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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 3

Now, the next part of my readalong of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

ChocWarRA1 500x392 The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 3Previously:

Chapters One to Ten.

Chapters Eleven to Twenty.

Chapter Twenty One

Wait a woman! A mother! Who is ignored by her son because all she does is talk “gibberish” and her son is treating her terribly.

Well, I’ll say this — pretty much all the parents are treated this way. Not just the mothers. The difference in the teenaged characters is that the boys, for all their problems and issues and cruelty, are three dimensional characters. The girls are not.

And to be honest? I’m not liking many of these boys. They just aren’t nice. The thing is, so many, many of them aren’t nice.

More kids aren’t selling the chocolate.

At this point, a personal aside: I went to a Catholic high school. Obviously, not like this one! Not single sex, for one thing. So my personal bias for any fundraising is that’s it not a great evil. Tuition doesn’t grow on trees. Extras cost extras. Money has to come from somewhere and “just raise tuition” means some kids then can’t attend. Funds need to be raised. Of course, in The Chocolate War, it’s not about fundraising — it’s about conformity and power and manipulation.

Anyway. Back to Richie and his girl watching: “Watching girls and devouring them with your eyes — rape by eyeball — was something you did automatically.”

Back to prior point: this isn’t just Richie. It’s every damn boy. Apparently Trinity isn’t just an all boy school; or an all boy school with only dead mothers or annoying mothers; it’s also an all boy school with no sisters. Girls are just walking “things” of curves and tight clothes.

That girl passes by and Richie is “looking for another girl to enjoy.

Back to Archie, who doesn’t like sweat. Also more words of wisdom from Archie: “It was good to have people hate you — it kept you sharp.”

Oh! And there is a girl’s school, Miss Jeromes. Are you sitting down? Cause while this isn’t quite like raping with eyeballs, it’s equally girl as object: “You could let your eyes devour some luscious sights and usually talk one of them into the car, for a ride home, with detours.”

As for interactions: looks like Obie has manipulated Archie against Jerry. Only, maybe it’s just me, but I think Archie is always the smartest one in the room. Or, rather, the one pulling the most strings.

Chapter Twenty Two

Leon is a miserable man.

Chapter Twenty Three

Oh! Another girl! With a name! Perhaps all my ranting is wrong and I just had to wait for over half of the book!

Ellen. She’s beautiful. Of course, all the girls here are. But, no going on and on about her breasts, so that’s something, right?

And back to Goober, who observes “there’s something rotten in that school.” It’s like the point in the horror movie when the people realize the house is haunted by a murderous ghost, yet still stick around. And I’d change “something” to “almost everyone who attends or teaches.”

Chapter Twenty Four

Ah, I suspected as much. It’s not just about the fundraising — Leon has been playing money games and doesn’t want to get caught. (Side note: but still, the tuition must be much less than it would be nowadays because the teachers are all religious who live at their Order’s house, so, basically, not the same salary issues as today. It’s also something I thought about when watching Call the Midwife: you could pay less when the expectations of employees was their own room and joint meals, rather than their own home. And paying less meant the cost of services was less.

Anyway.

So, it’s NOT about fundraising, even though of course the teens don’t know that. And now Leon orders Archie to order The Vigils to order Jerry to sell chocolates. Because Leon is trying to cover up his own mistakes. Plus, as said earlier, power, manipulation, etc.

Chapter Twenty Five

Archie: is manipulating the room. It’s almost beautiful to watch. And interesting to see the levels of awareness around him: Obie knows, a bit, and is resentful. Carter gets it and goes along.

And then Archie “asks” Jerry to sell the chocolates. Obie thinks it’s a slip, but me — no. Archie doesn’t slip. It’s not said here, but I think Archie is manipulating Jerry to keep saying “no”. Why? So as to show he’s not about to be ordered by Leon? Or is he pushing Jerry to a very specific square on the chessboard of Trinity?

Carter doesn’t like the psychological games Archie plays and just wants to give Jerry “a stiff jab to the jaw, and another to the belly.” Foreshadowing!

Carter doesn’t mind the “stunts.” It’s just the mind games he doesn’t like.

Chapter Twenty Six

A girl! A real live girl. Ellen Barrett, from before, and wait for it — she is on page and she has lines. I KNOW.

So, in this pre Internet world, Jerry saw her name on her school books and looked it up and made phone calls until he called the right Barrett household.

I’m a bit torn: stalking or sweet? In another book, it would be sweet.

Sadly, his “we’ve never met but you’ve smiled at me at the bus stop” phone call doesn’t go well, because this is Robert Cormier not Sarah Dessen. (Can you imagine? The Chocolate War with a Sarah Dessen spin?)

And as Ellen is basically reacting as one would to someone they don’t know calling them, she says “crap.”

The word ‘crap,’ echoing now in his mind, had destroyed all illusion about her. Like meeting a lovely girl and having her smile reveal rotten teeth.”

On the one hand, I think Cormier realizes that the way the boys view these girls is all illusion and their viewpoint. Still, especially since the male-female interaction is such a minor point of this book, I cannot excuse it. Because as a woman reading it, it’s keeping me at a bit of a distance. I’m not included; I’m excluded. I’m also a bit disappointed right now with Jerry; along with Goober, he’s the only sympathetic character and this — this objectifying of a woman and now dismissing her because she is “real” and not a “thing” — makes him less likable. Is the problem that she said “crap”? Or is the problem that she doesn’t embrace him?

Basically, Ellen has become a stupid girl who has her own stupid vocabulary and stupid personality that is rotten and spoils his illusions because his illusions are what matter, right? And this is a minor point, but it’s still here, and why? Why is it here? I see it as meaning we cannot trust, entirely, Jerry’s perspective, but is that what the intent of this is? Because I’m afraid Ellen’s refusal is supposed to be about Jerry, not Ellen, and the point is that Jerry has been rejected and has lost something. That Ellen has failed him by saying crap, by not saying “oh, the cute boy on the bus, has failed him by being Ellen and not his dream.

Oh, and Jerry is saying “no” to the chocolate sale, despite being “asked” to say yes. Part of what I like is Jerry trying to figure out just why he keeps saying “no.” “The sense that his bridges were burning behind him and for once in his life he didn’t care.”

Despite this over-reading of it, I’ll give the boy points for calling Ellen. And at least he’s one and done, not repeating the calls. That would push this into stalking.

Chapter Twenty Seven

“No one had ever challenged Archie or an assignment.” Rollo is talking back to Archie and The Vigils (rock band name alert!), so it’s nice to know that someone does, but then Carter beats up Rollo for doing so, so now we see why most of the fellows perform their assignments without question.

Carter also manages to show Archie who is “really” in power with that punch. (But does he? We’ll see.)

Still, I’m curious as to the origins of The Vigils, and why it’s such a big deal, and whether, perhaps, it started as something truly fun.

Archie could have his own calendar. “Thoughts by Archie,” target audience CEOs and politicians. Here: “When in doubt, do nothing at all. When in doubt, play the waiting game.”

Archie’s levels of awareness make me wonder what his home life is like. Alas, we never meet his parents. Actually? We never meet many of the boys’ parents.

Archie decides to make selling chocolates “cool” and to push Jerry into a loner/outsider status. Which, may I add — I wonder if this was his game all along. Or if Archie just makes it up as he goes along.

Chapter Twenty Eight

Basically, we’re shown Jerry’s life now that Archie has decided that the school should embrace chocolate selling and turn against Jerry. Once again, it’s not about the chocolates.

So: Jerry gets targeted on the football field, so that attacks are masked as “just” practice. He also gets prank called at home: calls, hang ups, that type of thing.

Note: Doesn’t this sound like what “mean girls” do? Here, and later, what the boys do to Archie just reminds me of some things that today seem to be gender coded as how “girls” bully, not “boys.”

Turns out, aside from The Vigils and the chocolates, Trinity is a pretty pathetic place. As Goober would say, rotten. “Most of the kids don’t give a damn or have any respect for the rights of others. They rummaged desks, pried lockers open, sifted through books on a perennial search for loot — money, pot, books, watches, clothing — anything.”

Jerry’s poster in his locker is defaced. I forgot to mention, it’s “Do I Dare Disturb The Universe” so even more meaning!

So, his locker is messed up, his shoes cut up, etc. Still: “no.”

Chapter Twenty Nine

Archie’s plan is working, in that there is a noted increase in chocolate sales.

Chapter Thirty

Chocolate roll call continues, everyone is getting resentful of Jerry, and the bullying continues.

At this point, I’m thinking the different messages or meanings people can take from The Chocolate War, about government and power, group dynamics, and manipulation.

Goober sees the games being played but there isn’t much he can do.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. M says:

    I agree with you about female characters in this book. There is a prominent female character in “Beyond the Chocolate War,” but, not to do a Spoiler here, she doesn’t have a good time of it.

  2. Elizabeth Burns says:

    M, I read enough about the sequel to think I’d be … not pleased with her part in the plot. To put it mildly.

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