Robert Cormier

Beyond the Chocolate War

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Beyond the Chocolate War Summary

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Beyond the Chocolate War is a 1985 young adult novel by American author Robert Cormier. The sequel to his first young adult novel, The Chocolate War, it follows a group of students at a Catholic high school who face off against a sinister school gang called The Vigils. The Vigils are bent on coercing the student body into developing a mob-like hatred of students who don’t fit in, with the goal of inflicting psychological injury on those who resist them, thereby consolidating their power. Along with its prequel, Beyond the Chocolate War is often named as one of the best young adult novels of all time, grappling with themes of innocence, intolerance, cruelty, and socialization that are central to adolescent life. Nominated for Horn Book Magazine’s prestigious Honor List in the year of its publication, at the same time, because brutal violence and other crimes take place in the novel, Beyond the Chocolate War is one of the most frequently banned books in the United States.

The novel begins as a freshman at Trinity High, Jerry Renault, is confronted by The Vigils. Archie Costello, the gang’s leader, delights in presenting unsuspecting students with difficult assignments that often end up traumatizing them. Jerry is confronted just after he learns that his friend, The Goober, has received one such assignment. The Goober is coerced into unscrewing the screws from all of the tables and chairs in one of the classrooms at night, causing them all to topple when the students use them the next morning. The incident permanently scars The Goober, who is normally a good-natured and altruistic kid. Jerry is the next to receive an assignment. He is told to turn down helping out at the school’s annual chocolate sale, even though Archie assured its supervising teacher, Brother Leon, that The Vigils would promote the sale.

Jerry’s abrupt refusal shocks his peers and Brother Leon, but they soon figure out that The Vigils are involved. Brother Leon, at first enraged, calms down once he realizes that Jerry is only supposed to defy him for ten days. On the tenth day, however, Jerry still refuses to sell anything. The Goober asks him why, and he is silent. The Goober deduces that Jerry is protesting both Brother Leon and The Vigils. In his school locker, Jerry posts a motivational poster with a quote by the poet T.S. Eliot: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”

The Vigils plan retribution for Jerry’s defiance of their directions. They summon him to a meeting and tell him to start selling chocolates the next day. Still, Jerry defies them. Word of his defiance spreads through the school, and other students soon begin to refuse to sell the chocolates as well. When the sales figures plummet, Brother Leon panics. Trinity High’s treasurer overhears Brother Leon confessing that he bought the chocolate wholesale with funds that were never approved; therefore, he has to sell all of them in order to pay the school back.

Brother Leon and Archie meet, and the former accuses the latter of trying to sabotage the sale using Jerry. He and Archie collude to re-popularize the sale and alienate Jerry from his base of followers. Archie and his cronies sell most of the remaining chocolates through backdoor methods while passing them off as sales for the students who were actually supposed to sell them. The Vigils continue to harass Jerry, destroying his locker, stealing his homework, and even beating him up after football practice.

Once the full stock of chocolates has been sold off except for Jerry’s portion, Archie takes aim at him one more time. He organizes an assembly of the whole student body, where he stages a sadistic raffle where the students who purchase a ticket get to force Jerry to strike, or be struck by, the school thug, Emile Janza. Ticket purchasers get to specify where on the body each blow is made. The fight commences, and Janza and Jerry follow the tickets’ instructions as they are drawn one by one. From the beginning, Jerry fights a losing battle. Janza is well-versed in fighting and does a great deal of damage. After Jerry scores a single good blow, Janza drops the remaining rules of the raffle, and suddenly goes berserk on Jerry. Jerry, unable to fight any more, collapses in exhaustion and pain. As soon as he falls, the school stadium goes dark.

When light is restored, Brother Jacques is present and puts a swift end to the ceremony, more or less oblivious about its cause. Brother Leon is by his side, who has watched the fight from the beginning without intervening. He ensures that Archie gets away with the sadistic ritual. The novel ends as Jerry waits for the ambulance that will take him to the emergency room, where he will be treated for a broken jaw and likely internal injuries. He exhorts The Goober, his only remaining friend, not to disturb the universe, retracting his earlier position as displayed in his locker. Archie’s nature does not change, and Jerry falls into despair. Beyond the Chocolate War paints a negative portrait of bullies and of the very adults who are supposed to protect students from emotional and physical violence, painting high school as a prelude to the corruption of the adult world.