The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier
Analysis: Writing Style
High School Gothic
Gothic literature often relies heavily on both the setting of the story (in this case, school) and on the inner state of mind of the characters (in this case, messed up) to create its horrifying or terrifying effect. (Psst. If you want to learn more about Gothic literature, check out this University of California, Davis website, and see how many similarities you can pick out between a typical Gothic novel and The Chocolate War.) In The Chocolate War these elements go arm and arm with the formal style of the book. Let's look at a couple of major aspects of this:
Foreshadowing on the Athletic Field
As noted in "Setting," the football field is just as Gothic and ominous than the rest of Trinity. Here Cormier recreates the language and practice involved in football, and then gives us a student's-eye view of it. Interestingly, lots of foreshadowing springs up in the football field scenes.
In "What's Up With the Ending?" we consider how early passages can inform our understanding of the ending. The very first line of the book is, "They murdered him" (1.1). Of course, this is taking place on the football field. In the same session Jerry thinks he's been "massacred by the oncoming players" (1.26). As discussed below, Cormier is fond of figurative language. Here he's using the language of football to foreshadow the beatings Jerry will get from Emile Janza.
There's even more foreshadowing in this scene. After he's knocked down we're told, "A telephone rang in his ears. Hello, hello, I'm still here" (1.4). We probably don't even remember this by the time we get to the scenes where Jerry's telephone stalkers are ringing his phone off the hook. Still, it subtly prepares us for those scenes, and gives a bit of unity to this rather disjointed story.
Can you find any other examples of foreshadowing in the novel?
Cormier is big on figurative language, and is constantly evoking death and other morbid matters with this language. It's an important part of his style in The Chocolate War and is often gloomy and/or disturbing, as it should be in the High School Gothic.
Here's an example from the scene where we first meet Obie and Archie, plotting and scheming in the bleachers. After their depressing conversation, Obie thinks:
The shadows of the goal posts definitely resembled a network of crosses, empty crucifixes. That's enough symbolism for one day. (2.74)
Obie has symbolism on the brain, maybe because he's studying it in school. Anyhow, crucifixes probably make us think of warding off evil of some sort, like the non-vegetarian vampires in Twilight. The crucifixes are "empty," suggesting they have no power to ward off evil. You could stick this under "foreshadowing" if you want, because it foreshadows Jerry's lack of power to ward off the evil at Trinity. Since Obie is the one seeing this as a symbol, it might also tell us something about how he sees himself, or at least Archie – as evil, even vampiric, and unstoppable. We might also think of the students at the raffle, hungry for Jerry's blood. They don't want to drink it or anything (though we wouldn't put it past 'em). But they do want to see it spilled.