The Chocolate War | Study Guide

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War | Chapters 4–6 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 4

Archie Costello has been called to the office of Brother Leon, the interim headmaster of Trinity. Leon reveals to Archie his grand plan for the school's annual chocolate sale, which will involve 20,000 boxes of chocolate—50 per student—at two dollars apiece. This is a much more ambitious sale than last year's, and Archie wonders aloud how the students will pull it off. The school is struggling financially, Leon reveals, and every source of income counts. Brother Leon then surprises Archie by asking him to use his "influence" with the student body to help make the sale a success. By "influence," Archie realizes, Leon means The Vigils, who have never been officially recognized by the school. After wavering for a moment, Archie agrees: "The Vigils will help." Leon is startled to hear the name spoken aloud.

Chapter 5

Freshman Roland Goubert has been summoned to a meeting of The Vigils, who convene in the Trinity gym storeroom after school. Tall and awkward, "The Goober" is an easy target for Archie, who runs the meeting. He toys with the younger boy by asking him a series of pointed questions. Little by little, Archie clues The Goober in on his secret assignment: he must loosen every screw on the furniture in Brother Eugene's homeroom. Scared and resigned, The Goober nods to accept the assignment. Then Carter, the president of The Vigils, produces a small black box with six marbles inside—five white, one black. With each assignment, Archie must draw a marble at random. If it is white, the "assignee" (The Goober) must carry out the assignment as ordered. If Archie should ever pick a black marble—so far, he never has—he will have to perform the task himself. Trying not to betray his anxiety, Archie reaches into the box and draws a white marble.

Chapter 6

Near the end of the school day, Jerry finds himself in one of Brother Leon's classes, where the students have been issued a reading assignment. "Enough of this crap," Leon dramatically announces. He calls a student named Gregory Bailey to the front of the room. Nervous and shy, Bailey is flustered by Leon's summons. While making a speech about the need for discipline in school, Leon waves his blackboard pointer about like a baton and then swats Bailey sharply on the cheek. He apologizes, though insincerely. Then, while the classroom holds its breath, Leon proceeds to accuse Bailey of cheating, a crime he steadfastly denies. As Leon continues to grill Bailey about his suspiciously high grades, several of the boys grow uncomfortable, and eventually one tells Leon to "let the kid alone." Although the change-of-class bell is ringing, Leon tells the boys to remain in their seats. He applauds Bailey for standing his ground and chides the rest of the class for not sticking up for their peer.

Analysis

In these chapters, Cormier begins to sketch out the relationships and personalities that define Trinity High School. The Vigils, briefly introduced in Chapter 2, are now seen in action as Archie intimidates a freshman into pulling a cruel prank. Archie is, for now, firmly in command of the group, but the reader also gets to see how much Obie hates and resents him. The Goober has good intentions but caves under pressure—a fact important later in light of his friendship with Jerry Renault. Brother Leon is less sure of his position as headmaster than he might seem, and Archie begins to sense his insecurity in Chapter 4.

Who is stronger—Brother Leon or Archie? In the inevitable conflict between the two of them, who will prevail? The answers are far from obvious to most of the boys at Trinity. Archie has The Vigils on his side, but Brother Leon has the heft of official authority. The cooperation between the two is uneasy, with each trying to assert his dominance over the other. Much of Archie's behavior in subsequent chapters will reflect his desire to keep Brother Leon uncomfortable. Nonetheless, he is leery of going too far, since Leon is still in control of Archie's academic fate at Trinity.

For now, the resemblances between Archie and Brother Leon are at least as important as the differences. Both are performers at heart, appealing to the emotions of their audiences. Both operate by pitting individuals against one another, keeping them from banding together. This is especially clear in the classroom scene in Chapter 6, when Leon turns Bailey into an object of contempt in front of his classmates. Then, in a masterstroke, he blames the rest of the boys for not intervening—thus encouraging Bailey to view his fellow classmates with resentment and suspicion. The policy of "divide and conquer" is in full force in Leon's classroom.

Moreover, looking closely at the settings of Chapters 5 and 6, it becomes evident Archie and Leon both occupy a gray area, somewhere between student and teacher. The Vigils' meeting room is furnished with an abandoned teacher's desk, a small symbol of the authority Archie has appropriated from the school. Leon, meanwhile, seldom stays put behind his own desk, instead preferring to rove the aisles of the classroom brandishing his blackboard pointer.

In speaking with his students, Brother Leon refers to an "invisible line of separation" between the teachers and the boys in their charge. As the novel progresses, allusions to this line will come to seem more and more hypocritical. In inviting Archie to his office and asking him to use his unofficial clout to help the sale (Chapter 4), Leon is already blurring the line. He is inviting Archie to exercise the kind of authority that a teacher, professionally and perhaps legally, cannot. This theme will be picked back up in Chapter 16, when Leon attempts to blackmail another student into explaining Jerry Renault's defiant actions. By the end of that scene, the "invisible line" will be erased altogether.

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