I'm going to finish up my re-read of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War with TWO BIG POSTS.
Okay, settle in!
Chapter Eighteen: In which Jerry has a long dark night of the soul.
- It turns out that Jerry didn't mean to continue to refuse to sell the chocolates. He'd been looking forward to the ordeal being over: the tension with Leon, the shunning by the other students, being watched by the Vigils. But that 'No' just popped out of his mouth.
- He lies there in bed, these thoughts going round and round in his head, and even thinking of the girl he saw downtown in a sweater that "bulged beautifully" (<--gross) doesn't help to distract him.
Chapter Nineteen: In which Jerry fully commits to his stance.
- Before homeroom, Jerry is approached separately by three other students: two upperclassmen and The Goober. The upperclassmen praise Jerry; The Goober pleads with him to back down, because "Brother Leon won't let you get away with it."
- A poster in Jerry's locker with a T.S. Eliot quote—Do I dare disturb the universe?—is described in detail, as it's one of those images that always comes to me when I think of the book (like the eyes on the billboard in The Great Gatsby), I was surprised that its appearance came so late in the story.
- And the chapter ends with this: He was swept with sadness, a sadness deep and penetrating, leaving him desolate like someone washed up on a beach, a lone survivor in a world full of strangers. The imagery ties back to the poster, of course, but I especially love the mix of emotions that it suggests, some of them conflicting: he's both abandoned and been abandoned by everyone else; he has gained an understanding of the world (even if it's a vague feeling that he can't fully articulate) that no one else seems to share; he's sad for everyone and everything.
Chapter Twenty: In which we see that Obie really is sick and tired of Archie.
- And who could blame him, really? Everyone knows that Archie is the true leader of the Vigils, and so he gets all of the glory for every stunt that they pull off... but who's the one who has to deal with the real pressure, who has to be sure that all of the stunts run smoothly? Obie, that's who. Archie doesn't respect him, doesn't appreciate him.
- The prank described in this chapter—every time a certain teacher uses the word 'environment', the students all jump up and dance around like crazy for a minute—is brilliant and hilarious. (Though, like many of the others, it creates an undercurrent of fear and apprehension, too.) But it's also a great example of Archie, once again, playing puppetmaster with EVERYONE: he has no loyalty to anyone but himself, and once he's bored with the teacher's discomfort, he turns the tables and makes the students the victims.
- Students are talking; Jerry's outward show of defiance has made him somewhat of a symbol/inspiration to his peers—even though he certainly never meant for it to, and even though he'd rather for it to have never happened. Which actually makes me think of another unwitting/unwilling person-turned-symbol: Katniss in The Hunger Games. One of the major differences being, of course, that Katniss has A) a support network, and B) a clear-cut enemy to rebel against. Jerry isn't rebelling against an obvious authoritarian regime—though obviously the school administration and the Vigils are both authorities that bring pressure to bear—he's rebelling (again, though, not completely consciously) against his perception of WHAT LIFE IS. Ag. Poor Jerry. I do feel for him.
- This chapter is a great example of the portrayal of the objectification/dehumanization of women that plays out in The Chocolate War: in the first vignette, we have Kevin Chartier's take on his mother—...trying to ignore his mother who stood near the phone making sounds at him. Kevin had learned long ago to translate whatever she was saying into gibberish. She could talk her head off now and the words reached his ears without meaning.—and then we have Richy Rondell, who stands around outside the drugstore 'feast[ing] himself' on the girls who walk by by committing 'rape by eyeball'.
- Meanwhile, in an effort to discomfit Archie, Obie—who, even though he pretty much brings about our innocent hero's downfall, is one of the more likable characters in the book—tells him that Jerry has A) defied the Vigils by continuing to refuse to sell chocolates, and B) reminds Archie that he promised Brother Leon that the Vigils would support the sale.
Chapter Twenty-two: Sales numbers are down; Brother Leon is taking it hard.
- Sales haven't just slowed, they've virtually come to a halt. And Brother Leon—who sees Jerry Renault as just as much of a symbol as the students do, but a symbol that needs to be crushed—forces Brian Cochran to read every single name and number on the list aloud. It's a creepy scene, and suggests that Leon has gone round the bend.
Chapter Twenty-Three: The Goober refuses to play ball.
- The Goober is tired of Trinity. The Vigils are a part of it, but only a part. He feels like there's something 'rotten' and 'evil' there, and he doesn't want to give any more of himself to Trinity than he already has: so he's quitting football, and he's not going out for track in the spring.
- He never says it, but it seems likely that the 'rotten' feeling he's picking up on has to do with the fact that he seems to be the only one who feels any amount of sympathy for Brother Eugene, or guilt for his part in his nervous breakdown.
- Jerry, meanwhile, is in love with Ellen Barrett, a girl at their bus stop. I could be wrong, but she might be the only named female character in the entire book.
Chapter Twenty-four: Brother Leon and Archie throw down.
- There are a lot of references to obscene phone calls in this book—in this chapter specifically, Brother Leon's heavy breathing is likened to one—and that, along with the hippie, is one of the few things that date the book. (Because that's not really still a thing, is it? Obscene phone calls? Now that we have caller ID and *69 and all that?)
- Archie and Leon are both starting to lose their grasp on authority: Leon out-and-out orders Archie to use the Vigils to deal with the failing chocolate sale, which A) means that he's admitting that the situation is out of his control and B) that Archie and the Vigils have legitimate power, but C) not so much power that he can't order them around. I feel that there are approximately one billion possible term papers in this book.
Chapter Twenty-five: Jerry is summoned to appear before the Vigils.
- It doesn't go particularly well: Archie asks Jerry to start selling chocolates. He doesn't manipulate him into offering, he doesn't even order him. He asks. It's a scene that makes it even more evident that Archie is losing his grasp on power: he knows it, Obie knows it, and Carter—remember him? the supposed President of the Vigils?—knows it.
Chapter Twenty-six: Jerry calls Ellen Barrett.
- It doesn't go well.
- Also, she uses the word 'crap', which 'destroys all illusion' about her. Which is yet another great example of the Women As Non-Human thread in the book.
- Despite crashing and burning on the phone, Jerry's proud of himself for taking the plunge. And he has a moment—a moment—of pride about standing firm about the chocolates.
Chapter Twenty-seven: The Vigils REALLY begin to implode.
- Archie missteps by bringing in Frankie Rollo in for an assignment. Rollo, a junior already known for being trouble, mocks the proceedings (and the Vigils, and Archie) until Carter steps in and punches him.
- Which changes everything, because to keep the power dynamic intact, Archie has to let it ride, and in doing so, endorses physical violence as an option.
- But even after all of Archie's strategizing, Carter makes his move, and puts Archie on 'probation' until the Jerry Renault situation is handled and the Vigils are once more feared and respected on the Trinity campus.
- Archie is DISPLEASED.
Chapter Twenty-eight: Things start to get bad for Jerry.
- Someone assaults him on the football field, he gets prank phone calls at home at all hours, his locker is vandalized—the poster gets especially trashed—and one of his school assignments is stolen.
- In the midst of all this, he suddenly understands the poster: ...the solitary man on the beach standing upright and alone and unafraid, poised at the moment of making himself heard and known in the world, the universe.