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Meet the Main Characters: Chapters 1-5
If all you know about The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier involves the time you punched your brother in the throat for gnawing the ears off your chocolate bunny several Easters ago then you need my help.
Chapter 1: Chapter 1 introduces the novel's protagonist, Jerry Renault, getting the snot beat out of him at his first football practice. Jerry is immediately presented as a round character. He's determined to make the team and shows great courage continually getting up after repeated beat downs. He also is a "coward...thinking one thing and doing another--he had been a Peter a thousand times and a thousand cocks had crowed in his lifetime." (5).
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 produces one of the novel's antagonists, Archie, and his sidekick Obie. Archie is leader of the school's most powerful gang, known as the Vigils. Archie, the Vigil's assigner, is busy thinking up assignments. Two individuals mentioned are Jerry, assigned to chocolates, and Jerry's friend Roland Goubert. It's apparent that things at Trinity High have deteriorated morally and physically: "The bleachers also needed attention--they sagged, peeling paint like leprosy on the benches. The shadows of the goal posts sprawled on the field like grotesque crosses." (13).
Chapter 3: Jerry sneaks a peak at a pornographic magazine and feels guilty. He walks out of the store to his bus stop where he stares at the stoners across the street. One of the stoners confronts Jerry, calls him squareboy, and tells him he's missing out on life. Jerry walks away without responding because "he hates confrontation." (20).
Chapter 4: Brother Leon, the soon to be headmaster of Trinity High School, asks Archie to use his "influence" to help him sell 20,000 boxes of chocolates. Needless to say, when teachers utilize gangs at the school to carry out their agenda, something's gone seriously wrong with the school.
Chapter 5: Roland Goubert receives his assignment from the Vigils. He's too bring a screwdriver and loosen all the screws on all the furniture in Brother Eugene's room. The rules of the Vigils require the assigner, Archie, to draw a marble after each assignment is given. If a black marble is drawn (there is a one-in-six chance), Archie must perform the task himself. Archie draws a white marble. He has never drawn a black one as long as he's held the position of assigner.
By the end of chapter five, even the least discerning of readers will attest that something's not quite right at Trinity High School.
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At Least Your School Isn't This Messed Up: Chapters 6-10
If you think The Chocolate War is a book about colonists dumping hot chocolate into Boston Harbor then you really need these chapter summaries of The Chocolate War.
Chapter 6: Brother Leon calls one of Trinity's best students, Gregory Bailey, to the front of the room and accuses him of cheating. Leon humiliates Bailey and manipulates the class to side with him. At the end of class he lauds Bailey for sticking to his story that he did not cheat and chastises the class for not sticking up for Bailey. It is apprent that Leon finds great delight in humiliating students. And you thought your history teacher was mean?
Chapter 7: Just when you thought you'd met all the scumbags associated with Trinity High School, along comes Emile Janza siphoning gas from a fellow student's car. Archie finds him and talks to Emile, who messes with just about anyone at the school, except Archie. Emile asks Archie about a picture as Archie walks away.
Chapter 8: Goober, we learn, is a great runner. This skill, unfortunately, is not helping him as he loosens the screws in all the furniture in Brother Eugene's room. It's 9:00 P.M. and his task is not even close to finished. A few of the Vigils show up to help him. It takes them three hours.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 provides background on Jerry's life and his family. His mother is dead. His father is a pharmacist who lives a humdrum life. Jerry wonders "was this all there was to life, after all? You finished school, found an occupation, got married, became a father, watched your wife die, and then lived through the days and nights that seemed to have no sunrises, no dawns, and no dusks, nothing but a gray drabness?" (61).
Chapter 10: Brother Leon holds an assembly on the importance of selling chocolates. Archie is impressed by Leon's performance. Archie decides to have five students sell his quota of chocolates as opposed to singling one person out to do it and is "gratified by his sense of fairness and compassion." (67).
The novels main players and the basic situation of the novel have been set out in the first ten chapters. A few things are made clear: (1) Trinity High School has serious problems; (2) Most of the story's characters are scumbags--Jerry and Goober being the exceptions; (3) this probably is not going to end well.
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The War Begins: Chapters 11-17
The Chocolate War does not involve Nestle and Hersheys, but it does involve the following.
Chapter 11: The destruction of Room Nineteen takes place. Archie glories in the 37-second room dismantling. Brother Leon emasculates Archie in the hall. Archie doesn't care. Who exactly is in charge at this school?
Chapter 12: The Freshmen football players go head to head versus some of the varsity players, in this case, Carter, the star lineman. Jerry completes a beautiful pass to Goober, which draws approval from the coach. Jerry feels great...momentarily. He has just received an assignment from the Vigils.
Chapter 13: The chocolate distribution had been postponed for a week on account of the destruction of Room Nineteen. The chocolate roll call takes place and each Trinity student accepts the responsibility of selling his 50 chocolates, all accept Jerry, who to the shock of everyone including Brother Leon, turns the assignment down.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14 contains fragmented scenes involving the chocolate sale: (1) John Sulkey, last year's chocolate sales hero, makes a list in advance; (2) the chocolate roll call continues with Jerry refusing to sell them, much to the dismay of Brother Leon; (3) Tubs Casper tries to sell enough chocolates to buy a necklace for his girlfriend; (4) Brian Cochran, volunteered by Brother Leon to become treasurer, finds the entire assignment distasteful; (5) Jerry turns down the chocolates once more.
Chapter 15: Emile Janza begs for the picture from Archie. The reader discovers that Archie had come across Emile servicing himself in a bathroom stall and snapped a picture. What Emile doesn't know is that the picture doesn't exist. Archie promises Emile that he can earn the picture in the future, foreshadowing Janza's upcoming role in a Vigils' assignment.
Chapter 16: Brother Leon calls in David Caroni in regards to an 'F' he had received on an assignment. It's apparent that Leon is blackmailing Caroni for information regarding Jerry Renault and why he refuses to sell chocolates. Caroni informs Leon that it's a Vigil assignment to turn down the chocolates and that all will be fine after the ten days are up. Caroni's faith in humanity is destroyed as he realizes even his teachers are corrupt.
Chapter 17: Despite the end of the Vigil assignment, Jerry refuses to sell chocolates. As a result, "Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted." (112).
You are probably thinking this isn't going to end well for Jerry. You're probably right. If you continue onto the next page, you can find out what happens next.
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Leon Calls in a Favor: Chapters 18-24
The black, liquidy substance that causes war in the Middle East is not chocolate. Those things that Jerry refused to sell does cause a war in this novel.
Chapter 18: Goober asks Jerry why in the world he keeps saying no even though the Vigil assignment is over. Jerry doesn't know. He contemplates the useless life of his father who does nothing but sleep and the hippy in the Volkswagen who told him "You're missing a lot of things in the world." (117).
Chapter 19: Jerry wakes up feeling like he has a hangover. He has become a bit of a hero with some of the students who congratulate him on his defiance of Brother Leon. Goober tries to persuade Jerry to sell the chocolates, but Jerry refuses. When pressed for a reason, he replies, "I just can't. I'm committed now." (123). Jerry refuses the chocolates one more time and feels sadness and loneliness.
Chapter 20: Every time Brother Jacques uses the word "environment," every kid in the class jumps up and runs in place. Archie gives Jacques an anonymous tips and the teacher uses the word six times in a fifteen minute period in order to tire the kids out. Obie is furious.
Chapter 21: The chapter begins with two kids talking on the phone about how Jerry's showing them the way by not selling chocolates. The next scene shows something similar. Kids are starting to follow Jerry's lead. Obie and Archie meet in the gymnasium and discuss Renault's refusal to sell chocolates and how it's the same as defying the Vigils.
Chapter 22: Brian Cochran stresses about the low chocolate sales totals. They discuss the cause, Jerry, and Brother Leon thinks of how to get even with the person who has caused it "like a mad scientist plotting revenge in an underground laboratory" (147).
Chapter 23: Goober, feeling guilty about what has happened to Brother Eugene, informs Jerry that he's quitting the football team, claiming, "I'm not giving anything more to Trinity. Not football, not running, not anything." (152). Jerry refuses to sell the chocolates.
Chapter 24: Brother Leon calls Archie, blames him for the slow down in sales, and threatens him. Archie knows that Leon has put the school in some financial difficulty and the chocolate sale will get him out of trouble. Leon reminds Archie that he promised him the support of the Vigils. He recommends the Vigils begin with Jerry Renault.
You know your school has deteriorated when the soon-to-be headmaster calls the leader of a ruthless gang, threatens him, and convinces him to hurt one of the school's students.
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Archie's Plan Takes Shape: Chapters 25-30
Archie loves Dove bars. Jerry probably hates all chocolate by this point in the novel.
Chapter 25: Jerry is summoned by the Vigils. Archie threatens Jerry. Obie looks on, knowing there's no chance Jerry's going to sell them, noticing that Archie is asking Jerry and not telling him. Archie ends the meeting abruptly.
Chapter 26: Jerry calls up a girl he had been checking out at the bus stop. She thought he was a creep. Jerry refuses to sell the chocolates again and says to an empty apartment, "My name is Jerry Renault and I'm not going to sell the chocolates." (168).
Chapter 27: The Vigils summon Frankie Rollo for an assignment. Rollo is a notorious trouble maker and not intimidated by Archie or the Vigils. Carter, the Vigils president, has enough of Rollo's smugness and beats him up. Carter's beart down of Rollo is followed by a meeting. Obie reports that someone had put a poster on the board that said SCREW THE CHOCOLATES AND SCREW THE VIGILS. The Vigils are concerned that Jerry's act of defiance has weakened the Vigils. Archie plans to make selling chocolates the cool thing to do and brags that "before the sale is over, Renault will be wishing with all his heart that he had sold the chocolates" (177).
Chapter 28: Jerry is at football practice. Someone gives him a cheap shot to the kidneys from behind. When he gets home, he receives a prank phone call. He receives another at 11:00. At school the next day, he finds his shoes cut up in his lockers and his Do I Dare Disturb the Universe? poster desecrated. The phone calls continue that night. The next day, an assignment Jerry had turned in the day before has disappeared. Jerry finally understands the poster that's been in his locker all year.
Chapter 29: Brian Cochran tallies the chocolate sales and can't believe how many boxes have sold. Carter comes in, hands Brian money, and makes sure others are credited with the sales.
Chapter 30: Sales continue to improve with numerous students reaching the quota. The sales have actually been done by a gang the Vigils have recruited and credit has been given to others. A student by the name of Darcey calls out Jerry for not doing his part. Others concur. Goober, who has decided to stop selling his chocolates in support of Jerry, has been credited with selling his quota. He's too afraid to tell the truth and cries all the way to his locker.
Things have taken a turn for the worse. Let's see if Jerry can turn things around with more acts of defiance.
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The Universe Strikes Back: Chapters 31-39
Never, ever get in a chocolate war with the universe.
Chapter 31: Jerry is stopped by Emile Janza, who accuses Jerry of being a "queer." Jerry is attacked by several thugs who come out of the bushes and beat him up.
Chapter 32: Jerry lies in darkness recovering from his wounds and receives another prank call. Strangers call from the street for Jerry to come down and play. The calls continue throughout the night.
Chapter 33: Archie asks Emile why he used multiple assaulters on Jerry. Emile asks for the picture and Archie tells him there is no picture.
Chapter 34: Jerry is now invisible at school. Nothing remains in his locker. Nobody talks to him, not even the teachers. Everyone goes the other way when he walks past. Brian Cochran brings Brother Leon the news that exactly 19,950 boxes of chocolate have been sold. Leon believes the axiom of one rotten apple spoiling the barrel has been disproven. Cochran wonders "Was Leon right, after all? That the school was more important than any one kid? But weren't individuals important, too?" (218).
Chapter 35: Archie calls Jerry and tells him about a raffle and a chance for him to end the misery by fighting Emile at the football field in the boxing ring. The raffle tickets sell fast. Jerry is nervous. Emile just wants to beat someone up.
Chapter 36: The fight will be carried out via a drawing. The contestants must carry out the instructions on the ticket. Obie and Carter bring out the black box. A stunned Archie draws tow marbles, both white.
Chapter 37: The fight begins. Jerry's first punch barely hits Janza. The disappointed crowd voices its approval. The next ticket involves Janza giving Jerry an uppercut. It connects. It's followed by a right to the stomach. The next punch involves Jerry hitting Janza in the face. That's followed by a Janza left uppercut. The next ticket is a Janza shot to the groin, an illegal punch that Jerry attempts to block. Janza, sensing that he's been cheated, starts to unload on Jerry, who refuses to go down. Jerry longs to get one last shot in before the fight's over. He does and then gets obliterated by Emile. The lights go off and everyone scrambles. Obie notices that Brother Leon has watched the entire thing. Archie goes to turn the lights on and is greeted by Brother Jacques.
Chapter 38: Goober rushes to help Jerry, who can't speak, but wants to tell Goober "don't disturb the universe no matter what the posters say" (248). Brother Jacques scolds Archie, but Brother Leon intervenes on his behalf.
Chapter 39: Obie tells Archie that someday he will get his. Archie confesses that he tipped Leon off with an anonymous phone call.
If you actually read the book, you're awfully depressed at this point.
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Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. Alfred A. Knopf Publishers. New York: 1974.