Friday, September 3, 2010

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

This is the question on the mind of Jerry Renault as he wonders whether or not to participate in the Trinity School chocolate sales fundraiser, the question at the heart of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.  It's pretty much up to the reader to decide if they think it was worth the risk.  Jerry is hounded at every turn when he decides not to sell the chocolates in an act of defiance that turns the rest of the school into a war zone.  The real message of this novel seems to be that there is a risk and a reward for defying institutional oppression and standing up for what is right.  Cormier does a fantastic job of creating Jerry and his environment, and creates a world and situation that the reader will have a hard time forgetting.

Roberta Seelinger Trites, a scholar and author of Disturbing the Universe reminds us that fighting institutions is part of life and part of what defines young people as they grow up and learn to make their own decisions, form identities, and figure out what defines their lives.  The Chocolate War is one of the best examples of this principle and it is a novel that I don't think anyone should really miss.  Though of course, how could a novel about undermining an institution, such as a school, go without its own challenges in the world?  The following is the information from Robert P. Doyle's Books Challenged or Banned in 2007-2008:

Removed from the Harford County, Md. High School curriculum (2007) because its message on the dangers of bullying is overshadowed by instances of vulgar language, including homophobic slurs. In November 2007, the Harford County's school superintendent reversed her decision to bar Cormier's novel and returned it to the classroom. Teachers now have the option of using the novel in a course that deals with harassment and decision making, but must get permission from all parents of students in the class. Challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego, Oreg. Junior High School (2007) because the novel is "peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence." Students are given a list of book summaries and a letter to take to their parents. Four of the eight optional books offered are labeled as having "mature content/language." Challenged in the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho School District (2007). Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them. Challenged as required reading for seventh-grade students at the John H. Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. (2007). Challenged at the Northridge School District in Johnstown, Ohio (2007) because "if these books were a movie, they would be rated R, why should we be encouraging them to read these books?"

I'll let you answer that last question for yourself... Or in the Comments Section!!


  1. I haven't read The Chocolate War yet - excited to check it out

  2. Excellently presented, Rob. Not my favourite Cormier novel, but perhaps his most socially powerful. Certainly his most well known. Nothing in there that my grade-school children haven't been exposed to, in this day and age, but it is rather rough. I would be far more worried about the harshness of the very truthful message than any of the highly realistic profanity and teenagers' vulgar language. It is certainly on my shelf; I hope my kids read it.

    As for that last question... I HAVE the movie... but have not yet watched it. I'll let you know how that goes. And some of the best movies about social injustice are appropriately rated R; what does this say about our world? And are we right to shield teenagers from their reality?

  3. Thanks Rob! I just bought my 3year old porn thanks to you and this site.

  4. Hello Anonymous:

    While I do enjoy your input, I wonder what your comment has to do with this post or with The Chocolate War? Perhaps you meant to comment on a different post?