Monday, April 26, 2010

The Chocolate War: A Discourse

I honestly have no idea why I have never read this book before now.

I decided to simply read a new book for my thematic unit instead of going with something I've already read. Stay the cries of "Overachiever You Wench" because I was simply drawing a blank about stories that were about inhibited identity.

I really like The Chocolate War because it demonstrates how flawed social structures can become, how dangerous tradition can be, and how important it is for just one person to have the guts to say no. I also like how real the book was - there was no closure, no happy ending - Cormier didn't provide the message people wanted to hear, he didn't lie to the audience.

It was staggering. It was relentless.

It was a total downer.

And I appreciate that. I love that, even as it makes me uncomfortable, even as I howl like some kid -- it's not supposed to end like that.

One of the most powerful scenes in the book is this right here:

[Brother Leon has accused Bailey of cheating] "But look at the evidence, Bailey. Your marks -- All A's, no less. Every test, every paper, every homework assignment. Only a genius is capable of that sort of performance. Do you claim to be a genius, Bailey?" Toying with him. "I'll admit you look like one -- those glasses, that pointed chin, that wild hair..."

Leon leaned toward the class, tossing his own chin, awaiting the approval of laughter, everything in his manner suggesting the response of laughter from the class. And it came. They laughed. Hey, what's going on here, Jerry wondered even as he laughed with them.


Brother Leon whirled around. "Are you perfect, Bailey? All those A's -- that implies perfection. Is that the answer, Bailey...Only God is perfect, Bailey."


Cut it out, Brother, cut it out, Jerry cried silently.


A voice boomed from the rear of the classroom. "Aw, let the kid alone."


Brother Leon regarded them pityingly, shaking his head, a sad and dismal smile on his lips. "You poor fools," he said. "You idiots. Do you know who's the best one here? The bravest of all?" He placed his hand on Bailey's shoulder. "Gregory Bailey, that's who. He denied cheating. He stood up to my accusations. He stood his ground! But you, gentlemen, you sat there and enjoyed yourselves. And those of you who didn't enjoy yourselves allowed it to happen, allowed me to proceed. You turned this classroom into Nazi Germany for a few moments. Yes, yes, someone finally protested...A feeble protest, too little and too late....You did well, Bailey. I'm proud of you. You passed the biggest test of all -- you were true to yourself....Of course you don't cheat, Bailey," his voice tender and paternal. He gestured toward the class..."Your classmates out there. They're the cheaters. They cheated you today. They're the ones who doubted you -- I never did."

I think -- that is one of my greatest fear. That I am that classmate who said nothing. Who did nothing. Apathy, stagnation, zombie.


I don't ever want to betray myself or my brethren. But sometimes...sometimes...I wonder...if I already have.

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