The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier could easily be set in many suburban schools or in many other contexts because the themes within the novel are universal. They are ones that can occur anywhere – politics, business, war or religion. Power and manipulation, deception and betrayal as well as standing up for your beliefs are the three main themes in this novel. Cormier has used strong characterisation, a clever plot line, the setting of the school yard, third person point of view and strong powerful language to develop these three themes.
The major theme of the whole novel is that of power and manipulation. We see the power of the Vigils group as well as the power of individuals such as Archie, Janza. Obie and Brother Leon. However the power that we see in the novel is destructive and manipulative because so many people have their own interest at heart and manipulate the actions and thoughts of others so that they can get their own way. Cormier used strong characterisation to develop this theme. We see the main antagonist Archie always plotting and planning to create conflict within the school. He is seen as intelligent and clever but he uses it to set people up and blackmail people. In the same way, through his actions and language, we see Brother Leon as scheming and controlling. He humiliates his students and blackmails them into carrying out tasks for him. One example of this is when he threatened to give Caroni an F on his report card unless Caroni told him information about why Jerry was refusing to sell chocolates. Setting is also used to construct this theme of power and manipulation. A school is a place where there are many levels of power plus many opportunities for conflict. When four hundred students are brought together, like at Trinity College, there will always be a struggle for power within the student group as well as against the teachers. This is seen at schools everywhere. Some students turn into bullies and try to gain power...
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