The Chocolate War: Novel Summary: Chapter 16 - 25
Summary, Chapter Sixteen, pages 107-115
David Caroni, an honor student and scholarship winner, is in Brother Leon’s office discussing a failing test grade. In a quiet voice, Brother Leon suggests that the test was tricky, that the answers were open to the Brother Leon’s personal interpretation, and maybe, just maybe he made a mistake in grading the test. Caroni begins to understand that the test grade might be negotiable—for a price.
Brother Leon whines about the pressures of heading the chocolate sale. His pale fingers press a piece of chalk “like the legs of pale spiders with a victim in their clutch” until the chalk snaps in two. Brother Leon praises Caroni’s efforts in the sale and says, leading Caroni on, “‘If everyone did his part like you, David, the sale would be an instant success. Of course, not everyone has your spirit, David . . .’”
Caroni realizes that Brother Leon wants information in exchange for a better grade. Caroni finally tells him that Jerry Renault is refusing the chocolates because he is carrying out a Vigils assignment. He is scheduled to refuse to sell chocolates for ten days, then his assignment will be over. Brother Leon says that it is “‘terrible, to force a boy into that kind of situation, against his will.’”
Brother Leon tells Caroni that he will review his test grade at the end of the term and might find that Caroni deserves a better mark. Or he could decide that the F should stand. It all “‘depends’” he tells Caroni.
Caroni leaves, seeing that “life was rotten, that there were no heroes, really, and that you couldn’t trust anybody, not even yourself.”
Just as Archie blackmails Janza with the nonexistent picture, Brother Leon blackmails Caroni with a fabricated grade. The image associated with Brother Leon here is that of a spider, a quiet yet deadly predator. Caroni is like the chalk, helpless, to be devoured for information and spit out “like white bones, dead men’s bones.” Such imagery suggests that the struggle for power at Trinity is taking on a more serious aspect. Archie has a rival to reckon with in Brother Leon.
Summary, Chapter Seventeen, pp. 116-118
Today is, according to Jerry’s own admission to Goober, the day his Vigils assignment ends and he can finally accept chocolates to sell. Goober hopes things will return to normal now for his friend, yet when Brother Leon calls out Jerry’s name at roll call, Jerry gives a resounding “‘No!’” Goober feels that Jerry Renault has reshaped the world: “Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted. And the awful silence.”
The last paragraph of this chapter casts Jerry’s refusal as the act of someone creating an apocalypse. “Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted. And the awful silence.” In the little universe of Trinity, Brother Leon sees himself as God, but he is actually a distortion of God. Jerry, like a defiant angel, has dared to disobey Brother Leon, and his act has opened the gates for chaos.
In Goober’s view, it is best not to shake up the universe. Accepting the social system at Trinity may be rather cowardly, but is it really worth it to go against the system? Does the system have a legitimate place because it keeps a peace of sorts? Is Jerry doing the right thing by threatening the peace at Trinity?
Summary, Chapter Eighteen, pp. 119-123
Jerry cannot sleep. He looks out his window at October leaves that “fluttered to the ground like doomed and crippled birds.” He asks himself again why he said no to Brother Leon. He asks himself, “Was it because of what Brother Leon does to people, like Bailey, the way he tortures them, tries to make fools of them in front of everybody?” But Jerry knows it was more than Brother Leon’s actions that compelled him to say no.
He thinks of how Brother Leon’s blue eyes burn with a murderous hatred for him. Jerry is tired of being on his guard against him. He is tired of the way the Archie turned him into someone cruel when he hated cruelty. He is tired of the way his father is so numb.
Jerry remembers the hippie’s words about him missing out on things because he was “square.” To comfort himself, Jerry thinks about a shapely girl he recently saw, and he tries to masturbate. But he cannot do it.
Jerry is discovering that deep down, he is true to himself. He does not want to be cruel, like Archie or Brother Leon, nor does he want to sleepwalk through life like his father. The hippie, resembling “some grotesque John the Baptist,” preached a message that now rings true for Jerry: know yourself. His words carry far more sincerity than Brother Leon’s did when he used Bailey to preach the same message to his students.
Brother Leon’s eyes are described as giving Jerry a “glimpse into the hell that was burning inside the teacher. Those moist eyes, the white eyeballs and the diluted blue of his pupils, eyes that reflected everything that went on in class, reacting to everything.” The image here suggests that Brother Leon is possessed with evil.
Summary, Chapter Nineteen, pp. 124-131
The next day, Jerry discovers that he is a hero for refusing to sell the chocolates. He is pleased to be admired, but deep down he feels he does not deserve this admiration. He tells Goober that he is not sure why he cannot sell the chocolates, but he knows he just cannot. Jerry realizes that Goober, once so carefree and happy, looks “like an old man heaped with all the sorrows of the world, his thin face drawn and haggard, his eyes haunted, as if he had awakened from a nightmare he couldn’t forget.”
Jerry opens his locker and ponders the poster he tacked up in there at the beginning of school. It shows a solitary person walking on a beach at night, with a single star shining in the sky. The poster also includes a quotation from a T. S. Eliot poem: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”
Once in Brother Leon’s classroom, Jerry notices that the atmosphere is “off.” It is as if Brother Leon were conducting an orchestra in which the “members of the orchestra were controlling the pace and not the conductor.” Boys answer roll call so fast that Brother Leon does not have time to comment or harass anyone. Jerry also notices that the tallies are lower than usual.
When Jerry calls out “no” at roll call, he feels “a sadness deep and penetrating, leaving him desolate like someone washed up on a beach, a lone survivor in a world full of strangers.”
Images of distorted reality continue in this chapter with the image of an orchestra going amuck. Jerry’s defiance has caused a ripple effect in a disciplinary system that places teachers above students. Even Brother Leon, the epitome of that system, is momentarily swept into the chaos.
Jerry has up to this point been unable to put into words the reason for his defiance. The quotation on his poster, however, finds the words for him. Like the speaker in T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (from which this quotation comes), Jerry is going through the motions in a world bounded by social restrictions and expectations. But unlike the speaker in the poem, Jerry has dared to disturb his world.
The image of the solitary figure on the poster is given a foreboding twist in the image of Jerry as a lone survivor washed up, lifeless, on a shore. The image foreshadows the ocean of pain that Jerry has hurled himself into.
Summary, Chapter Twenty, pp. 132-136
In Brother Jacques’s classroom, the students get up and dance wildly every time he uses the word environment. Obie thinks, sourly, that he is tired of monitoring these Vigils assignments to make Archie look good.
Suddenly, Obie notices that Brother Jacques is intentionally using the word environment a lot. Students are getting tired from the constant exertion. When class is over, Obie notices Archie casually standing near the classroom, surveying his handiwork in triumph. Obie knows right then that Archie tipped off Brother Jacques so that the joke, in effect, was on Obie and the other Vigils members. Obie stalks off “insulted, injured. You bastard, he though, I owe you for that.”
For Archie to play such a joke on his own followers is abusing his power as Assigner. Obie’s ominous words at the end of the chapter suggest that he might just find a way to check Archie’s power. Again, by focusing on an individual character’s private thoughts, Cormier is exposing the rotten planks that support the existing social system at Trinity.
Summary, Chapter Twenty-One, pp. 137-149
Kevin Chartier, Danny Arcangelo, Howie Anderson, Richy Rondell and other boys have decided not to sell anymore chocolates.
Obie tells Archie that kids believe Jerry Renault is deliberately defying The Vigils. Obie also reminds Archie that it was he who pledged that The Vigils would back the sale for Brother Leon.
Archie tells Obie to summon Jerry to a Vigils meeting.
Jerry’s rebellion has inspired others to rebel, too. He is becoming something of a hero, someone who has defied not only Brother Leon and the school, but also The Vigils. Archie, of course, cannot lose power to someone like Jerry Renault, who wields his power for all the right reasons. Archie must regain power not just for The Vigils, but for himself.
Summary, Chapter Twenty-Two, pp. 150-155
Brian Cochran tells Brother Leon that the chocolate sale totals are bad. Showing no emotion, Brother Leon asks Brian to read the totals for every student, beginning with who has sold the most, down to who has sold the least. He shows no emotion as Brian reads, nodding his head “as if he were communicating with someone unseen or only himself.”
Brian finally reaches Jerry Renault’s name and his zero total. At last Brother Leon stirs. He tells Brian that a disease—the disease of apathy—has taken over the school, and that the carrier is known. Brian knows he means Jerry Renault. He thinks that the look on Brother Leon’s face is one of a “mad scientist plotting revenge in an underground laboratory.”
That this chapter focuses on Brian Cochran’s view of Brother Leon’s intentions is important because readers are forced to see Brother Leon as Brian does, as a madman. This distance between readers and Brother Leon’s own thoughts also puts readers in Jerry Renault’s shoes. Like Jerry, readers have no idea what terrible punishment Brother Leon is concocting.
Summary, Chapter Twenty-Three, pp. 156-160
The Goober tells Jerry that he is not going to play football anymore. At first, Jerry does not take him seriously; Jerry thinks, instead of Ellen Barrett, a girl he has been exchanging smiles with at the bus stop. Goober suggests that they run to the bus stop; as they run, he talks about how he feels responsible for Brother Eugene’s breakdown. He also tells Jerry that there is something “‘rotten in that school,’” something that is “‘evil,’” something that twists ordinary boys into fiends.
Jerry tries to shrug it all off as a game. But Goober knows better.
Goober has put into words exactly what is wrong at Trinity: it is infiltrated with evil. This evil goes beyond just the antics of The Vigils. It penetrates the whole system, from teachers to students. It forces good people like Goober to perform “cruel” acts that require them to betray themselves. And rather than confront this evil, as Jerry is willing to do, Goober prefers to simply withdraw out of its reach.
Summary, Chapter Twenty-Four, pp. 161-165
Brother Leon has called Archie on the phone. Brian Cochran had told Archie that he had overheard Brother Jacques talking to Brother Leon about how Leon was abusing his power as acting headmaster. Brother Leon, Brian discovered, used unauthorized money to purchase the chocolates for the sale. Now, with the sale going badly, he was not going to be able to pay back the school.
Brother Leon tells Archie that The Vigils must see that Jerry Renault—and those following his example—are made to sell chocolates. Otherwise, Brother Leon will make sure The Vigils are finished at the school. He hangs up before Archie can respond.
Brother Leon has decided to let Archie do his dirty work for him. Archie is to be responsible for reigning in Jerry Renault. Archie must now appear in control while actually acting under Brother Leon’s orders. Archie holds the trump card, however, of knowing that Brother Leon has led the school into financial trouble.
Summary, Chapter Twenty-Five, pp. 166-174
Jerry appears before The Vigils. Archie eats a box of chocolates in front of Jerry. He chides Jerry for lacking school spirit. As he does so, he eats more chocolates because they satisfy his craving for the Hershey’s bars.
Jerry thinks how great things were going: football, academics, his flirtation with Ellen Barrett, whom he intends to call. Suddenly, Jerry feels like all of these things will fall apart.
Archie commands Jerry to accept the chocolates at roll call tomorrow. If he does so, The Vigils will not punish him for defying them. Obie thinks that Archie is letting Jerry off awfully light; Archie must, he realizes with pleasure, be scared about something.
Archie’s interrogation of Jerry is reminiscent of Brother Leon’s tactics. He speaks softly at first, and then he issues his command. And, like Brother Leon, he has revealed a weakness. Obie knows Archie too well, and he senses that Archie may be brought down by Jerry Renault.