The Chocolate War

The Black Box Symbol Analysis

The Black Box Symbol Icon

Archie Costello holds the coveted position of “assigner” within the Vigils—the esoteric but powerful secret society that effectively runs Trinity High from behind the scenes. As such, Archie is in charge of devising “assignments”—projects and tasks ranging from benign pranks to seriously risky mischief, which are doled out to underclassmen seemingly at random. With every assignment Archie gives out, however, he must subject himself to the will of the black box—a sort of failsafe instituted long ago as a method of controlling, to some degree, whoever is in charge of making up the Vigils’ assignments. In the black box there are six marbles—five white and one black. If the assigner draws a white marble, the assignment goes to its original assignee as intended; if he draws the black marble, however, he must take the task on himself. This prevents the assigner from going “off the deep end” with the intensity of the tasks he devises, as there is always the chance he will have to carry them out himself. Archie Costello has beaten the black box every time he’s reached into it for three years—and yet each time he does, he feels a moment of panic and terror as the control and power he enjoys on a daily basis due to his coveted role within the Vigils slips away for just a moment, and he surrenders to fate and chance. The black box, then, is a symbol of chaos; in a novel preoccupied with the intersection of chaos and control, and the ways the two competing states interact and overlap, the black box represents a controlled method of chaos. The black box has a strict set of rules that govern it, and much thought and effort has gone into making it, but to those control-hungry characters like Archie Costello, the box is chaos distilled: a rare moment when control is out of the question.

The Black Box Quotes in The Chocolate War

The The Chocolate War quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Black Box. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ember edition of The Chocolate War published in 2004.
Chapter 5 Quotes

He had beaten the black box for three years—could he do it again? Or was his luck running out? Would the law of averages catch up to him? A tremor ran along his arm as he extended his hand toward the box. He hoped no one had noticed. Reaching inside, he grabbed a marble, concealed it in the palm of his hand. He withdrew his hand, held the arm straight out, calmly now, without shiver or tremor. He opened his hand. The marble was white.

The corner of Archie's mouth twitched as the tension of his body relaxed. He had beaten them again. He had won again. I am Archie. I cannot lose.

Related Characters: Archie Costello (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Box
Page Number: Book Page 37
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Black Box Symbol Timeline in The Chocolate War

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Black Box appears in The Chocolate War. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
The president of the Vigils, Carter, pulls a small black box out of a desk. Inside the box, Archie knows, are six marbles: five white, one... (full context)
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
Archie has always beaten the black box for three years running, but every time he reaches into it he fears that his... (full context)
Chapter 36
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
...entire student body quiets down. In front of the platform are the last remaining chocolates—fifty boxes—stacked in a pyramid. Carter walks to the center of the platform and gestures for silence.... (full context)
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
...he has at last triumphed over him. Carter had expressed doubt about using the black box when Obie first broached the idea with him—but, as Obie pointed out, the four hundred... (full context)
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
Obie wanted to try and fix the results, filling the box with black marbles, but Carter had protested. Carter did insist, though, that Archie be made... (full context)
Chapter 39
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
...Obie that he’s going to forget what he and Carter did earlier with the black box. Obie hopes aloud that perhaps, the next time, the black box will work—or maybe another... (full context)