The Chocolate War

by: Robert Cormier

Themes

Disturbing the Universe

Essentially, this is what Jerry does throughout the book. The universe here is the world created by school and The Vigils—the seemingly natural order of things. The Vigils are strong enough to impact that natural order, and a large part of their power grows from the fact that what they say goes. Defying them is to defy something huge and it creates giant waves and disturbs the universe. The goal of The Vigils is to create their own universe that all of the students must follow the rules that they've set. Eventually, The Vigils end up creating a universe so powerful that no one dare defy it, until Jerry comes along.

Jerry disturbs the universe and, for a while, wakes up many of the other students to the point where they too question the order The Vigils have imparted on the school. That period of questioning The Vigils does not last long and soon Jerry becomes an outcast for having disturbed the universe. Ultimately, this is what makes the boxing match possible and why the students chant for fighting, even for Jerry to be killed. They are so entrenched in The Vigils universe that they find themselves wanting blood for the person who disturbed it, even if it had no direct impact on them.

Psychological Warfare

Archie is distinguished from the typical school bully and from people such as Emile Janza because of his penchant for psychological warfare. He does not often resort to flat out fighting or physical bullying because cuts and bruises heal too quickly. He wants to punish students in a way that they cannot forget for a long time. The Goober is an example of the success of Archie's psychological tactics. The Goober is traumatized by what The Vigils force him to do, and he cannot forget it. He feels guilty about being the reason Brother Eugene is on sick leave, and he eventually feels so terrible about what he did that he stays home sick for the better part of a week.

Archie puts Jerry into a situation where he can either acquiesce or be punished. Perhaps Archie has a sense of the fact that Jerry is thinking about disturbing the universe, and sets him up to give him a chance to do so. Archie knows that if Jerry defies him or The Vigils that they have free reign to make him pay for it. The phone calls, the incident with Jerry's locker and homework are all meant to make Jerry not feel physically scared, but to feel as if someone is following him and watching him. Archie wants to make Jerry feel paranoid, because paranoia is not easily laid to rest and prevents Jerry from sleeping or gaining any peace of mind. These are the punishments that Archie thinks are most fitting; they are the ones whose implications last far longer than a physical beating.

The Power of Fear

Everyone in the school, including members of The Vigils, is afraid of Archie. Most loathe him, but first and foremost they fear him, which ensures that Archie will remain in control. Simply issuing a summons to a student makes him tremble in his boots. Fear is the reason The Goober took apart Room nineteen. Fear is the reason people do what Archie says. During the boxing match, some students might have derived joy from witnessing the violence, but for the most part the students participate because they must. Even if they have contemplated disturbing the universe they are simply too afraid to. This sets Jerry apart from the rest of the people in the high school. The Vigils undoubtedly scare him, but he does not let that fear dictate his actions. This is the reason The Vigils are so threatened by Jerry, and why they plan his downfall in the most cruel and dangerous way possible.

Manipulation

Both Archie and Brother Leon are experts at manipulation. Manipulation encompasses and utilizes the power of fear. Brother Leon manipulates students when he feels like it, or just for kicks. The same is true for Archie. Archie even manipulates people such as Emile Janza, lying to get Janza to do whatever he wants. Brother Leon manipulates Archie into helping with the sale—not through fear, but through recognition. Archie is so flattered by Brother Leon's request for help that he does not think through the implications of signing on with the sale, but simply relishes Brother Leon's acknowledgement. He manipulates Brother Leon back, however, using Jerry and the assignment to refuse the chocolates. He makes what would have been a fairly simple situation a complex and highly volatile one. At the end of the day, Archie manipulates for his own amusement and to get ahead—the exact reasons Brother Leon manipulates his students.