” Do I dare disturb the universe”172. With these words Robert Cormier clearly shows his purpose for writing The Chocolate War. He writes it to give insight into the consequences of standing up for what you believe in. Through his portrayal of characters, and plot, Robert Cormier achieves his purpose. Cormier shows what happens to Jerry Renault and his protagonist Archie Costello. Through The Chocolate War Robert Cormier clearly shows his feelings towards conformity and the abuse of power. The Chocolate War focuses on a freshmen named Jerry Renault, and his problems at Trinity.
Trinity is a prestigious school run by Brother Leon, the school headmaster. Brother Leon runs a school chocolate sale every year in the fall and it usually lasts about two months. The vigils are a secret group at Trinity led by Archie Costello. When Jerry refuses to participate in the school chocolate sale the Vigils take offense. As a result the Vigils psychologically and physically destroy Jerry Renault. Because of Jerry”s refusal to conform he gets beaten by the school bully. Robert Cormier shows the consequences of standing up for what you believe in and his feelings towards conformity through his great use of character and plot.
One way in which Cormier achieves his purpose is through his excellent portrayal of character. Through the characters of the novel Cormier sets up the protagonist and the antagonist to make an interesting novel. Cormier”s description of his characters sets up a vivid image of the character and also helps the reader to identify with the character. The main character in The Chocolate War is Jerry Renault. Jerry is the unfortunate young adult who suffers the consequences of standing up for what he believes in. Every morning Brother Leon would read the roll call off and every morning Jerry would reply “NO”67.
Cormier uses Jerry as the victim of the story, who gets harassed over and over again. He is described as “Poor Renault”86. Cormier makes the reader feel sympathy for Jerry Renault and makes it so the reader can identify with the suffering that Jerry is being confronted with. We are made aware that Jerry”s Constant refusal to conform gets him nothing but trouble. Through Jerry, Cormier portrays his feelings towards standing up for what you believe in and the consequences of what you might suffer to do that. Perhaps the most insidious and evil character of them all is Archie Costello.
Archie is the assigner of the vigils and was considered very powerful. He plays mind games with people instead of using physical means. People say ” keep Archie happy, when Archie”s happy, we”re all happy”14. Cormier uses Archie as the antagonist of the story. Archie gloats on his reputation and abuses his power at Trinity. He sometimes stays up all night thinking up assignments. “Archie has influence” which he could use over the school and against Jerry Renault26. Cormier uses Archie Costello as the cause of Jerry Renault”s suffering for standing up for what he believes in.
Another character in The Chocolate War who makes Jerry suffer is Brother Leon. Brother Leon abuses his power as the headmaster of the school. Brother Leon is running the school chocolate sale and will do anything to ensure it”s success. Brother Leon invested a large sum of money in the chocolates and feels this is the only way for the school to make money. To ensure it”s success Brother Leon asks the Vigils to help ” By getting behind the sale”25. Brother Leon finally convinces Archie Costello to get the Vigils to help. Archie says ” The vigils will help”27.
Robert Cormier does an excellent job of using character to show his purpose for writing The Chocolate War. He uses very realistic characters that are very easy to relate with especially easy for teen readers. Cormier”s books are very stirring, “… probably because his novels are among the relatively few that combine a frank examination of the values and decisions that trouble adolescents… “256 Another way Cormier achieves his purpose is through plot. Cormier makes the plot so the reader can identify with what is happening.
Cormier uses the plot to show the consequences of standing up for what you believe in and to show his feelings towards conformity. Cormier also uses vivid detail throughout the plot to let the reader know what is happening. The plot of The Chocolate War is centered around a boy named Jerry Renault. Jerry is attending his first year at Trinity Prep. High School. His first year becomes a horrible year for him. One incident that gives insight into the consequences of standing up for what you believe in was during football practice. “Come on Renault, get up”, is all Jerry hears after being struck blow by blow from his teammates138.
Cormier uses this incident to show what is beginning to happen to Jerry when he stands up for what he believes in. Jerry begins to wonder and asks himself ” Do I dare disturb the universe”138. The next incident which shows Jerry”s suffering is the phone calls at his home. When Jerry gets home from football that night the phone is ringing as he walks in. “Hello, who is this”, and then nothing, just silence139. Then again at eleven o”clock, no response again. Jerry begins to get angry and says “Who is this, is this some creep’some flaky nut’some stupid Jerk? 139. Cormier shows how Jerry is starting to get psychologically harassed and how he is suffering for taking a stand and not selling the chocolates like he was supposed to. “That you”re a fairy. A queer. Living in the closet, hiding away”153. Jerry finds himself being confronted by the school bully and being made fun of, and being called a queer.
The words from Emile Janza”s mouth still hanging in the air enraging Jerry Renault. Robert Cormier uses this incident to show Renault”s first incident of physical suffering for not selling his chocolates. A dozen fists pummeled his body, fingernails tore at his chest”154. Jerry was beaten to a pulp right there outside the school by six kids. Jerry Renault begins to wonder if he really does dare disturb the universe. Perhaps the most brutal incident in the novel takes place near the end. “… and the kid whose written blow is the one that ends the fight, either by knockout or surrender, receives the prize… “179. As Carter explains the rules of this shocking event the crowd yells and cheers. Jerry and Emile stand there in the boxing ring out on the football field waiting for the first move to be called.
Robert Cormier uses this event as his main example of the suffering Jerry”s peers inflict on him. “Janza, low blow to the groin”185. The call that ended it all. Jerry blocks the punch and then Emile beats him to a pulp right there. Jerry finally realizes what has happened and why: “Don”t disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say”187. This clearly shows Cormier”s feelings towards conformity and standing up for what you believe in. The plot of The Chocolate War causes a strong feeling of sympathy from the reader. The events that occur in the plot of the novel are very shocking.
Cormier does an excellent job of using plot to show his feelings towards standing up for what you believe in and the consequences that may occur from it. Critic Paul Ettenson states that “Cormier”s work portrays adolescents who confront evil”256. Robert Cormier”s purpose for writing The Chocolate War is to give insight into the consequences of standing up for what you believe in. Cormier definitely achieves his purpose in writing this novel. According to Paul Ettenson “No other writer in young adult fiction has stirred up more controversy”256.
Most of Cormier”s novels definitely appeal to the teen reader because they are easy to identify with. I think that most young adults will enjoy this novel. I also feel it will equally be enjoyed by the adult reader because of Cormier”s universality and his readability by all audiences. Cormier does this “with, intense conflict, suspense, and unpredictable developments in plot and character”, states critic Paul Ettenson256. Robert Cormier definitely achieves his purpose in writing The Chocolate War through his excellent use of plot and character.