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The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 19–21 | Summary



Chapter 19

The next morning, Jerry is exhausted and nauseated. On the bus, a Trinity junior congratulates him for defying "that bastard" Leon. This makes Jerry feel proud for a moment—until he realizes he will still have to face Brother Leon in class. Outside the school, The Goober accosts Jerry and asks him why he is still refusing to sell the chocolates. Jerry has no answer for his friend.

The bell rings and the boys enter the building. As Jerry makes his way to his locker, other students offer encouraging remarks, but one boy playfully warns him to expect trouble. The Goober asks Jerry to consider accepting the chocolates. Jerry refuses: "It's not The Vigils, Goob. They're not in it anymore. It's me." At his locker, Jerry pauses to ponder a poster he has hung up as a decoration. The image is a lone man on a beach, and the text reads Do I dare disturb the universe? In Brother Leon's class, Jerry continues to answer "No" when roll is called.

Chapter 20

In Brother Jacques's history class, Obie and his 13 classmates are engaged in another Vigils prank. Every time Brother Jacques says the word "environment," the students all jump up from their seats, dance "an insane jig," and sit back down. Jacques seems "bewildered" by this behavior, but gradually he starts slipping the word "environment" into his lecture more and more frequently. The boys become exhausted and perform their dance in a tired and dispirited way. The sixth time Jacques says the word, Obie realizes the teacher has been clued into the prank. Leaving the classroom at the end of the period, Obie is unsurprised to find Archie leaning against the wall and smiling triumphantly.

Chapter 21

Jerry Renault's refusal to sell the chocolates has become big news at Trinity. On the phone, two other students gossip about Jerry, The Vigils, and the sale. Elsewhere in town, junior class president Howie Anderson tells his friend Richy Rondell about his plan to join Jerry and stop selling candy. Back in the school gym, Archie and Obie meet to discuss the growing resistance to the sale. Obie worries about The Vigils' power being undermined and urges Archie to do something about Jerry. Though he feigns indifference, Archie is concerned, too. He instructs Obie to summon Jerry to a Vigils meeting.


After a poor night's sleep, Jerry is still feeling conflicted about his boycott of the chocolate sale. The admiration he receives from other students—even upperclassmen—does little to help because Jerry doesn't see himself as "cool," let alone a hero. Instead, like the "small solitary figure" in his poster, Jerry feels isolated by his decision to "do his own thing." He feels a "deep and penetrating" sorrow at the realization that his classmates are becoming strangers to him. Despite this, the students' initial response to Jerry is neutral, even positive. The Goober has urged him to sell the chocolates from day one, but he does this out of friendly concern and a wish to avoid conflict. The other boys, for the time being, mostly embrace a "live and let live" attitude toward Jerry. Some, like Howie Anderson, even interpret his actions as inspiring.

In Chapter 20, Cormier brings Brother Jacques out of the background and adds some detail to his character. Jacques is initially described as "new and young and sensitive, raw meat for Archie"—but this is Obie's point of view, not an objective fact. Later, Jacques will show himself willing to stand up to Brother Leon (Chapter 24) and to defy The Vigils (Chapter 37), things few other members of the Trinity community would dare to do. His relationship to the established authorities of the school is one of suspicion and antagonism.

Obie's misreading of Brother Jacques shows he is not an entirely reliable judge of character. Still, he has a fairly good idea of what to expect from Archie—good enough to gauge Archie's involvement in the backfired prank. He already resents Archie's high-handedness; in Chapter 2, Obie likens him to a "king passing out favors." Being humiliated in Brother Jacques's class only deepens the grudge. Unlike Archie, however, Obie is obvious and overt in expressing his feelings. He picks the gym, Archie's least favorite place in the school, as the site for their meeting in Chapter 21. This small act of defiance does not faze Archie, who sees Obie as lacking "the nerve or the know-how" to exact a proper revenge.

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