Rbert Cormier's The Chocolate War is a an engaging but complex read that introduces students to a variety of topics, such as peer pressure, bullying, corruption, conformism and resistance, mob mentality, and abuse of authority. These subjects will spark class discussion and allow students to talk about serious issues in a meaningful way.

The Chocolate War includes a number of literary, historical, and religious allusions within the text, so it is important to identify and explain the significance of these references. The quotation that motivates Jerry, the main character, to rebel, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" is from T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The poem can be paired with the novel, and students can discuss the shared themes of choice and manipulation.

Although the book has received much praise since its introduction, The Chocolate War has also been frequently banned or challenged for sexual content, offensive language, religious viewpoints, and violence. While the author's perspective and message demonstrate that this novel merits being taught in the classroom, students' maturity should be considered before assigning this work.


Key Facts:

  • Length: 263 pages
  • Publication Date: 1974
  • Lexile Measure: 820
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

Freshman Jerry Renault attends Trinity, a Catholic high school, where he wants to fit in but is simultaneously motivated to not conform. The headmaster, Brother Leon, wants to raise school funds through chocolate sales, but The Vigils, a secret society led by the manipulative Archie Costello, tells Jerry to refuse to sell chocolates for ten days. Jerry goes along with this prank, but after the ten days pass, continues to rebel in protest. Brother Leon pressures Archie to get The Vigils to support the chocolate sales and set up Jerry as an enemy for the other students to bully.

Content Warning: The Chocolate War contains profanity, violence, and sexual references.

Your students will love:

  • The gripping, edgy plot.
  • Differing viewpoints that illustrate the complex manipulation and psychological warfare among the characters.

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding the literary and religious allusions in the text.
  • Offensive language and demeaning references to high school girls.

Objectives for Teaching The Chocolate War

  • Trace the development of the main characters.
  • Identify and analyze literary allusions throughout the text.
  • Discuss the deeper meaning of the title.
  • Analyze the symbolism of Jerry's poster, the chocolates, and room nineteen.
  • Determine how the story's setting establishes mood.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Hyperbole
  • Inference
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

The Power of Fear — Most of the students, including members of The Vigils, fear Archie, which allows him to remain in control because everyone is too afraid to act against him.

Related Works:

Defiance — Jerry questions, "Do I dare disturb the universe?"" and defies The Vigils, thereby disrupting the natural order they have created in the school.

Related Works:

Morality — The novel takes place in a Catholic high school; however, the school leader, Brother Leon, has unethically used school money to purchase chocolates to resell for a profit. The Chocolate War examines characters' moral codes and immorality.

Related Works:


  • New York Times Notable Books of the Year (1974)
  • School Library Journal Best Books of the Year (1974)
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1974)
  • ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults (1974)


The Chocolate War was adapted into a movie in 1988. While the film is generally true to the novel, the ending has been changed and diverges from the novel's plot and themes. The film is R-rated, though clips may be appropriate for the classroom.

External Resources

Available from Prestwick House:

Title Available Formats
The Chocolate War Paperback
Complete Teacher's Kit Package
Teaching Unit
Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable Package
Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable Package

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