Beyond the Chocolate War Critical Essays

Robert Cormier


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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.)