neither one succeeds in changing the herdlike culture at Trinity. Jerry is broken in body and spirit for his act of nonconformity, and Jacques lacks the power to pose a true threat to Brother Leon.


The world was made up of two kinds of people ... victims and those who victimized.

Narrator, Chapter 15

This is another component of the "Archie myth"—the stories Archie tells himself about the way the world works and his place within it. Archie and Janza, despite their many differences, are here construed as predators in a world where most people are prey.

By neatly dividing the world into victims and victimizers, Archie hides from himself a deeply unpleasant truth. Sometimes, a "victimizer" falls from power, leaving him at the mercy of his former victims. Archie has made many enemies through his position as Vigils' "assigner," so his downfall would no doubt be a painful and humiliating one. Obie, the Vigils' secretary, is just one of the "victims" hoping for such a reversal of fortune.


There were no heroes, really, and ... you couldn't trust anybody, not even yourself.

Narrator, Chapter 16

David Caroni is a minor character brought in by Cormier to underscore the impact of Leon's actions on his students. A trusting boy who feels at home in an academic environment, Caroni looks up to the teachers at Trinity, including Brother Leon. Most of the other boys are at least vaguely creeped out by Leon, and the more cynical of them treat him as either a shrewd adversary or an uneasy ally. Caroni, however, expects instructors to be paragons of fairness. He is thus cruelly disillusioned when Leon attempts to blackmail him with a failing grade.


Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted. And the awful silence.

Narrator, Chapter 17

This melodramatic bit of prose shows how completely Jerry has "disturbed the universe" at Trinity by refusing to accept the chocolates. Although Cormier is being rather hyperbolic here, he makes his point clearly enough. For Jerry to refuse the chocolates as part of a Vigil assignment is distressing to Brother Leon, but understandable both to Leon and to the other boys. For him to keep refusing of his own free will is, however, unthinkable. Cities and stars may not literally fall as a result, but the "awful silence" after Jerry's "No" is quite real. The Goober, who hates conflict, will be especially disturbed by the change in mood in Brother Leon's classroom.


Do I dare disturb the universe?

Narrator, Chapter 19

This quotation from T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" appears on a poster in Jerry Renault's locker. The speaker of Eliot's poem is, much like Jerry, a mild-mannered fellow who stands on the edge of a bold self-assertion. Jerry will share Prufrock's hesitation in pondering whether to "disturb the universe"—which in his case means defying the existing social order at Trinity. The poster's image, a solitary man on a beach, may, incidentally, be another reference to Eliot's poem, whose final stanzas are laden with beach and ocean imagery.


This is the age of do your thing. Let everybody do his thing.

Howie Anderson, Chapter 21

With this rather grand pronouncement about the spirit of the age, Howie captures the general attitude at Trinity High School. Jerry's "thing" is boycotting the chocolate sale, just as John Sulkey's "thing" is planning the sale in glorious detail and outselling the other boys. Neither one is, in Howie's view, necessarily better or nobler than the other. Unfortunately for Jerry, this laissez-faire attitude toward the chocolate sale will not last. Howie may be living in the age of "do your thing," but Archie and Brother Leon would prefer an era of "do as I say."


Anything that can make you cry ... that's more than just fun and games.

The Goober, Chapter 23

The Goober is much quicker than Jerry to identify the "evil" permeating Trinity society. Until quite late in the novel, Jerry prefers to believe he is taking part in a big game. Perhaps against his own better judgment, he construes the Vigils assignments as harmless "fun," even though his best friend clearly sees them differently.

Jerry, it seems, does not want to acknowledge the extent of the problem. He would rather try his best to fit in and play along with the "games" of the older boys. The Goober, however, is unsettled by the outcomes of these games, which include Brother Eugene leaving school amid rumors of a nervous breakdown.


Jerry suddenly understood ... the solitary man ... poised at the moment of making himself heard.

Narrator, Chapter 28

This moment crystallizes Jerry's defiance of the chocolate sale. The poster, which hangs in Jerry's locker, has already been mentioned in previous chapters. With its message of solitary courage ("Do I dare disturb the universe?"), it serves to reflect and encourage Jerry's own nascent self-confidence.

In this scene, having already held out against the chocolate sale for weeks, Jerry reassures himself that he does indeed dare.


And if he didn't feel all these things, then why was he crying?

Narrator, Chapter 30

Roland "The Goober" Goubert is Jerry's best friend and one of the closest witnesses to his suffering at the hands of Brother Leon and The Vigils. Throughout the novel, The Goober struggles to get up the courage to defend Jerry. He is, understandably, afraid to do anything that might run afoul of either The Vigils or Leon.

Finally, as the chocolate sale nears its end, The Goober hits upon a solution: he will quietly stop selling chocolates as a show of support for Jerry. This, he recognizes, is "little enough to do" for his friend. But in Chapter 30, The Vigils undermine The Goober's small gesture of solidarity by selling extra chocolates in his name. When The Goober learns he has "made his quota," he is too scared to publicly protest.


He didn't want ... the cherished honor of the schoolyard that wasn't honor at all.

Narrator, Chapter 31

In this scene, Jerry is confronted by school bully Emile Janza, who attempts to bait him into a fight with carefully targeted insults. Jerry recognizes the trap and, to his credit, avoids lashing out physically. In this sense, he has retained his integrity despite the immense pressure Janza and the other boys have heaped upon him.

This line, however, also foreshadows the eventual loss of that integrity. In Chapter 36, Jerry will have reached his breaking point. He will be lured, against his better judgment, into a boxing match with Janza. In inducing Jerry to renounce his principle of nonviolence, Archie strips him of his dignity in a fundamental way. The physical beatings Jerry endures are no doubt awful, but his loss of innocence is arguably the true tragedy of the novel.


Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.

Jerry Renault, Chapter 38

Beaten to the point of unconsciousness, his jaw dislocated or perhaps fractured, Jerry extracts a terrible message from his involvement in the "chocolate war." He has suffered so much for his act of nonconformity that he now lacks any will to fight further. In the last scene in which he appears, Jerry tries to warn The Goober not to follow his example, although his words are probably not actually audible. It is safer, he now believes, to go with the flow than to "disturb the universe" and be made a martyr.


Leon and The Vigils and Archie. What a great year it was going to be.

Narrator, Chapter 38

Despite the scheming of his fellow Vigils officers, Archie has come through the stadium debacle without any official punishment or loss of social standing. To the contrary, Brother Leon has tacitly shown his support for Archie, even though Archie's actions have led to Jerry being hospitalized. A manipulative young man who likes nothing better than pulling the strings, Archie is elated to have the school's acting headmaster "on his side." It is less clear whether the other Vigils will continue to support Archie, as he optimistically assumes they will.

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