Jerry sits in a classroom with his fellow students while Brother Leon, blackboard pointer in hand, restlessly prowls the room. Jerry knows the signs: Brother Leon is about to make an example of someone.
Sure enough, Brother Leon shatters the silence, saying, “‘Enough of this crap.’” His eyes land on a shy honor student, Gregory Bailey, whom he commands to stand at the front of the classroom. Brother Leon begins to lecture the class on how teachers and students are separate, how that separation is like the wind, invisible yet present. He mimics the wind’s motion with his pointer, suddenly striking Bailey across the cheek with it. His insincere apology lets the class know that he intended to strike Bailey. Somehow, Brother Leon’s manner implies that Bailey is at fault for being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”
Next, Brother Leon accuses Bailey of cheating. When Bailey denies cheating, Brother Leon asks, “‘Do you claim to be a genius, Bailey?’” He urges the class to notice Bailey’s mad scientist appearance, and the class, on Brother Leon’s cue, laughs at Bailey.
Jerry laughs as well, uneasily. He begins to feel hatred for Brother Leon as he continues to bait Bailey into confessing that he thinks himself to be perfect, like God. Bailey does not confess to such a thing, and just when Jerry can hardly stand Bailey’s torture anymore, someone in the back of the class shouts for Brother Leon to leave the boy alone.
The bell rings, but Brother Leon forces everyone to stay. He calls them “idiots,” and in a twist of logic praises Bailey because he “‘stood his ground’” while his classmates enjoyed his discomfort. Tenderly, paternally, Brother Leon tells Bailey that “‘you were true to yourself,’” and it was his classmates who cheated on him. With contempt, Brother Leon dismisses the class.
Brother Leon seems to be using a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet for his “lesson.” The line “‘to thine own self be true,’” is spoken by Polonius, a character whose wise pronouncements are actually motivated by ego and self-preservation. Although the idea of being “true to oneself” is sound, Brother Leon’s cruel manner and obvious desire to flaunt his power undermine the lesson he teaches. The real message that Jerry and the other students get is that being true to oneself invites unbearable ridicule and punishment.
It is important that this chapter focuses on Jerry’s point of view. The lesson “be true to oneself” has already been planted in Jerry’s mind by the hippie and by the graffiti in Chapter Three. Jerry has already shown that he is tough (through the football tryout) and that he has a conscience (his guilt over the Playboy). Will he find the courage and stamina to be true to himself in a place like Trinity?
Summary, Chapter Seven, pages 48-52
Archie comes upon Emile Janza siphoning gas from a student’s car in the parking lot. Although Emile is a bully and not afraid of anybody, he is wary of Archie.
Archie tells Janza that he is “‘beautiful,’” and when Janza asks Archie about “the picture,” Archie simply says, “‘beautiful’” and quickly walks away. He is pleased that he has left Janza “sweating” about the picture. He does not really like Emile Janza, but he finds that boys like him come in handy sometimes. By holding the “picture” over him, he has control over him.
Janza watches Archie walk coolly away and thinks how he would like to be a Vigils member. Actually, he would like to be Archie.
This short chapter alternates its focus between the thoughts of Emile Janza and Archie, revealing both to be cruel bullies. Archie, however, is smoother, more sophisticated in his cruelty; Emile is crude and mean rather than clever.
The word beautiful is repeated several times in this chapter by Archie, who uses the word to describe people or things that are beautiful to him because they are actually ugly or wicked. He uses the word like a pronouncement, like God declaring something to be “good.”
The picture to which Janza refers foreshadows his involvement in one of Archie’s schemes. What the picture shows is unclear, but that Archie intends to use it to blackmail Janza is very clear. Rather than resent Archie’s power over him, Janza actually admires him the way he might admire a hero.
Summary, Chapter Eight, pages 53-57
Chapter Eight begins with the sentence, “The Goober was beautiful when he ran.” When he runs, Goober forgets his troubles, his shyness, his acne. Instead, the world seems “beautiful, everything in its proper orbit, nothing impossible, the entire world attainable.”
But as Goober finds himself standing in Room Nineteen, Brother Eugene’s classroom, he does not feel confident or beautiful. It is nine o’clock at night, and Goober has been working on his Vigils assignment since three o’clock and is not nearly finished. He terrified that he will not complete the assignment for The Vigils.
To his relief, several masked Vigils members show up to help him. It takes Goober and the boys another three hours to loosen the screws on every piece of furniture in the classroom.
The beginning of Chapter Eight shows the word beautiful used in its proper sense. Goober sees his own actions as beautiful because they bring him joy and a sense of confidence. Running is beautiful because it pleases him.
Goober’s definition of beautiful, as well as his view of the world as sane and safe, directly contrasts with Archie’s definition of beautiful and his view of the world. Both boys find pleasure in finding things to be beautiful—in feeling beautiful, alive, powerful. But Archie’s view of beauty and the world is a twisted version of Goober’s view. Yet at Trinity, where everything is distorted, it is Archie’s view that reigns.
Goober finds himself having to realign his view against his will. Suddenly, the world is not beautiful, nor is he beautiful and free in it. No matter what his true feelings, Goober does not have the courage to stand up for them and defy The Vigils.
Summary, Chapter Nine, pages 58-66
Jerry comes home from school to find his father, who works odd hours as a pharmacist, asleep on the couch. Jerry is frustrated that his father has retreated so far into himself since his wife died. All he can say is “fine” when Jerry asks him a question or tells him about his own day at school. When he awakes and Jerry asks him if everything is really fine at his work, he says that most days are just normal. Jerry asks if he ever wanted to be a doctor. Mr. Renault’s curt “no” tells Jerry that he did want to be a doctor but never achieved his dream.
At bedtime, Jerry examines himself in the mirror. He sees himself as the hippie saw him, as “Square Boy.” He realizes that he does not want to become like his father. He wants something more, but he is not sure what that is. He goes to bed thinking about Gregory Bailey, the boy whom Brother Leon humiliated, then praised, for standing up for himself in front of the class.
The seeds of Brother Leon’s “lesson” have taken unintended root in Jerry. In Bailey, Jerry saw someone standing out, someone standing up for himself. Jerry, too, knows that the key to doing something and being somebody starts with being true to oneself. But how does one do that in a place like Trinity? Jerry is realizing that he must, like Gregory Bailey, stand up and stand out.
Summary, Chapter Ten, pages 67-69
Archie sits at the school assembly as Brother Leon introduces this year’s chocolate sale. Archie must admit that he turns in an “Academy Award caliber” performance as he talks about “school spirit, the traditional sale that had never failed, the Headmaster lying sick in the hospital, the brotherhood of Trinity, the need for funds to keep this magnificent edifice of education operating on all gears.” He explains that the quota is indeed doubled this year, but he knows that each fine young man will come through “for Trinity.”
Archie is having second thoughts about pledging The Vigils’ support. Many members had protested when he told them about his promise to Brother Leon. But Archie finally convinced them by “pointing out that Leon’s need for an endorsement from The Vigils was a symbol of how powerful the organization had become.”
Archie schemes how he will fill in his quota without actually selling a single box of chocolates himself. He decides he will find five boys to do it for him. That way, no one boy is burdened with the task. Archie is pleased with the “heights his sense of fairness and compassion could reach.”
Archie may deride Brother Leon, but he is, essentially, just like him. Brother Leon has committed the school to sell an almost impossible number of chocolates. Now, he must save his power and credibility by making sure the sale is a success. He must spin the chocolate sale so that it seems to be a heroic endeavor for each boy, like each was “embarking on the Crusades.”
Archie—sure that he has made an unusual mistake by agreeing to help in the sale—must save his credibility as well. He, too, spins the chocolate sale so that it sounds like an empowering, enriching endeavor for all The Vigils.
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