The Novel of Courage and Cowardice
In Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, a depressing story about power and forced conformity within a school setting is told. Within this bastion of uniformity is a young man named Jerry who chooses to try and stand against the powers that are within the school. The novel shows a pessimistic outlook on society (“On Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War | PEN America”, 2016). While Jerry exemplifies courage within Cormier’s novel, the other students exemplify cowardice.
Jerry’s rebellion begins as a prank he was challenged to do by a secret school group, the Vigils. The challenge was to not sell chocolates during the schools annual chocolate sale. Once the time period which Jerry was expected to do his prank in was up, Jerry decided to continue to refuse to sell chocolates (“The Chocolate War”, 2016) . While this may seem a silly protest, it was one which was highly effective in riling the school authorities. Despite this, Jerry courageously continues, even looking at Brother Leon and declaring his refusal to sell chocolate.
Brother Leon and the Vigils seek to ensure every child sells their 50 boxes except for Jerry, hoping it will shame or embarrass him. While Jerry’s courage shines during this time, this is when the cowardice of other children shows. For instance, Jerry’s friend Goober has the intentions to be courageous like Jerry. Unfortunately, when given the chance to stand up, he fails and takes the cowardly road. Goober watches as the Vigils puts a “50” after his name indicating the number of boxes he had sold; he chose not to speak out about the lie. Another sign of cowardice is the fact that everyone is afraid of not conforming, and therefore takes part in these horrible actions within the school instead of standing up for what is right.
By showing Jerry as the only courageous one in the novel Cormier outlines a bigger societal issue; most people are not courageous. They accept the status quo and fear going against it. The novel leaves little doubt as to Cormier’s intentions of highlighting courage and cowardice in a poignant and understandable way. In the end he allows the pessimistic view that challenging the status quo is courageous, but does not end well.
- On Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War | PEN America. (2016). Pen.org. Retrieved 19 July 2016, from https://pen.org/nonfiction/robert-cormier%E2%80%99s-chocolate-war
- The Chocolate War. (2016). TIME.com. Retrieved 19 July 2016, from http://entertainment.time.com/2007/10/02/top-10-book-controversies/slide/the-chocolate-war-by-robert-cormier/
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