The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 37–39 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 37

The Goober, who has been home sick for the past three days, decides to attend the fight. He listens to the rules and shivers as he sees the crowd's bloodthirsty reaction. As the fight begins, Jerry hesitates to hit Janza and grazes him with a weak and inaccurate punch. Janza, however, does not hesitate. He sends Jerry reeling with an uppercut and then punches him sharply in the chest. The two continue to carry out the blows as prescribed on the raffle tickets, but then Carter accidentally reads out an illegal punch. Jerry, breaking the rules, defends himself, and Janza begins pummeling him at will. Jerry barely gets in another hit before he is knocked unconscious.

Obie, meanwhile, spies Brother Leon looking down at the stadium from a nearby hill. Just then, the lights go out, and the bleachers devolve into chaos. Archie heads over to the utility building to check the electrical switch, only to find Brother Jacques waiting for him.

Chapter 38

On the boxing platform, Jerry is waking up. The Goober is holding him and reassuring him that "everything will be all right." His eyes squeezed shut, Jerry tries to speak, but "his mouth, his teeth, his face" aren't working right. He wants to tell Goober "to do whatever they wanted you to do. ... Otherwise, they murder you." Later, as the ambulance leaves the field, Brother Jacques interrogates Archie about the fight. Brother Leon arrives, seemingly in a cheerful mood. "Boys will be boys," he tells his fellow teacher, mildly reproving Archie for a lack of good judgment. Archie realizes with a smile that Leon is "on his side."

Chapter 39

Later, Archie and Obie sit on the bleachers long after the other boys have dispersed. Archie reveals he anonymously told Brother Leon about the fight, as a sort of insurance in case anything had gone wrong. "Someday, Archie, you'll get yours," Obie replies, but Archie once more fails to take him seriously. The stadium lights turn off again and the two boys part ways in the dark.

Analysis

"Failure" is the watchword of The Chocolate War's closing chapters. First of all, Trinity's official leadership has unmistakably failed in its duty by letting a staged fistfight take place on school grounds. Jerry is the most obvious victim of this failure since he is the one who suffers physically. The moral failing, however, is more general: the brothers have failed to check the development of the violent mob-like attitude that now reigns supreme at the stadium. The teachers have given too much of their authority to The Vigils, who have either tricked or cajoled them into sanctioning the "football rally." Moreover, they have either failed to notice or turned a blind eye to the sale of the malicious raffle tickets. Brother Leon, the personification of the school's leadership, has failed in a more personal way by standing and witnessing—perhaps even enjoying—the fight.

Jerry has failed, too. Cormier makes no attempt to sugarcoat this fact, to whitewash Jerry's motives or depict him as a wholly innocent martyr. Back in Chapter 31, Jerry drew a line between himself and the other, less principled boys by resolving not to resort to violence—not to throw the first punch in his fight with Janza. Now, however, Archie has brought Jerry to the stadium by offering him a chance to get even. The temptation is too strong: Jerry takes the bait and succumbs to his desire to make Janza suffer. Consequently, he feels all the more defeated when he is left lying on the platform at the end of the fight. Because he is tricked into becoming complicit in his own downfall, Jerry suffers morally as well as physically. At the very beginning of the book, Cormier uses the term "murder" to describe Jerry's grueling first football practice. This time, however, Jerry is "murdered" in a much more thorough way, broken not just in body but in spirit.

Finally, The Goober has failed to stick up for his friend. He has had numerous opportunities, though admittedly risky ones, to step in and defend Jerry, or at least to show his support in an unobtrusive way. Even now, The Goober is chilled by the transformation he witnesses in the other students, but he is afraid to speak up. Instead, he stays up in the bleachers to watch "helplessly" as Janza beats Jerry into a bloody "hunk of meat." Someone in the audience eventually has the sense, or the compassion, to warn Brother Jacques and put a stop to the fight. The Goober, however, can only sit there transfixed by the spectacle.

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