The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 31–33 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31

On the way back from the football field, Jerry is ambushed by Emile Janza, who proceeds to call him a "fairy" and a "queer." Janza hopes to bait Jerry into a fight, but Jerry resists the urge to hit him. As Janza laughs, a group of small figures circle Jerry and begin beating him. Done in by the sheer number of his assailants, Jerry balls up on the ground and begs them to stop. Eventually the pain is too much and he vomits, prompting the attackers to run away. A final kick to the back renders him momentarily unconscious.

Chapter 32

Waking after a few minutes, Jerry staggers to the locker room and washes up before catching the bus home. He bathes and heads to bed, resolving to pretend he is sick rather than tell his father the truth. Later, Jerry wakes to answer the phone and hears the same "lewd chuckle" as before. Then, at night, Jerry hears boys calling his name menacingly from the street. The building custodian disperses them with a flashlight, but Jerry does not sleep long before the phone rings again—this time at 2:30 in the morning. Jerry's father is home now, and he answers the phone, weary and frustrated. Muttering about the "madmen loose in the world," Jerry's father leaves the receiver off the hook for the rest of the night.

Chapter 33

Archie calls Emile Janza and berates him for his handling of Jerry. "I don't want outsiders involved in this," he snaps. Emile asks Archie about "the picture" yet again, and Archie finally comes clean: there is no picture. Emile is unsure whether to believe him. Archie, he recognizes, is "full of surprises."

Analysis

Chapter 31 appears to end with total defeat as a "black curtain" falls over Jerry's field of view. In an important sense, however, he has actually won the confrontation with Janza. This might seem like a ridiculous claim since Jerry finishes the chapter lying unconscious in his own vomit. But a few pages earlier, at the height of his exchange with Janza, Jerry makes a conscious choice not to resort to physical violence. He feels himself tensing up and getting ready to fight, but he wants "to make his own decisions, do his own thing." Although he does get frustrated enough to insult Janza, he holds true to his resolve not to start a fight. Unfortunately, Jerry's commitment to nonviolence will not survive the rest of the novel. Janza may not be smart enough to goad Jerry into a fistfight, but Archie is.

Scenes get shorter in the next two chapters as the novel's action accelerates toward its climax. In Chapter 32, Cormier chops the narrative up into a series of vignettes, each about a page long. This stylistic choice serves multiple purposes. For one thing, it keeps the novel moving, which is important now that Jerry's vendetta against Emile Janza has been established. The brevity of the scenes also helps to illustrate Jerry's weakened condition after being beaten up. He wavers in and out of consciousness, spending most of the evening in bed. Chapter 33, which consists of a single terse phone call between Archie and Janza, maintains this brisk pace. Archie's aptitude for manipulating others is showcased as he manages to keep a tight rein on Janza. Though he is a dangerous "frenemy" to have, Janza lacks the intelligence or initiative to challenge Archie directly.

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