Beyond the Chocolate War deals with the complex issue of how to define power and with the psychological problems of fear, intimidation, and control. Jerry Renault has traded T. S. Eliot’s “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?” for A. E. Housman’s “I, a stranger and afraid/ In a world I never made.” Housman’s despairing words signal a kind of realization on the part of Jerry that although there exist multiple attacks on integrity, individuals must depend on themselves for physical and intellectual survival. Jerry’s scene with Janza illustrates the power of passive resistance to irrational and obsessive brute violence. Despite Janza’s violent punches, Jerry refuses to fight back, and his inner strength allows him to withstand the blows. He tells Goober that the confrontation was something that had to be won alone. Janza, on the other hand, feels like he “has lost something” in this battle, and what he has lost is power. Here Cormier also touches on the close kinship of brutal power and sexual power when he writes that Janza’s attack on Jerry is “nothing sexual.”
The issues pertaining to sexuality are further illustrated in Obie’s and Laurie’s experiments with sex. Although their physical exchanges are called love, the two actually time their fondling and caresses to keep themselves under control. Bunting, on the other hand, does lose control during his assault on them, and what was originally planned only as a scare tactic almost turns into rape. Laurie feels abused when her unknown assailant (Bunting) squeezes her breast; the same act by Obie had been viewed another way. Now Laurie sees Obie and their sexual...
(The entire section is 679 words.)
Beyond the Chocolate War, as well as Robert Cormier’s other novels, are outstanding examples of social and psychological realism for young adults. Cormier received the ALAN Award given annually by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English to honor those individuals who have made important contributions to adolescent literature. He also received the Margaret A. Edwards award, presented each year by the Young Adult Services Division of the American Library Association. This award is given to authors who write about authentic adolescent experiences and emotions.
Cormier’s novel Fade (1988) continues the themes of secrets, illusions, and power depicted in Beyond the Chocolate War. The protagonist Paul Moreaux finds that his genetic ability to become invisible allows him to learn the secrets of others. He realizes that actions and individuals are interconnected and that it is necessary to act responsibly toward other people. In addition to novels, Cormier has written short stories, brought together in the collection Eight Plus One (1980). He prefaces each story with details about the sources of the characters and plot, as well as any problems he had in writing the story. Some of the stories take place in the 1930’s, when Cormier was growing up, while others are set in the 1970’s. Despite the difference in setting, all the selections deal with the problems of growing up.