Robert Cormier’s novel The Chocolate War shows the transformation of Jerry Renault. He is first seen as a courageous freshman trying out for the football team at Trinity school. He becomes a hero when he defies authority only to be reduced to the level of those he despised in the novel’s brutal conclusion. He rebelled because his spirit told him he needed to take a stand; the harsh reality of the evil in the school led him to regret it.
Jerry changes because there is so much in his life that distresses him. He is still in grief at his mother’s death from cancer and his father is not available to him, caught in the routine of his work and its late hours. Jerry is trying to fit into a new school by winning a place on the football team. Even though he wins the approval of the coach who “was looking for guts”, he is dissatisfied. From the start of the year he had decorated his locker with a poster bearing the words ‘Dare I disturb the universe?’ On his way home from his school he is challenged to wonder if he could change his life when confronted by a hippy condemning him as a “square boy (who is) … missing a lot things in the world”. Jerry is prompted to change by his family life and forces in the school and the wider society.
The opportunity for Jerry to find out who he is as an individual and what he values comes after Archie’s Vigils’ assignment ends. For ten days Jerry, who “cruelty sickened”, had to refuse to take chocolates to sell for the school’s fundraiser. He soon realised it was a “cruel assignment” but surprising everyone, including himself, Jerry goes on refusing the chocolates. It was done on impulse and Jerry can only describe his reason as “personal”. The reader knows that it is disgust at both Trinity and The Vigils that provoked his protest and what that means about change in Jerry’s character.
It is the consequences of Jerry’s revolt that bring about his final changes in the novel. The first consequence is very flattering to him. Jerry’s peers perceive him as ‘cool’, the antithesis of ‘square’. Others, including Jerry’s friend Goober, decide to emulate him and refuse to sell the…