Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Club Discussions: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Thursday, December 27, 2012
As you probably know by now, I've joined a book club. I'm very excited about this and thought that you guys might be interested in our discussions. Hopefully you'll join in in the comments! This month's book is The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. At last, a book I hadn't already read! 

I hope you'll participate in the discussion in the comments with your own thoughts about this book. 
The Chocolate War (Chocolate War, #1)
*Please be aware that there WILL be spoilers for The Chocolate War if you have not read it already.*

I'm going to do this post a little differently than I have the last two. Mainly this is because of my workload I've had to put off doing this post longer than I would have liked and don't remember the exact details of what everyone said.

Let's talk about Archie Costello.
Archie, Archie, Archie. How is it that everyone both loved and hated you so much? He's the king of manipulation and smooth talking, not afraid to step on anyone if that means he can stay on top.  (In many ways he reminded me of Iago from Shakespeare's Othello, which I just read for school. Archie's only weapon is words. Others take care of the violence for him.) 

And yes, his brilliance is certainly admirable, but that's not why everyone in my book club liked him so much. Archie still has a sort of humanity that easily made him the best character in the book. Archie is oddly sympathetic. With all he does to Jerry and the other boys in the school, he shouldn't be. Yet, the scenes with the black box and how he mentions how he tosses and turns at night, the reader can't help but realize all the pressure Archie is under. 

I could say so much about Archie, but in order to do that, we need to....

Talk about Brother Leon.
If I had to choose Umbridge or Leon to have as a teacher, I would choose Umbridge. Leon essentially represents all that is wrong in our society, the corrupt, self-serving nature of it, and he is easily one of the most despicable characters ever. 

The scene everyone wanted to talk about was when Leon singles out a student in front of the entire class and accuses him of cheating. No one speaks up. Leon is quite clearly abusing his power and terrorizing an innocent boy, but he has a point. The class is guilty for not coming to their classmates' defense. Does this instant change them or make them better? No, and Leon knows it won't. In fact, he takes pleasure out of it. Perhaps they don't change because Leon's lesson is fueled by cruelty. 

Leon and Archie hate each other, but Archie fails to realize that he will be Leon in a few years, if he stays on the path he is currently on. In fact, as Archie progresses throughout the story, he becomes more and more like Brother Leon. In the beginning, he still has traces of compassion. (Remember when he asked if that one guy- blanking on his name, so sorry- would be late for work? He was described as being a jerk one minute, but a genuinely good guy the next?) But by the end, he stands by as Jerry is beaten nearly to the brink of death. 

And we can't forget the Goober.
The Goober is, at his heart, a good guy. We all liked him. However, we feel he is representative of most of society. He sees all the horrible things that are happening to Jerry, but he shies away from actually helping him. He watches everything that goes on, sees all that is wrong, but still wishes everything could just go back to normal. The Goober does gain back some points since he is the only one by Jerry's side at the end. Even if the whole school is still under the Vigils' influence, Jerry has changed the Goober.

Some important quotes to mention.
"They don't actually want you to do your own thing, not unless it's their thing, too."
"Do I dare disturb the universe?"
Is our society as oppressive as the first quote would have us believe? Cormier certainly seems to think so. The Chocolate War hardly ends on an optimistic note. And anyone who has ever tried to speak up knows the opposition they have faced. So perhaps it is.

However, I think it is possible to disturb the universe and succeed. If we look back through history, on the Civil Rights movements of the 60s of the suffragist movement of the 20s, there are countless examples of people disturbing the universe and making a change. It isn't easy by any means. People were hurt, people died, and some people still haven't changed their minds, but it can be done. Even now, the Internet has given us a place to voice our thoughts, to say that the way things were done in the past are not necessarily okay. Books, such as The Chocolate War, give us new ideas and allow us to break away from the ridiculous ideas that society forces upon us. Every time someone steps up and stands up for what they believe in, whether it be something as seemingly small as not selling chocolates, the shape of the universe is changed for the better.

Do you think going against the crowd is futile? Which character stood out the most to you in this book?

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