The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
The Chocolate War. Hmm. Sounds like what happens inside a chocoholic dieter faced with a platter of triple deluxe fudge truffles. Or maybe between rival chocolate manufacturers during the holidays. For the most part, "chocolate" and "war" aren't usually seen together, except maybe on ultra trendy dessert menus.
But, the combination of the dark and rich with the idea of bloody battle seems to reflect the general mood at Trinity. Here everything sweet and good is perverted and twisted; the kindness and innocence in boys' hearts is turned against them; lies, deceit, and strong-arm tactics are rewarded; even school spirit is made a complete mockery of. We could go on, but you get the picture.
To tell the truth, The Chocolate War isn't really about chocolate at all. Author Robert Cormier could have substituted anything for chocolate, but we're glad he didn't because chocolate gives us symbolic food for thought (see "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more). Similarly, there isn't really a war on – it's high school after all. But the idea of war shows up in so many ways, and it sure feels like a full-out war to the characters.
If we did compare the situation at Trinity to a war, it would be the kind where one or two citizens (Jerry and his few supporters) are revolting against the leadership (Brother Leon). Said leadership is already using a group of secret police (The Vigils) against other citizens (all students) to maintain authority. Out of fear that the rebellion will spread, the leadership then uses this same army to stamp out the rebellion. Pretty scary isn't it? It reminds us of books like The Hunger Games, Animal Farm, or 1984.
As in larger scale wars of this type, what's at stake at Trinity are things like personal safety, freedom to think and act on one's own, and freedom from daily psychological torture. Jerry is only half aware of this when he says "No!" to selling chocolates. He sees that things at Trinity are horribly wrong, but he doesn't consciously consider how to change them.
It's more like, when given the opportunity to defy the authority of both The Vigils and Brother Leon he takes it. Is this the smartest way to approach the problem? Probably not. As we see in "What's Up With the Ending?" Jerry makes lots of mistakes, in part because he doesn't have a clear goal. But, at least he's trying, shaking things up, forcing those around him to consider another way. Or, does he just make things worse? What do you think?