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Why The Chocolate War was Banned
Banning The Chocolate War
Robert Cormier is used to having his books challenged. He is not afraid to broach subjects that others would find uncomfortable in a teen literature genre. The psychological warfare in The Chocolate War alone could have gotten it more than a few raised eyebrows. Since its publication in 1974, The Chocolate War has set new boundaries in what is acceptable in teen literature. The reasons for banning consist of language, sexual activity and the portrayal of evil.
The sexual activity noted in The Chocolate War is one case of a teen masturbating in the boys’ bathroom at school. However, someone who actually counted each incidence claims there are six references to masturbation and wet dreams in the book. Perhaps it was more of a tragedy back in 1974 than it is today, it hardly seems reason to call in the book burners. It has been referred to as “a Watergate at the high school level”(Smith) by attendees of the National Council of Teachers of English during the 1975 convention. Though rarely noted, there are also homophobic slurs. Perhaps that is what the real issue is, that Cormier managed to bring to life ‘real life’.
The language was considered by some to be lewd or vulgar. It has, by one parent’s account, who has infinite time on their hands 171 swear words in it. The American Library Association lists it #3 of its Top 100 Banned Books for 2000-2007. In fact, for the past 20 years, The Chocolate War consistently ranks in the top five banned or challenged books. I was not so deeply scarred after reading Cormier’s work that I dwelled on each infraction of polite grammar. Cormier’s words flow from one to the other, not like water rushing over rocks, crashing into one another but perhaps like a river of chocolate; deep, rich and flowing smoothly from one page to the next. I have read works that are so peppered with vulgarity that I know I would never want to be seated across from the author for a dinner conversation. This is not so with Cormier. The uses of expletives are consistently in context and never overused.
Portrayal of Evil
The Chocolate War is a book about teens written for teens. The nice Catholic boys who attend Trinity Catholic School connive, bully, extort, haze, steal, leer at pretty girls, and play some very serious games of psychological warfare. This must be quite a shock to parents of other nice Catholic boys attending parochial school. Is this, perhaps, one of the greater underlying reasons the book was so devoutly protested. Some of the banning of Robert Cormier’s book The Chocolate War has been done by church groups. The Catholic Church is not well portrayed in the story. They are portrayed as manipulative and abusive. It has been said the book ‘shows the Church in a bad way’. Unfortunately, this was a couple of decades before the 2001 sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church and the Church still deemed itself as a state of perfection. Cormier does not have an issue with parents who do not want their children to read the book; however, he does have an issue when they try to prevent others from reading his book. Brother Leon and Archie Costello, two of the fictional characters in the story, greatly enjoy playing games of psychological warfare. So much so, that they can both easily be defined as psychopathic. They are diabolically evil, manipulative, and equally unconcerned with the outcome of their actions.
The following sources were used in compiling this article.
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. 1974
Smith, Elizabeth Hayes. "The Chocolate War Study Guide | The Banning of The Chocolate War | GradeSaver." www.gradesaver.com. 30 March 2009. GradeSaver. 30 March 2009 <http://www.gradesaver.com/the-chocolate-war/study-guide/section9/>.
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