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The Chocolate War

Robert Cormier

Theme: Nonconformity in the Face of Power
Grades: Grades 9-10

Freshman Jerry Renault is trying to make his way at Trinity High, a boys' prep school run by two despots: Brother Leon, the acting headmaster, and Archie Costello, the leader of a secret student society called The Vigils. Jerry finds himself in a struggle between the two leaders on an unlikely battlefield—the school's annual chocolate sale. Dare he disturb the order of things at Trinity? He will suffer the consequences.

Note:The Chocolate War includes language that some readers may find objectionable. You may want to preview the novel before assigning it to students.

  1. Linking to Today: School.
    Tell students that The Chocolate War explores the world of a private high school. Ask them to jot down in their notebooks ideas about their own school community. Suggest that they include topics such as the following:
    • The nature of the relationships among students, teachers, administrators, and parents
    • Discipline
    • Friendships and cliques or in-groups
    • Violence and drugs
    • School spirit
    • Peer Pressure
  1. Brainstorm and Discussion.
    Explain to students that the primary theme of this novel springs from a quotation on a poster in the protagonist's locker. The quotation reads: "Do I dare disturb the universe?" Ask students to interpret this question. What do they think it means? Have them reflect on how they might disturb their own universe, and whether it would be a good idea.
  1. Hang It Up.
    Have students review the description of Jerry's poster. Then have them design a poster for another character in the book. They should choose a literary quotation or one from the character's own speech. Students should draw a fitting picture and write the quotation on the poster. Remind them to attach a label with the character's name to the poster.

  1. Standing Alone.
    Invite students to create artwork—a drawing, painting, or sculpture—that depicts the isolation experienced by Jerry and so many of the other boys at Trinity. Encourage them to first draw a rough pencil sketch and to then choose the medium best suited to their idea. Students may wish to display their work in the classroom.
  1. Contents Under Pressure.
    Have students create a handbook of guidelines for dealing with peer pressure, including a list of local resources.

    Divide students into groups. Have each group discuss what they already know about peer pressure and then brainstorm about where to find more information. Then have students do preliminary research using such resources as:
    • health, psychology, and sociology textbooks
    • the school or public library
    • the Internet
    • the school nurse and guidance counselors
    • local telephone directory listings of organizations providing health or mental health counseling
    • the mayor's office, public or mental health department, police department, and community organizations such as the YMCA

    Once students have assessed their resources, they should assign specific research tasks. After completing their research, have group members prepare the written guidelines, which they can post or distribute.

  2. Abuse of Power.
    In Chapter 6, Brother Leon compares his classroom to Nazi Germany. Have students do research about Nazi Germany, particularly about how Nazi leaders inspired support, fear, and obedience, and why ordinary citizens supported or remained silent in the face of brutal tyranny. Have them write a report on their findings.