Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Jerry Renault is pondering the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe?

Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity School fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do, but when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive?

Have you ever encountered one of those books that just makes you want to vomit, not necessarily because it’s a poorly written specimen, but because of the content? The Chocolate War is one of those books. It made me wonder if Robert Cormier is a Debbie Downer in real life or has witnessed such evidence of corruptness in human character in his own life. If he has, I feel quite sorry for him and am glad that I have not been in his shoes.

This novel paints a very bleak picture of the world and about human nature in general: that  is, essentially, the majority of people have a strong herd mentality and will generally avoid going against the grain at all costs. When they see another individual being treated unjustly, most people will more than likely not do a thing to prevent it, because they are fearful of drawing attention to themselves and calling down the ire of those in power. This, of course, gives those who are power-hungry or morally bankrupt near free rein to do whatever it is they darn well please.

With this in mind, it’s certainly a wonder that Jerry made the choices that he did, even if it was only refusing to participate in his school’s fundraising activity, something that seems so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It’s even more amazing that he stood firm on his stance for as long as he did given the opposition he was up against. I don’t know who was worse,  Archie, who demonstrated some severely anti-social behavior (i.e. the kind of habits that lead one to becoming a serial killer or something of the like) with his emotional and psychological manipulation of his fellow students, or Brother Leon, that teacher and supposed man of God, who gets his kicks from lording his power over the students at every opportunity and devising schemes to bring about the downfall of Jerry, that continual thorn in his side.

While I certainly didn’t like or even enjoy this book, I will say that Cormier made me question whether or not he has described the true essence of human nature and if we really are better off conforming to the societal norms, as Cormier seems to insinuate, or if we ought to strive to ‘disturb the universe.” If you enjoy a dark, haunting tale, then The Chocolate War is probably right up your alley.

Discussion Questions*

  1. Which do you think ought to be given preference: individuals, or society as a whole? Why?
  2. What are some reasons other characters did not support Jerry or actively worked against him when he decided to go against the grain?
  3. How did the events of The Chocolate War shape the character of Jerry and what do you think will happen to him after the end of the novel?
  4. What do you think will happen to Archie and Brother Leon if their behavior is allowed to go unchecked?
  5. What does it mean to ‘disturb the universe’ and why do more people not do it? Who are some real individuals who have disturbed the universe?


*As per the requirement for [Do Not] Choose Your Own [Reading] Adventure, aka my Young Adult Literature course.


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This entry was posted on May 20, 2010 by in Suspense/Thriller, Young Adult Fiction and tagged , , .
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