Throughout the novel, chocolate is a shifting but ever-present symbol—the book’s whole plot is structured around a schoolwide chocolate sale, in which the all-male student body of Trinity high is yearly made to sell chocolate to raise funds for the institution. At the start of the novel, the untrustworthy Brother Leon announces that this year, the stakes for the sale are higher than ever; the school is in financial jeopardy, its Head is ill, and to compensate Brother Leon has secured—possibly through shady channels—a massive amount of Mother’s Day chocolate, the ribbon-adorned boxes of which will be sold at double the price of previous years’ sales. Moreover, each boy will be responsible for selling double his quota from previous years—each boy must sell fifty boxes rather than twenty-five. Leon’s belief that his “special” students will be able to carry out the increased demands of the sale with no problem demonstrates his voracious desire for control over the student body and the fate of the school alike. In this way, chocolate represents of the desire for control many of the characters within the book wrestle with. Chocolate is filling, rich, and has little nutritional value—it is a luxury and even a decadence whose overindulgence can result in illness, weight gain, and problems with one’s teeth. The fact that the boys are made to peddle chocolate to their families, friends, and neighbors is symbolic of the wildfire-like spread of desire for control experienced both by Brother Leon at the outset of the novel and by the Vigils as they attempt to enforce Leon’s new policies and ensure that all of the chocolates are sold. As the boys disseminate the chocolate throughout their community, so too do Leon and the Vigils disseminate their own dark, unsustainable desire for power and control by any means. As the chocolate sales—and the chocolate “war” inspired by Jerry Renault’s refusal to take part in the sale—spread throughout Trinity and the community beyond it, every character, even the minor ones, is forced to reckon with the ways desire takes up space in their lives—and, on a much more practical level, how in the world they are going to unload so many chocolates on such a small community.
Chocolate Quotes in The Chocolate War
“How many boxes?"
Archie whistled in astonishment. He usually didn't blow his cool that easily, particularly with someone like Brother Leon. But the image of twenty thousand boxes of chocolates being delivered here to Trinity was ridiculous. Then he saw the mustache of moistness on Brother Leon's upper lip, the watery eyes and the dampness on his forehead. Something clicked. This wasn't the calm and deadly Leon who could hold a class in the palm of his hand. This was someone riddled with cracks and crevices. Archie became absolutely still, afraid that the rapid beating of his heart might betray his sudden knowledge, the proof of what he'd always suspected, not only of Brother Leon but most grownups, most adults: they were vulnerable, running scared, open to invasion.
“Let me get this straight, Renault,” Brother Leon said and his voice brought the room under his command again. "I called your name. Your response could have been either yes or no. Yes means that like every other student in this school you agree to sell a certain amount of chocolates, in this case fifty boxes. No—and let me point out that the sale is strictly voluntary, Trinity forces no one to participate against his wishes, this is the great glory of Trinity—no means you don't wish to sell the chocolates, that you refuse to participate. Now, what is your answer? Yes or no?"
The Goober stared at Jerry in disbelief. Was this Jerry Renault who always looked a little worried, a little unsure of himself even after completing a beautiful pass, who always seemed kind of bewildered—was this him actually defying Brother Leon? Not only Brother Leon but a Trinity tradition?
"You may pick up your chocolates in the gym, gentlemen,” Brother Leon said, his eyes bright—wet-bright. "Those of you who are true sons of Trinity, that is. I pity anyone who is not." That terrible smile remained on his face. "Class dismissed," Leon called although the bell had not sounded.
It would be so easy, really, to yell “Yes." To say, “Give me the chocolates to sell, Brother Leon." So easy to be like the others, not to have to confront those terrible eyes every morning. Brother Leon finally looked up. The tempo of the roll call had broken.
“No," Jerry said.
He was swept with sadness, a sadness deep and penetrating, leaving him desolate like someone washed up on a beach, a lone survivor in a world full of strangers.
“Renault… zero," Brother Leon said, his voice a sibilant whisper. "Can you imagine that, Cochran? A Trinity boy who has refused to sell the chocolates? Do you know what's happened, Cochran? Do you know why the sales have fallen off?"
“I don't know, Brother Leon," Brian said lamely.
“The boys have become infected, Cochran. Infected by a disease we could call apathy. A terrible disease. Difficult to cure."
What was he talking about?
“Before a cure can be found, the cause must be discovered. But in this case, Cochran, the cause is known. The carrier of the disease is known."
Brian knew what he was getting at now. Leon figured that Renault was the cause, the carrier of the disease. As if reading Brian's mind, Leon whispered “Renault . . . Renault. . ."
Like a mad scientist plotting revenge in an underground laboratory, for crying out loud.
"Listen, I think Leon's in deep trouble. There's more than chocolates involved here, Archie."
Archie resented Cochran's familiarity, the use of his name. But he didn't say anything, curious about what the kid had to say.
"I overheard Leon talking with Brother Jacques. Jacques was trying to back him into a corner. He kept mentioning something about Leon abusing his power of attorney. That he’d over-extended the school’s finances. That was his exact word, ‘overextended.’ The chocolates came into it. Something about twenty thousand boxes and Leon paying cash in advance. I didn't hear all of it . . . I got out of there before they could find out I was around . . ."
“So what do you think, Cochran?" Archie asked, although he knew. Leon needed at least twenty thousand dollars to draw even with the school.
"I think Leon bought the chocolates with money that he wasn't supposed to use. Now the sale's going lousy and he's caught in the middle. And Brother Jacques smells a rat…"
Carter blew air out of his mouth in exasperation. He was losing patience with Archie's cat and mouse crap. He had sat here for two years watching Archie play his silly games with kids, having Archie act the big shot as if he ran the show. Carter carried the responsibility for the assignments on his shoulders. As president, he also had to keep the other guys in line, keep them psyched up, ready to help make Archie's assignments work. And Carter wasn't crazy about this chocolate stuff. It was something beyond the control of The Vigils. It involved Brother Leon and he didn't trust Leon as far as he could throw him. Now, he watched the kid Renault, looking as if he was ready to faint with fright, his face pale and eyes wide with dread, and Archie having fun with him. Jesus, Carter hated this psychological crap. He loved boxing where everything was visible—the jabs, the hooks, the roundhouse swings, the glove in the stomach.
“Goober sold his fifty boxes," someone called. Cheers, applause and ear-splitting whistles. The Goober started to step forward in protest.
He had only sold twenty-seven boxes, damn it. He had stopped at twenty-seven to show that he was supporting Jerry, even though nobody knew, not even Jerry. And now the whole thing evaporated and he found himself sinking back in the shadows, as if he could shrivel into invisibility. He didn't want trouble. He'd had enough trouble, and he had held on. But he knew his days at Trinity would be numbered if he walked into that group of jubilant guys and told them to erase the fifty beside his name.
Out in the corridor, The Goober's breath came fast. But otherwise he felt nothing. He willed himself to feel nothing. He didn't feel rotten. He didn't feel like a traitor. He didn't feel small and cowardly. And if he didn't feel all these things, then why was he crying all the way to his locker?
"You listen,” Janza said, cool now, knowing he had struck a vulnerable spot. “You're polluting Trinity. You won't sell the chocolates like everybody else and now we find out you're a fairy." He shook his head in mock, exaggerated admiration. "You're really something, know that? Trinity has tests and ways of weeding the homos out but you were smart enough to get by, weren't you? You must be creaming all over—wow, four hundred ripe young bodies to rub against . . ."
"I'm not a fairy," Jerry cried.
“Kiss me," Janza said, puckering his lips grotesquely.
"You son of a bitch," Jerry said.
The words hung on the air, verbal flags of battle. And Janza smiled, a radiant smile of triumph. This is what he'd wanted all along, of course. This had been the reason for the encounter, the insults.
"What did you call me?" Janza asked.
“A son of a bitch," Jerry said, measuring out the words, saying them deliberately, eager now for the fight.
“I don't know how you do it, Archie," Carter was forced to admit.
"Simple, Carter, simple." Archie reveled in the moment, basking in Carter's admiration, Carter who had humiliated him at The Vigils meeting. Someday he'd get even with Carter but at the moment it was satisfying enough to have Carter regarding him with awe and envy. "You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set-up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they're safe in the bleachers. That's why it works, Carter, because we're all bastards.”
Carter disguised his disgust. Archie repelled him in many ways but most of all by the way he made everybody feel dirty, contaminated, polluted. As if there was no goodness at all in the world. And yet Carter had to admit that he was looking forward to the fight, that he himself had bought not one but two tickets. Did that make him like everybody else—greedy and cruel, as Archie said?
"It'll be all right, Jerry."
No it won't. He recognized Goober's voice and it was important to share the discovery with Goober. He had to tell Goober to play ball, to play football, to run, to make the team, to sell the chocolates, to sell whatever they wanted you to sell, to do whatever they wanted you to do. He tried to voice the words but there was something wrong with his mouth, his teeth, his face. But he went ahead anyway, telling Goober what he needed to know. They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It’s a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.
“Maybe the black box will work the next time, Archie," Obie said. “Or maybe another kid like Renault will come along."
Archie didn't bother to answer. Wishful thinking wasn't worth answering. He sniffed the air and yawned. “Hey, Obie, what happened to the chocolates?"
"The guys raided the chocolates in the confusion. As far as the money’s concerned, Brian Cochran has it. We'll have some kind of drawing next week at assembly."
Archie barely listened. He wasn't interested. He was hungry. “You sure all the chocolates are gone, Obie?"
“I'm sure, Archie.”
"You got a Hershey or anything?"
The lights went off again. Archie and Obie sat there awhile not saying anything and then made their way out of the place in the darkness.