Jerry Renault is a scrawny freshman who tries out for the football team and, because of his fierce determination and strength of will, makes the team. The story of The Chocolate War centers on Jerry and his resistance to the pressures put on him by a group of students in his school called the Vigils, led by Archie Costello.
The Vigils command Jerry to refuse to sell chocolates at an important school fundraiser and Jerry goes along with the command. He refuses to sell chocolates though he is defying the wishes of a frightening teacher, Brother Leon. Jerry staunchly though quietly continues in his refusal.
The Vigils then, influenced by Brother Leon, change their orders to Jerry and tell him to sell chocolates. Jerry refuses and a campaign of harassment, both physical and psychological, is taken up against him.
Jerry continues to resist. He is beaten up. He receives phone calls in the middle of the night. His homework is stolen and his locker at school is ransacked and vandalized. Still he resists.
Finally, Jerry is invited to fight back in a formalized, public venue. The Vigils, led by Archie, arrange to have a boxing match with Jerry pitted against a school bully, Emile Janza. There are special rules to the fight which eventually give way to an all out assault as Janza beats Jerry severely before the fight is stopped.