The Chocolate War -- Robert Cormier Chapters 29-39
And now we come to the end of my re-read of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War.
This is, hands down, the most bizarre cover I've come across. Is that a girl? Dancing? With a sock puppet? I don't even. THERE AREN'T EVEN ANY MAJOR FEMALE CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK.
Chapter Twenty-nine: The sale turns around.
- Thanks to the Vigils, selling chocolate is suddenly cool. Carter hands wads and wads of money over to Brian Cochran and then tells him who to credit the sales to: it takes Cochran a few days before he realizes that Carter is distributing the sales to make it look as if EVERYONE is participating in the sale—not counting Jerry, of course—even though it's really only a few students doing all of the selling.
- Boys cheer when Cochran updates the sales roster, and it makes him feel like a football hero... which is ironic, as it's actually Jerry who's the football player.
Chapter Thirty: Brother Leon is now enjoying homeroom IMMENSELY.
- As in previous homeroom scenes, we get this from Goober's perspective: Goober, by the way, has stopped selling chocolates to stand in solidarity with Jerry. He hasn't gone so far as tell anyone—not even Jerry—but nonetheless, he did stop.
- Meanwhile, now that selling chocolates is cool, many of the other students have turned on Jerry. Which Brother Leon loves. Apparently everyone—including Brother Leon—has forgotten about that whole Nazi lesson back in Chapter Six.
- Later, Goober is dismayed to discover that his sales numbers have been updated: according to the roster, he's sold 50 boxes, rather than the 27 that he actually did sell: Out in the corridor, The Goober's breath came fast. But otherwise he felt nothing. He willed himself to feel nothing. He didn't feel rotten. He didn't feel like a traitor. He didn't feel small and cowardly. And if he didn't feel all these things, then why was he crying all the way to his locker? Again and again, Cormier highlights the feelings of shame that the victim feels: Jerry felt it when his locker was vandalized, and Goober feels it now. In each case, the wronged party is the one who feels guilty.
Chapter Thirty-one: The return of Janza.
- Janza accosts Jerry and tries to goad him into starting a fight by calling him gay. Which literally almost makes Jerry vomit. (I'd like to say that everything about that situation is another example of dated material in the book, but... sadly, not so much.)
- Rather than beating Jerry personally, though, Janza does him one worse and hires a bunch of LITTLE KIDS to do it. I hate Janza.
Chapter Thirty-two: But, oh no, beating the crap out of him isn't enough.
- Jerry drags himself home and into bed, but the phone calls continue. And now they're staking out his apartment building, cat-calling and stage-whispering "Jerry, come out to PLAAAAYYYYYY" and the like. Which, of course, made me think of this bit from The Warriors. (Twin Peaks fans: NOTE THAT THAT IS A YOUNG JERRY HORNE. Always crazy, is our David Patrick Kelly.)
- As if anyone had any doubt, it was Archie who put Janza into beating up Jerry. (Using the kids, though, was Janza's own brilliant idea, and Archie isn't happy about it: not only because he likes being completely in control, but because strategically, the less people involved, the less possible problems.)
- Archie also suggests to Janza that there might not actually be a blackmail photo: a statement that makes Janza feel both relieved and angry.
Chapter Thirty-four: Jerry's day of invisibility.
- Everyone ignores Jerry. They don't just ignore him, they look through him. EVEN THE TEACHERS. His locker has been emptied and scrubbed clean, like he's been erased. Goober isn't in school that day, so he has no anchor.
- But then, something snaps, the period of invisibility is over, and someone tries to push him down a flight of stairs.
- Meanwhile, the final tally has been done, and, according to the numbers, every single box of chocolates has been sold. Well, every box except for Jerry's 50. Brian Cochran briefly starts wondering about Jerry, about this one stubborn kid standing against the Vigils, against Brother Leon, against Trinity itself, and he has a moment of almost-compassion. But then he figures, oh, whatever, who cares, I'm out of here at the end of the year.
- Archie informs Obie that there's going to be a school-wide, students-only assembly the next night, and it will involve Jerry Renault, the last fifty boxes of chocolates, and a raffle.
Chapter Thirty-five: If Archie Costello promised you anything "fair and square", would you believe him?
- Archie promises to give Jerry a chance, "fair and square" at revenge, and Jerry goes along with it. So, now he and Janza are standing in a boxing ring, stripped to the waist, and waiting for the raffle tickets to be sold.
Chapter Thirty-six: And what, exactly, is the deal with those raffle tickets?
- Well, I'll tell you: on each raffle ticket, the purchaser writes down a boxer's name—Renault or Janza—the move said boxer is to execute, and then the purchaser's own name.
- If you think that many students are going to allow Jerry to throw any punches, you're going to be sorely disappointed: Archie might be a sociopath, but he's got a decent-if-pessimistic understanding of human nature: "You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. so we have a perfect set-up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they're safe in the bleachers. That's why it works, Carter, because we're all bastards."
- That explanation leaves Carter—who apparently has always thought of himself as "one of the good guys"—feeling understandably uncomfortable and guilty. But, you know: he doesn't do anything about it.
- Obie—along with, it turns out, Carter—makes an attempt to take Archie down by bringing out the box of marbles. In the Hollywood version of this story, Archie would draw a black one. But not in Cormier's world: Archie is forced to draw two marbles, one for Jerry, one for Janza, and his luck holds both times.
- HA. On a hunch, I just looked it up, and SURPRISE, SURPRISE, they changed this scene in the movie: Archie pulls a black marble and has to take Janza's place in the boxing match. Also, crazily enough, ADAM BALDWIN PLAYS CARTER.
Chapter Thirty-seven: The fight.
- It's just as awful as I remembered it being.
- And, of course, Brother Leon stood there and silently watched the whole thing happen.
Chapter Thirty-eight: The aftermath.
- Goober holds Jerry's broken body in his arms as he and a few stragglers wait for an ambulance. And Jerry tries to tell Goober what he's learned from all of this, but there's "something wrong with his mouth, his teeth, his face" and so the words won't come out right. But this is what he wants to say: They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing. It's a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say." Not one for sugar-coating things, was Cormier.
- Archie and Brother Leon, meanwhile, get away with everything, their power and reputations intact: Beautiful. Leon and The Vigils and Archie. What a great year it was going to be.
Chapter Thirty-nine: Obie and Archie, back in the bleachers.
- Judging by their conversation—much of which mirrors their first conversation in the book—not much of anything appears to have changed: if Jerry overheard it, he'd be likely to assume that his attempt to disturb the universe had no affect whatsoever. But Goober will be forever changed by it, and possibly even Carter. And someone informed Brother Jacques about what was happening. So, on the surface, no. Nothing was disturbed. But underneath? Maybe.
Ag. Now I'm all emotionally drained and busted. I need a nap. And maybe some ice cream.