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Jerry Renault in The Chocolate War appears to be “going with the flow”—trying out for football, checking out girls—but his inner character drives him to differ. He fights to grasp his feelings and lacks self-confidence when he needs it most. As Jerry begins to unearth his inner-self, other obstacles and ideas dealing with certain emotions arise. As he progresses and reaches a level of comprehension, he grows closer to his goal—a sense of self-rule.
Jerry seems to be a typical freshman, in a period of experimentation—trying out for the team, dreaming about girls, reading “girlie magazines,” but he also appears to be a dazed and confused one. He is “stunned by his mother’s recent death and by the way his father sleepwalks through life.” Jerry is experiencing an identity crisis and needs some self loyalty which can only be gained by reaching a level of understanding of himself and his feelings.
Later, preparing for bed and sleep, Jerry looked at himself in the mirror, saw himself as that guy on the Common must have seen him the other day: Square Boy. Just as he had superimposed his mother’s image on his father’s face, now he could see his father’s face reflected in his own features. He turned away. He didn’t want to be a mirror image of his father. The thought made him cringe. I want to do something, be somebody. But what? But what? (p.53)
As Jerry continues to search for himself, he is faced with a “Vigil assignment”—refusal to participate in the school fund raiser, the chocolate sale, for ten school days. However, in fulfilling this assignment, Jerry acquires his own identity; he becomes that “freshman rebel,” a hero. On the eleventh day, when Jerry still does not accept the chocolates, when he says, “I’m not accepting the chocolates,” Jerry declares the chocolate war. He finds something in which to believe that will allow him to reach a sense of self-rule.
“I think the Renault kid is right about the chocolates.” (p.104)
“It’s the whole principle of the thing.”(p.105)
“We pay tuition to go to Trinity, don’t we? Right. Hell, I’m not even Catholic, a lot of guys aren’t, but they sell us a bill of goods that Trinity is the best prep school for college you can find around here … And what happens? They turn us into salesmen … And now comes along a freshman. A child. He says no. He says ‘I’m not going to sell the chocolates.’ Simple. Beautiful.” (p.105)
Jerry’s new identity does not last long. He cannot challenge the authority of the Vigils without facing any consequences. Jerry is to be made an outcast rather than a hero.
“The Renault thing will take care of itself,” Archie said. Couldn’t Carter and the others see? Were they so blind to human nature, to developing human situations? “Let me put it this way, Carter. Before the sale is over, Renault will be wishing with all his heart that he had sold the chocolates. And the school will be glad he didn’t.”
Jerry is haunted by his unimportance. He is unable to regain his composure after he overplays his rebellious actions. Defying the Vigils and Trinity takes its toll. Although Jerry carried out his assignment, he was also willing to “disturb the universe.” Jerry’s awareness of the consequences prepares him for the final confrontation. During this last battle Jerry experiences a loss of innocence.
A new sickness invaded Jerry, the sickness of knowing what he had become, another animal, another beast, another violent person in a violent world, inflicting damage, not disturbing the universe but damaging it. He had allowed Archie do this to him. (p.183)
Jerry Renault in The Chocolate War can be recognized both as a “winner” and as a “loser.” The definition of a hero is obscure. Jerry’s ending is not the “happy ending” that we expect—where the champion receives an applause as he passes a test of courage. Jerry is more of an unsung hero, if one at all. He faced the toughest tests of character, became discouraged, was trampled on, and was beaten by uncontrollable forces. Jerry came to know himself, both his strengths and weaknesses, which allowed him to cope with his failure to reach his goal.
Jerry Renault in The Chocolate War
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The Chocolate War, English-language films, Renault
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