The Chocolate War: Still tasting good !

Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War, New York: Random House Children's Books, 1974.

chocolatewar.jpg"They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It's a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say" (259).

The Chocolate War is a novel by Robert Cormier published in 1974. It takes place at a private Catholic school called Trinity High School and follows the story of a group of boys, centering especially on one by named Jerry Renault. Jerry is a freshman football player at Trinity. His mother has recently passed away and Jerry is still learning to cope with her death throughout the duration of the novel. The story revolves around Jerry's involvement with a group at Trinity known as "The Vigils". They are a secret society (one might even go so far as to call them a gang) at Trinity that deals with playing practical jokes on non-members. These "assignments" often result in a psychological manipulation. In order to become a member of The Vigils, boys have to carry out special assignments given by Archie, the "assigner". Jerry's task consists of refusing to participate in Trinity's annual chocolate sale for ten days, and then finally complying and participating, hence the title of the book: The Chocolate War.
This book tackles a number of important topics that are relevant to high school students. It showcases the effects of hazing and how detrimental it can be to an entire school body. It also deals with the concept of giving in and following the crowd versus sticking up for one's own convictions. The Chocolate War does contain a small degree of sexual content and violence, making it somewhat inappropriate for younger students and causing it to be one of the most challenged young adult novels of all time.
Common to many of Cormier's novels, the underdog does not win in the end. It is the author's use of realism that is so striking and memorable. This is perhaps why the work is so popular, it is true to life. Cormier's artistic eye does not gaze through a rose colored lens. Instead, he fashions an all to true depiction of adolescence.
The Chocolate War was adapted to film in 1988 under the direction of Keith Gordon. It was a low-budget, independent film that did not fare very well among the public. In 1985, nine years after the original book was published, Robert Cormier published a sequel to The Chocolate War called Beyond The Chocolate War, which also failed to match the success of the original novel.



Recommendations for Teachers:

The Chocolate War is truly a novel worthy of being used in the classroom. The novel touches on many social issues that a teenage audience can relate to. Many characters find themselves being hazed or bullied, or are in the position of being the tormentor; the reader has a chance to see situations and events from each of these feuding sides. The novel is heavily focused on the male perspective, given the fact that the setting is a private, all-boys school. Despite the lack of feminine perspective, female readers can be easily kept interested in the novel based on glimpses into the psyches of many character’s minds, viewing a world they may not fully understand, (such as the world of high school football), as well as comical situations all readers can appreciate.

This novel could be used in many different ways in the classroom including raising awareness of hazing or bullying among adolescents, the motif of the rebellious youth, and perspective on the roles cliques play in social politics. The novel is insightful in the male perspective, and may help adolescents analyze their own behavior.
Lesson ideas include:
  • Using The Chocolate War as a starting point to write a research or non-research social justice composition.
  • Teaching students about the impact of actions vs words.
  • Using The Chocolate War as an example that questioning authority is important.
  • The individual vs. the collective.
  • Recognizing psychological warfare, manipulation, as well as the role of fear, and relating The Chocolate War to Hitler's methods in the WWII era.
  • The nature of the relationships among students, teachers, administrators, and parents
  • Discipline
  • Friendships and cliques or in-groups
  • Violence and drugs
  • School spirit
  • Peer Pressure
This Novel is usually taught in the early high school years, 9th or 10th grade.

Educational Tools Available for Purchase
Lesson Plan ideas
Teacher's Guide available




About The Author:

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Robert Edmund Cormier was born on January 17, 1925. The well known author, newspaper reporter, and columnist died on November 2, 2000 at the age of 75. He was the second of eight kids and lived in or around Leonminster, Massachusetts his whole life. He began writing in the first grade and realized his passion in the sixth, while attending parochial school. He graduated high school the president of his class. He then went on to Fitchburg State College. As a freshman, he had his first short story published by The Sign, a national Catholic magazine. He then began scripting radio commercials and worked as an award-winning journalist at the Fitchburg Sentinel all of his life.

His fiction work is geared towards young adults. His writings often concern the oppressed, the have’s and the have not’s. His fifth novel, The Chocolate War, epitomizes this dichotomy. This novel was his claim to fame. It was widely circulated and discussed. In fact, The American Library Association rated it as the fourth most banned book from 1990 to 2000. The concern was mainly over the language and sexual references.
-All Biographical information was taken from the Robert Cormier Wikipedia page.

Works Published:

Novels
Collections
  • Eight Plus One (1980)
  • The Moustache (1974)
  • Frenchtown Summer (1999)
Nonfiction
  • I Have Words to Spend (1991)
-Hyperlinks not available on all publications.


Multimedia:


Short animated spoof of The Chocolate War. Posted on youtube.com, 12-07-07 by Gurflob.


Trailer from the 1988 movie of The Chocolate War-- Directed by Keith Gordon.

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Additional Resources:




-Jeremy Battaglia, Krysta Beedon, Cassandra Pickett, and Jamie Ringelberg