The Chocolate War, a timeless story of rebellion and courage, should be read (or re-read) by all high school teachers. I first read this as a middle-schooler, awed by the power of the Vigils, the secret group controlling Trinity school for boys. I idolized Jerry, a freshman, who dared to “disturb the universe” (a poster with the line from T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” hangs in his locker). By refusing to sell the chocolates in the annual fundraising sale, Jerry puts himself in the league of heroes.
Jerry is harassed on the football field, at home, and via telephone. But he refuses to back down. Perhaps it was losing his mother to cancer the previous spring. Perhaps it is the hippie who approaches him at the bus stop and says “you’re missing a lot of things in the world, better not miss that bus,” challenging him to think about the meaning of his daily life. Perhaps Jerry is just one of those people of character, who refuse to back down from the bullies. Plenty of other people in the book buckle under the pressure of the Vigils. Obie, secretary to Archie (the President of the Vigils), even admires Jerry’s chutzpah. Brother Leon, however, does not. Brother Leon, who runs the school and the chocolate sale, in an unprecedented move, solicits the Vigils help break Jerry–but it just doesn’t seem possible.
Not having read this in years, I was surprised at the observations the characters make about teachers and adults:
- “Most grownups, most adults: they were vulnerable, running scared, open to invasion.”
- “There was nothing more beautiful in the world than the sight of a teacher getting upset.”
- “Were teachers like everyone else, then? Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies and television?”
- I think the boys realize as they move toward adulthood that being a grownup didn’t solve all your problems–and that some adults are just as flawed as some teenagers.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good book about high school. Granted, all the main characters are male, and this was written almost 40 years ago, but I think almost anyone could relate to the characters and the events.
Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA