Controversy has surrounded The Chocolate War since its appearance in the 1970s. Critics, parents, and educators cited its political cynicism, its sense of despair, and the few but emotional passages containing sex and violence. Not many would accuse Cormier of deliberate sensationalism or pandering to “rebellious” youth, but he has been strongly criticized for attempting to convince young adults of the baseness and brutality of their peers as well as the adult world.
This “negative atmosphere” is vital to Cormier’s theme and the nature of his Characters, and adults and adolescents may find the novel far from explosive, given the tendency of recent novels for young adults to explore specific and sensitive sexual and social Themes.
Objections to the novel, including school board attempts at censorship, have centered mostly on the pessimistic philosophy that Cormier seems to espouse. These critics have accused the author of painting a hopeless portrait of society, leading his readers toward depression and apathy, and suggesting that they to abandon any hope of challenging corruption and working for a better society. Indeed, The Chocolate War is a convincing demonstration that literature need not be constructed upon happy endings, heroic climaxes, or the familiar triumph of good over evil. Nor does Cormier lull his readers into believing that the “good guys” and “bad guys” are easily distinguishable. He offers readers a passage into mature literary creation, insisting that only an uncompromising vision of reality prepares young people to resist the evils his novel describes. Cormier’s novel reflects a resolute effort to encourage acts of conscience and personal courage.