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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 4

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

ChocWarRA1 500x392 The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 4Previously:

Chapters One to Ten.

Chapters Eleven to Twenty.

Chapters Twenty One to Thirty.

Chapter Thirty One

Jerry recognizes the bullies and is confronted by Janza.

And, wait, really? “You live in the closet.” This is the big insult?

“He wanted to make his own decisions” — is he? Really? Is any of this Jerry’s decision? Without the assignment, would he have said “no”?

So. “You’re a fairy. A queer” and “vomit threatened Jerry’s throat.” I’d like to say that this would be dated in 2013, but it’s not.

“The worst thing in the world — to be called a queer.”

And a bunch of kids beat up Jerry. No, really, apparently Janza brought back-up and they’re not even in high school.

Chapter Thirty Two

Let’s have a moment to note the casual violence. Because Jerry has been beat up and nothing?

And the phone calls and harassment continue.

And Jerry doesn’t tell his father.

Hm — 1974. Way, way, way before helicopter parents. Wonder what the helicopter parents of today would do with all this.

Chapter Thirty Three

And guess what! Archie was pulling Janza’s strings, down to the insults. Of course. Who didn’t know that?

Chapter Thirty Four

And now the silent treatment for Jerry. Again, I’d like to point out that bullying like this is equal opportunity, not just girls, not just boys.

And he’s still getting a bit roughed up.

The chocolate has all been sold and Leon is happy because he has his money.

Another big deep question (I can totally see why this is used in schools, so much to discuss!): what is more important, the school or the individual? The question is a bit easy to answer, though, in The Chocolate War because the school is rotten with a ton of nasty people in it.

Well, the chocolate sale is over but Archie’s games aren’t. He is having a “special assembly” tomorrow night.

Chapter Thirty Five

A boxing ring.

A rally.

Without adults.

Oh, this is so not good.

And I understand why Archie is here. And Janza. And the nameless students. But Jerry? Really? Why?

Was this always Archie’s endgame? Or was he making it up as he went along?

And, still, the absence of parents.

“He had successfully conned Renault and Leon and The Vigils and the whole damn school. I can con anyone. I am Archie.”

And Jerry realizes he’s been tricked.

So, what is going on? Some type of raffle? Some weird rules? Pretty smart of Archie to involve the whole school: make sure guilt is shared equally.

Emile Janza. I almost feel sorry for him. “He had feelings like everyone else.  . . . All right, so he liked to screw around a little, get under people’s skin. That was human nature, wasn’t it?” Maybe it’s that Janza isn’t as manipulative as Archie. Maybe it’s that Archie has manipulated Emile into being his fists, for all of Archie’s not liking violence and sweat. But I do feel a bit sorry for Janza.

Chapter Thirty Six

“They would have to fight the way the guys in the bleachers directed them.”

I cannot entirely hate Archie because this is pretty darn brilliant. And the crowd mentality, and knowing they won’t walk away, not even the participants.

Archie: “People are two things. Greedy and cruel.” (Ha, sort of like the old saying that you cannot cheat an honest man.)

“Archie repelled him in many ways but most of all by the way he made everybody feel dirty, contaminated, polluted. As if there was no goodness at all in the world.”

Yes, this.

Interesting: Carter is a bit troubled as to whether this all means the world is bad, even though his presence here and his past actions clearly put him in the bad category. He just doesn’t recognize it. Archie makes people see that in themselves, perhaps?

Oh — and Archie does his first misreading. He thinks Carter is jealous. He doesn’t recognize that Carter is upset. So, I guess Archie is either a psychopath or sociopath? Which puts this book a bit beyond realistic for me, to be honest — Archie’s evilness, his lack of empathy or compassion or anything, is a bit too much.

The black box of chance comes out and Archie wins once again. Is it fixed? Who knows? Only thing for sure: Archie is playing at such a different level than anyone else, that no one here is even close to him.

Chapter Thirty Seven

Goober shows up, mainly to bear witness. Goober, who basically is so sickened by all this he has been literally home sick. (With parents!) I have to say: I don’t see Goober as weak,  or a coward, I don’t judge him for not doing more. Goober is the only half-decent person here. The odds are so stacked against him and Jerry. Just transfer, man. Public school is not a bad option.

Of course this all goes horribly wrong and Renault becomes a punching bag. As it gets bad, a few (Carter at least) run away. But the mob stays.

And Jerry; it ends for Jerry as it began. Getting the crap beat out of him, it’s just the context is different.

Goober is horrified. Obie is disgusted.

Chapter Thirty Eight

Archie is confronted by a teacher, but if you think it’s the kind of book where a teacher asserts any type of moral authority or power and Archie gets in trouble, what book have you been reading because this is not that kind of book.

A doctor is called and Jerry is in pretty bad shape. He is broken in body and spirit. Conform, he warns Goober, or “otherwise they murder you.” Except it’s not quite “they” because Jerry played into this by showing up and participating in the rally and the fight.

And Archie? Doesn’t give a damn. Still clam and cool.

And really? No one is going to follow up on this? Even in 1974? An AMBULANCE and it’s just “boys will be boys”?

Leon is even more of a sociopath than Archie. Because he watched it all and enjoyed it; and because Leon was motivated by greed. It implies, at least, a bit of a choice and I wonder if Archie has any choice in how he is.

Chapter Thirty Nine

And it ends as it began with Archie and Obie. Sitting on a bleacher. Frenemies.

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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:

    “And the phone calls and harassment continue.

    And Jerry doesn’t tell his father.

    Hm — 1974. Way, way, way before helicopter parents. Wonder what the helicopter parents of today would do with all this.”

    When bullying like this happened to me in the mid 70s, I didn’t tell my parents or school teachers. Because I knew from experience in elementary school and junior high that my parents would tell the teachers and school authorities, and they’d do nothing. This is partly why “The Chocolate War” resonated with me. At last, a book was mirroring life as I knew it.

    It still happens. I think there are fewer helicopter parents than most people think. Schools are often still indifferent. In my area a school district refuses to incorporate anti-bullying methods, even after a high number of student suicides linked to bullying. Have you seen the documentary “Bully?” That’s nothing compared to what some kids I know have gone/are going through.

    This is why “The Chocolate War” is still relevant today. The situation hasn’t changed all that much.

  2. Elizabeth Burns says:

    M, I think, also, for kids — even with the segment of parents that is over-involved — that that isn’t true for all. I think a mix of things happen: some kids think parents and adults know and don’t care, convinced, say, a teacher saw an incident at school when they didn’t. Which is why the teachers here are so terrifying, in that it confirms that fear/belief that the bullying happens with the school knowing/OKing it. I haven’t seen Bully, but I just finished listening to Emily Bazelon’s STICKS AND STONES. http://emilybazelon.com/books/sticks-and-stones/
    It’s a great look at bullying and other school issues, and I recommend it highly. I still have to draft a review; if I have time (cue hysterical laughter) I’ll post something this week about STICKS AND STONES and The Chocolate War. Basically: a lot of the dynamics it talks about are the dynamics being played out with Archie & The Vigils.

  3. M says:

    I agree with you!

    I would love to hear what a class of young people think of this book, and whether period specific things, such as the hippie in the park, throw them at all. What would TCW be like if it were written today? Archie could have one heck of a cyber-space empire.

    I’ll have to check out STICKS AND STONES.

  4. Elizabeth Burns says:

    Kelly over at Stacked has put together a list of some readalikes for The Chocolate War. Some interesting choices about these themes in more current books.

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