The Chocolate War

by Robert Cormier

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In The Chocolate War, how have Jerry and his father handled their grief? Is there any way Jerry and his father could have supported each other more?

In The Chocolate War, Jerry handles his grief by living in rage while his father handles his grief by becoming distant and emotionless. They could both support each other more by improving communication and confiding in each other about the death of Jerry's mother.

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In chapter nine, Cormier depicts how the death of Jerry's mother significantly impacted Jerry and his father's everyday lives and their relationship. Following the death of his mother, Jerry is overcome with rage and struggles to appropriately cope with the tragic situation. Jerry's anger keeps him up at night as he lays in his bed thinking about his mother's funeral and the way the disease ravaged her in the end. Jerry's father reacts differently to the death of his wife. Instead of experiencing anger, Jerry's father becomes completely numb and the narrator compares him to a sleepwalker and a puppet. The only moment of intimacy Jerry and his father experience together takes place at the cemetery when they finally hold each other and cry.

Following the funeral, Jerry and his father attempt to continue their daily routines and internalize their difficult feelings. Instead of seeking therapy or communicating their feelings, Jerry and his father isolate themselves, which only intensifies their grief and exacerbates the underlying issues. It would benefit both Jerry and his father to seek counseling and participate in more activities together. Rather than attempt to establish a typical routine and pretend that everything is "fine" and normal, Jerry and his father could go on a fun trip or engage in a new, thrilling activity together. Maintaining open lines of communication and listening to each other would also be beneficial. Understanding that it is typical to mourn and grieve the death of a loved one would also benefit Jerry and his father's relationship. They seem determined to suppress their negative emotions and return to their normal lives, which is not the best way to emotionally heal.

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Robert Cormier’s 1974 young adult novel The Chocolate War examines the idea of nonconformity through a narrative surrounding the actions of the secret society The Vigils in the all-boys Catholic high school Trinity.

Jerry Renault plays of role of the lone nonconformist after gaining inspiration from a T. S. Eliot quotation and while dealing with feelings of depression following the recent death of his mother.

Jerry and his father both succumb to extreme feelings of grief and notably manifest that grief in different ways. Jerry becomes angry with the world for putting him through what he views as unfair treatment. His grief leads him to existential questions, and he becomes incredibly angry at the world and prone to outbursts.

On the other hand, Jerry’s father becomes a shell of his former self, numb to the world around him and lacks interest in everything, including his son.

This grief also builds a wall between father and son, and they stop sharing information. If they were able to treat their grief together, they would have been able to improve both of their lives and not subject Jerry to the violent beating he suffers at the end of the novel. Jerry’s defiance was a singular mission driven by the loss of his mother, and his father should have been able to step in and provide...

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more healthy ways for Jerry to deal with his grief. Jerry’s father’s lack of communication changes the dynamic of their relationship so much that in many ways, Jerry feels like he lost both parents.

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When Jerry's mother dies, it tears him and his father apart because they react to grief in such different, isolating ways.

For Jerry, his grief is built on rage. He's angry at everything after his mother dies. It's unfair to him that the world took her away from him.

For Jerry's father, the grief makes him numb. He sleepwalks through his days and doesn't show much interest in anything—including Jerry. In some ways, this makes it like Jerry has lost two parents.

Neither Jerry nor his father is able to join together to work through their grief over their shared loss. If they had found a way to reach out to each other, then they would likely have been able to heal in a more healthy way. Surely Jerry's isolation from his father also contributed to his anger; he didn't feel that he had anyone to reach out to. If he and his father had decided to reach out for each other, both of them would have been better off.

Jerry is also scared of turning into the kind of person that his father has become in his grief and the tedium of his life. That also creates a barrier between them that is difficult to bridge. Jerry chooses not to share his life, problems, or thoughts with his father.

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Jerry's mother died after a long devastating illness. 

"Jerry was overcome with rage, a fiery anger that found him standing at her coffin in silent fury. He was angry at the way the disease had ravaged her.  He was angry at his inability to do anything about saving her." 

"His father was a stranger during those terrible days, like a sleepwalker going through the motions, like a puppet being maneuvered by invisable strings.  Jerry felt hopless and abandoned.

The grief each of them felt was overwhelming.  They were together but isolated.  They could have handled it better, if they had different personalities.  If Jerry's father had shared his feelings with Jerry and if Jerry had opened up more to his father they could have shared their grief, but instead they internalized their suffering and shut everyone out.If Jerry and his dad could spend more time together doing things outside their daily routine the bond may have become stronger. Jerry, instead of turning to his emotionally absent father, takes an unusual stand at school. 

"His individual stand arises out of the circumstances of his personal life—the recent loss of his mother, the apparent tedium of his father's existence as a pharmacist."

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