Study Guide

The Chocolate War Quotes

  • Education

    Officially, The Vigils did not exist. How could a school condone an organization like the Vigils? The school allowed it to function by ignoring it completely, pretending it wasn't there. […] It was there because it served a purpose. (4.23)

    Trinity uses The Vigils to enforce discipline it can't enforce itself. The Vigils can be pressured into taking on tasks, like turning selling chocolate into a popular activity and quashing any sense of rebellion.

    You had to hand it to Leon – he was a superb actor. He loved to read short stories aloud, taking all the parts, providing all the sound effects. Nobody yawned or fell asleep in Leon's class. You had to be alert every minute. (6.13)

    Leon has the talent to be an excellent teacher. He's mesmerizing, entertaining, and smart. But, the reason these kids are so alert isn't because they're soaking up knowledge; it's because they're afraid of what Leon will do or say next.

    "Are you perfect, Bailey? All those <em>A</em>s – that implies perfection. Is that the answer, Bailey? […] Only God is perfect, Bailey." (6.36-38)

    Trinity is a Catholic school, and students are supposed to be getting a religious education. Leon is twisting a religious idea – that God is perfect – to torment his students and to teach them not to trust.

    Even his thoughts became sharper, and things were simple and uncomplicated – he could solve math problems when he ran, or memorize football plays. (9.1)

    Many of today's educators know that students have "multiple intelligences." The Goober is physically intelligent. Not only does he have physical prowess, but he learns better when he's performing physical activity. What are your multiple intelligences? Take this nifty quiz for some clues.

    The Goober was depressed, thinking about school spirit. Ever since Room Nineteen had collapsed, he lived in a mild state of shock. (13.9)

    School spirit at Trinity is a farce. For Goober, Room Nineteen is a huge symbol of this. Trinity itself is like Room Nineteen, a room where everything and everyone is on the verge of a catastrophic collapse.

    Brother Leon – "[…] and let me point out that this sale is strictly voluntary, Trinity forces no one to participate against his wishes, this is the great glory of Trinity […]" (13.44)

    The bitter irony here is obvious. At Trinity, everyone is constantly being forced to do things they don't want to do. All the kids know that Brother Leon means the exact opposite of what he says.

    David Caroni – Worse than that […], he had allowed Brother Leon to blackmail him. If teachers did this kind of thing, what kind of world could it be? (16.45)

    Poor David. At Trinity, he's learning to trust no one. He's just as disappointed in himself for succumbing to Leon's manipulations as he is in Brother Leon for manipulating him.

    "Look, Jerry. There's something rotten in that school. More than rotten." (23.26)

    You said it, Goob. We don't know how long Trinity's been in operation, or how long things have been so bad. Still, we get a sense it's been this way for a long time. Maybe Brother Leon himself went to school here! But that's just sheer speculation.

    They tell you to do your own thing, but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, 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. (38.17)

    These are Jerry's last thoughts, the things he wants to say to Goober, but can't. Do you think he'll revise his thoughts later? We just can't picture Jerry as a passive, submissive guy, especially after what he's been through. What do you think?

  • Violence

    The way he could dazzle you with his brilliance […] and the way he could disgust you with his cruelties, those strange offbeat cruelties of his, that had nothing to do with pain or violence but were somehow even worse. (2.16)

    Obie is suggesting that psychological violence is worse than physical violence. Is one worse than the other? Why, or why not?

    He could hold your attention like a cobra. Instead of fangs, he used his teacher's pointer, flicking out here, there, everywhere. (4.11)

    In the 1970s, teachers still had legal power to use physical violence in the classroom. Leon makes the most of this, using the pointer to keep his students in a constant state of fear.

    [Brother Leon:] "You're a cheat, Bailey. And a liar." The words like whips. (6.47)

    We all know that words are some heavy-duty weapons. Bailey defends himself, but he doesn't strike back at Leon's accusations.

    Actually, Archie hated people like Janza even though he could admire their handiwork. People like Janza were animals. But they came in handy.  Janza and the picture – like money in the bank. (7.21)

    Archie hates almost everybody, which is how he justifies his actions to himself. Here, he makes a distinction between psychological violence, which he uses, and physical violence, which Emile is famous for. Do you think Emile is really worse than Archie? Why, or why not?

    It was as if somebody dropped The Bomb. (11.12)

    Comparing the destruction of Room Nineteen to an atomic bomb is a bit much, Archie, but we get the point. Even though nobody is physically hurt, the psychological impact of all the furniture falling apart is intense.

    Watching girls and devouring them with your eyes—rape by eyeball—was something you did automatically. (21.23)

    This comment is from the perspective of an extremely minor character, Howie Anderson. It raises some important questions. Can you hurt someone with your eyes? If Howie thinks it's OK to "rape" a girl with his eyes, would he draw the line at physical rape? We found this pretty scary. What do you think?  Do all of the kids that go to Trinity turn out creepy?

    Rollo's head snapped back – <em>snap</em> like a knuckle cracking – and he bellowed with pain. As Rollo lifted his hands to his face in tardy defense, Carter's fist sank sickeningly into his stomach. (27.19)

    This is the first time we see physical violence in the novel – off the football field that is. The Vigils no longer find Archie's sick mind games an effective measure of controlling the students. The novel gets progressively more violent from this point.

    Funny, somebody does violence to you but you're the one who has to hide, as if you are the criminal. (32.1)

    Jerry raises an interesting point, one common to many victims of physical abuse. The topic is broad enough for a really intense research paper, or even a whole book. There's no easy answer, but powerlessness usually makes people feel ashamed. What are some other aspects of this?

    "Jerreee…" (32.24)

    When Jerry hears kids (perhaps Emile Janza and the other guys who beat him up), he realizes that he might not even be safe in his own home. Coupled with the incessantly ringing phone, the taunting kids erode his sense of personal security.

    A new sickness invaded Jerry, the sickness of knowing what he'd become, another animal, another beast, another violent person in a violent world, inflicting damage, not disturbing the universe, but damaging it. (37.28)

    Jerry did give in to a desire for violence. He wanted to physically punish Emile, and he delivered a blow and enjoyed it. This is a big part of why he feels so bad about things at the end of the novel. If he was seduced by violence in this instant, what's to stop him from committing other acts of violence? He might be asking himself this type of question.

  • Language and Communication

    Hey coach you spit on me, Jerry protested. Stop the spitting, coach. What he said aloud was "I'm all right." (1.11)

    What Jerry says is very different from what Jerry thinks in this moment. What do you think the coach would do if Jerry told him what's really on his mind? What stops Jerry from sticking up for himself? Is it sometimes better, or safer, to just keep quiet?

    "And when you say, 'Jesus,' you're talking about your leader. But when I say 'Jesus,' I'm talking about a guy who walked the earth for thirty-three years like any other guy but caught the imagination of PR cats." (2.9)

    To the religiously inclined, this is highly offensive. But, Archie is making an interesting point, though it might or might not hold true in the case of Jesus. He's basically saying that anybody or anything can be made popular, if you put the right spin on it. He applies this principle to the chocolate sale with much success.

    "No. Look, I don't stare." But he did stare, every day. (3.10)

    Again, we see Jerry saying something different than what's inside him. In this case, he's ashamed for staring, and he doesn't know how to explain it. How can he explain that he's staring because he's interested, even jealous?

    Why? someone had tagged in a blank space no advertiser had rented. […]

    Why not? someone else had slashed an answer. (3.29-30)

    Jerry is reading the world around him, taking even the graffiti as a personal message. These lines seem to be fitting questions to follow Do I dare disturb the universe?, the lines adorning Jerry's poster, the lines that inspire him to say "No" to selling chocolate.

    "Bailey, I'm sorry," Leon said, but his voice lacked apology. Had it been an accident? Or another of Leon's little cruelties? (6.12)

    It's obvious to the readers that Leon is not the least bit sorry for slashing Bailey with his pointer. For the kids in his class, who don't want to think their teacher is totally evil, and who are in the midst of a very confusing scene, the question is not so easily answered.

    "Aw, let the kid alone." (6.50)

    We don't know who sticks up for Bailey in the classroom. It took a lot of courage, and probably helped motivate Jerry to stand up for Bailey in his own way, by refusing to sell chocolates. His refusal is an attempt to defy the same system that is allowing Bailey to be abused by his teacher.

    He saw Brother Eugene still standing there in the midst of the shambles, tears actually running down his cheeks. […] Beautiful. (11.23-24)

    Brother Eugene is communicating his hurt and anguish by crying. This is just what Archie wanted. Making a teacher cry is beautiful in his book. Too bad he picked one of the nice ones. If he'd made Leon cry, we might even agree with him….

    "Are you trying to put me on, Danny? Look, Danny, I'm getting tired of you and your crap…" (26.19)

    Poor Jerry. He finally gets his crush, Ellen Barrett, on the phone, and she doesn't even believe it's him. He can't even manage to explain it to her. There's a complete communication disconnect.

    "SCREW THE CHOCOLATES AND THE VIGILS." (27.32)

    We never find out who puts up this poster. For readers, it's a positive sign. People are getting behind Jerry! But to The Vigils, it's an obvious sign that their authority is being seriously challenged.

    See. I'm floating, floating above the pain. Just remember what I told you. It's important. Otherwise, they murder you." (38.19)

    This is what Jerry wants to tell The Goober but he can't. We aren't sure if this is because he's passed out, or because he can't voice the words. Either way, it's a grim sentiment, which we hope Jerry revises in the future. Do you think this is really the message the that Cormier wants to tell us?

  • Manipulation

    You couldn't ever win an argument with Archie. He was too quick with his words. (2.9)

    Like Brother Leon, Archie uses his verbal prowess to manipulate those around him.

    "Are you perfect, Bailey? All those As – that implies perfection. Is that the answer, Bailey?" (6.36)

    Don't you hate it when people ask you a question that you can't answer without incriminating yourself? This is what's called a "loaded question." It's used to manipulate, rather than to engage in meaningful debate.

    You could take a kid's lunch money and nothing usually happened because most kids wanted peace at any price. (7.7)

    Emile uses his knowledge of basic human nature to manipulate those around him. Do you know any people like that? Essentially, he makes people pay him money to leave them alone. This is a basic bullying technique.

    "[…] and let me point out that this sale is strictly voluntary, Trinity forces no one to participate against his wishes, this is the great glory of Trinity […]" (13.44)

    Mmhm. Sure it is. Here, Brother Leon is manipulating his students by saying the exact opposite of what he means. It's effective, too. When they hear him say the word voluntary, they know they have absolutely no choice.

    Worse than that […], he had allowed Brother Leon to blackmail him. If teachers did this kind of thing, what kind of world could it be? (16.45)

    Brother Leon gives David an F on his paper to manipulate him into revealing that Jerry's initial refusal is just a Vigil stunt. David doesn't seem to care about The Vigils, but the fact that he trades the info for the chance at a better grade is a huge blow to his self-esteem. He no longer trusts himself or Leon.

    Was it because of what Brother Leon does to people like Bailey, they way he tortures them, tries to make fools of them in front of everybody? (18.15)

    Jerry's refusal to sell chocolates is a stand against manipulation, even though he isn't completely aware of this. He's in the thick of things, and even his own motivations aren't clear to him.

    "If the sale goes down the drain, you and The Vigils also go down the drain. Believe me…" (24.30)

    Sometimes manipulation can be quite blunt and matter-of-fact, like here. Leon knows when the direct approach is effective and when to be slimy and seemingly subtle, like he is with David Caroni.

    […] he knew his days at Trinity would be numbered if he walked into that group of jubilant guys and told them to erase the fifty beside his name. (30.43)

    The Vigils are manipulating the sales results to make it look like everybody is participating except Jerry. The Goober is indirectly manipulated into going along with their scheme.

    "If you want to get under a guy's skin, accuse him of being something he isn't. Otherwise, you're only telling him something he knows." (33.9)

    Thanks for the evil advice, Archie. He knows that if you falsely accuse a person, he or she will go to great lengths to prove you wrong, and can thus be manipulated into acting against their own interests.

    "Want to get even, Renault? […] Strike back. Get revenge. Show them what you think of their goddamn chocolates?" (35.9)

    After being beat up, threatened, and ostracized by the other students, Jerry's bound to want revenge, right? Archie capitalizes on this emotion, manipulating Jerry into attending the raffle. As soon as Jerry shows up, he realizes his mistake. And this makes him want revenge even more.

  • Identity

    That's what baffled everyone about Archie – his changes of mood, the way he could be a wise bastard one minute and a great guy the next. (2.24)

    Archie's knows how to project different identities for different effects. He can change identities, chameleon-like, to fit any situation.

    [Archie:] "Don't you think I'm human, too?" […] I'm not sure. That's what Obie almost said. (2.40)

    "Human" in this context, refers to being a good person, having feelings, etc. Obie is questioning whether Archie has any positive human characteristics.

    "You know who's sub-human, man? You. You are. Going to school every day. And back home on the bus. And do your homework." (3.17)

    The random hippie/drifter guy at the bus stop is pretty judgmental for a free thinker, and has probably faced lots of judgment for living an unconventional life by 1970s standards. He's arguing that Jerry's life is totally mechanical, that Jerry is cut off from the spontaneous side of life.

    He looked like a henpecked husband, a pushover, a sucker. […] But all this was deceptive. In the classroom Leon was another personal altogether. Smirking, sarcastic. (4.11)

    Brother Leon's appearance doesn't jive with his personality. Or does it? Could be that he's powerless in every other aspect of his life, so he takes it out on his students, the only people who will put up with it. Or maybe he treats everybody like this. What do you think?

    Even his thoughts became sharper, and things were simple and uncomplicated – he could solve math problems when he ran, or memorize football plays. (9.1)

    Running is a huge part of The Goober's identity. It's seems completely positive. When he's running, his mind and body are in harmony and he feels good about himself.

    He didn't want to be a mirror of his father. The thought made him cringe. I want to do something. Be somebody. But what? But what? (9.32)

    Jerry is very afraid of never finding his own identity, that his father's identity will somehow be foisted on him. Saying "No" to the chocolates is his way of trying on a new identity and seeing if it fits.

    The Goober was depressed, thinking about school spirit. Ever since Room Nineteen had collapsed, he lived in a mild state of shock. (13.9)

    The Goober's part in the destruction of Room Nineteen is wreaking havoc on his identity. He feels like a bad guy and doesn't know how to turn things back to the way they used to be.

    And he did see—that life was rotten, that there were no heroes, really, and that you couldn't trust anybody, not even yourself.  (16.48)

    David Caroni feels that Brother Leon forced him into acting against his will, in order to preserve his identity as a good student, which is obviously important to him. Unless David finds a way to deal with this, and unless he meets some good people, he might just turn out to be a total cynic.

    The boys have become infected, Cochran. Infected by a disease we could call apathy. A terrible disease difficult to cure. […] In this case, the cause is known. The carrier of the disease is known. (22.35, 22.37)

    Brother Leon is thinking of Jerry as something contagious and diseased. He probably thinks of all his students in such bizarre terms. His vision of their identities is reflected in the way he treats them.

  • Power

    "Maybe I ought to assign someone to the store, make life interesting for your boss." (2.24)

    Much of Archie's power comes from his ability to devise schemes and his lack of fear. If he wants to torment Obie's boss, he'll think of a way. Threatening to do so, is his way of keeping power over Obie.

    He shivered with dread, realizing how awesome Archie's power really was. (2.27)

    If Obie wasn't so in awe of Archie, Archie wouldn't have so much power over him. Obie doesn't realize that his own perceptions of Archie contribute greatly to Archie's power.

    The Vigils kept things under control. Without The Vigils, Trinity might have been torn apart like other schools had been, by demonstrations, protests, all that crap. (4.23)

    The school uses The Vigils to disempower students, to keep them from organizing and possibly drawing public attention to the nasty things going on there. As such, students are stopped from being able to make positive changes to their school environment.

    Archie believed in always doing the smart thing. Not the thing you ached to do, not the impulsive act, but that thing that would pay off later. (4.39)

    Archie's restraint gives him power. He spends lots of time thinking and planning and he doesn't act until he's fairly sure what the effects of his actions will be.

    "I'm not giving anything more to Trinity. Not football, not running, not anything." (23.41)

    The Goober is trying to get back the power that's being drained from him at Trinity. Saying "No," refusing to participate, is a form of non-violent resistance to the oppressive leadership.

    "I'm convinced, Archie, that he's become a symbol of to those who would like to see the sale defeated. The malingerers, malcontents – they always rally around a rebel. Renault must sell the chocolates." (24.26)

    Brother Leon realizes how powerful Jerry's "No" is. To a bunch of kids who've never seriously considered challenging the authority of Leon and The Vigils, it's a huge eye opener. Leon wants to force him into submission to show everybody that nobody can successfully resist at Trinity.

  • Choices

    "These goddamn assignments," Archie said. "Do you think it's easy? His voice dripped sadness. "And the black box." (2.36)

    Even though Archie seems like the guy with the most power at Trinity, he is little more free to make his own choices than his fellows. If he doesn't keep coming up with assignments, his whole charade will fall apart. He's so busy with this task, other areas of his life, like romance and schoolwork, are neglected.

    "For crying out loud, Archie. You saw him out there. He's just a skinny kid trying to make the Freshman team. Coach'll grind him up like hamburger. And his mother's barely cold in the grave. (2.57)

    Here we see Obie in a rare, sensitive moment. He wants Archie to choose not to select Jerry for assignments, citing the recent death of Jerry's mother. But, Archie isn't swayed by such sentimentality.

    They laughed. Hey, what's going on here, Jerry wondered, even as he laughed with them. (6.27)

    Nobody really thinks Brother Leon's torture of Gregory Bailey is funny. They are manipulated into laughing by Brother Leon's acting skills. Jerry is trying to figure out why he and the others chose to go along with it.

    You could take a kid's lunch money and nothing usually happened because most kids wanted peace at any price. (7.7)

    When Emile Janza realizes that students will choose self-preservation and freedom from conflict over money, he decides to exploit this to the fullest.

    "No. I'm not going to sell the chocolates." (17.16)

    Jerry's choice is empowering. He has decided what to do with his own life, and his own body. When this strange concept begins to spread among the student body, Brother Leon and the Vigils realize it could threaten their whole operation.

    "I never thought of just saying no, like you did." (19.8)

    This comment to Jerry from an unnamed student on the bus shows us just how big a deal Jerry's refusal is. It also shows us how thoroughly students have been discouraged from independent thought and action.

    "Do I dare disturb the universe?" (19.38)

    At the end of the novel, Jerry thinks he's made the wrong choice when he tries to disrupt the system of domination found at Trinity. Perhaps on further reflection he'll see that some of his other choices (succumbing to desire for revenge, not organizing) are at the root of his failure.

    "I'm not giving anything more to Trinity. Not football, not running, not anything." (23.41)

    The Goober is following Jerry's lead. He realizes that anything he gives to Trinity will contribute (however indirectly) to the power structure in place.

    He's got Renault there, pale and tense as if he's facing a firing squad, and Janza, the animal, a chained animal waiting to spring loose. (34.19)

    Archie has manipulated Jerry and Emile into making the wrong choices. They realize this when they get to the raffle, but can't see a way to reverse their decisions.

  • Morality and Ethics

    Why did he always feel so guilty whenever he looked at Playboy and other magazines? (3.2)

    One reason Jerry feels guilty is because he's still developing his ideas about sexual morality. 1970s counterculture would say that we should look at sexual images. Some 1970s feminists might say that such images objectify women. Moral standard bearers might say that such pictures are immoral. What are some other viewpoints? What's yours?

    "Go get your bus, square boy. […] You're missing a lot of things in the world, better not miss that bus." (3.19)

    The random guy is questioning the morality of living what he sees as a mechanized, overly ordered life.

    The Vigils kept things under control. Without The Vigils, Trinity might have been torn apart like other schools had been, by demonstrations, protests, all that crap. (4.23)

    The Vigils, and the administration which allows them to exist, take away students' rights to organize to create a better school environment for themselves.

    "You turned this class into Nazi Germany for a few moments." (6.55)

    As we discuss in "Characters: Gregory Bailey," Brother Leon models Nazi techniques for his students and then accuses them of being the immoral ones.

    He saw Brother Eugene still standing there in the midst of the shambles, tears actually running down his cheeks. (11.23)

    Brother Eugene seems to think that if the students would destroy his classroom, they'd really like to destroy him. The Goober learns that by going along with the assignment he commits a moral crime against himself and against Brother Eugene.

    Worse than that […], he had allowed Brother Leon to blackmail him. If teachers did this kind of thing, what kind of world could it be? (16.45)

    David feels awful because he takes Brother Leon's bait. That he could be so easily swayed from his principles makes David doubt his worth as a person.

    "It's more than fun and games Jerry. Anything that can make you cry and send a teacher away—tip him over the borderline—that's more than just fun and games" (23.37).

    The Room Nineteen incident awakes sensitivity in The Goober. He realizes that seemingly small acts of cruelty can have huge ethical consequences.

    "Would you ask Renault why he isn't selling the chocolates like everybody else?" (30.21)

    Minor character Harold Darcy feels that Jerry is committing a moral crime against his fellow students, who are all working hard to make the sale a success. They believe this is for the benefit of the whole school. Darcy feels that Jerry will be reaping the rewards, but not doing any of the work.

    A new sickness invaded Jerry, the sickness of knowing what he'd become, another animal, another beast, another violent person in a violent world, inflicting damage, not disturbing the universe, but damaging it. (37.28)

    Jerry is really disillusioned at the end of the novel. He knows he's gone against his own moral code by lashing out violently at Emile Janza. What do you think?