Human Blood and Life Force: Vampires’ Holy Grail
Robert Cormier’s novel The Chocolate War presents the concept of symbolic
vampirism introduced in Thomas C. Foster’s guide How to Read Literature like a
Professor. According to Foster, symbolic vampires “don’t always have to appear in
visible forms” (Foster 18). In The Chocolate War, vampires lurk the halls of
Trinity High, an ostensibly holy Catholic all-boys school. One vampire comes in
the form of Archie Costello, the “assigner” of The Vigils, the school’s secret
society. Costello, a manipulative bully, abuses his power by exploiting others to
complete his selfish tasks. The Vigils’s power impresses Emile Janza, another
student at Trinity. Like a woman being seduced by a vampire, Janza’s obsession
with becoming a Vigil results in him being consumed and assuming the form of a
vampire himself. Even Brother Leon, the Assistant Headmaster at Trinity,
recognizes The Vigils’s power and sucks the blood of Archie and his followers.
Though they are not the typical scary, sometimes sparkly, bloodsucking monsters of
Victorian literature and contemporary teen romance novels, these characters possess
As the primary antagonist, Archie is the most visible vampire form in The
Chocolate War. When Emile Janza masturbates in a school bathroom stall, Archie
pretends to take a photo, catching him in the act. Later, Emile asks Archie about
Archie wondered, should I tell him the truth about the picture? He knew
that Emile Janza could be a dangerous enemy. On the other hand, the
photograph also could be used as a weapon.
“Tell you what, Emile,” Archie said. “Someday you might be able to get the
photograph all for yourself.” (Cormier 78)
Archie uses the photograph that he claims to have as a dangerous weapon forcing
Janza to obey his every word. Archie refuses to respect Janza’s autonomy; to
remain undead, Archie “steals the life force of someone whose fate matters less to
[him] than [his] own” (Foster 22). Archie’s exploitation of Emile exemplifies what
Archie is best at: psychological torture. Like a real vampire to remain undead
takes a young woman’s blood and life force, Archie to prevail over The Vigils and
the rest of Trinity High drains Jerry Renault’s reputation and dignity. At first
The Vigils assign Renault with the task of refusing to participate in the annual
school chocolate sale despite the fact that Archie tells Brother Leon, the teacher
supervising the sale, that he and The Vigils will make sure it is a success. After
ten days of refusing to participate, he is supposed to accept the chocolates.
However, on the eleventh day of the sale when Brother Leon calls his name during
the chocolate roll call, Jerry blurts out “no." The Vigils explicitly tell Renault
to participate in the sale, but Jerry still does not undertake the assignment.
Jerry’s defiance aggravates The Vigils. One night, The Vigils deploy a series of
harassing phone calls to Jerry who is...