The Chocolate War
Jerry's actions speak louder than his words. In fact, for a protagonist he is very quiet. What he does, however, speaks volumes. His refusal to sell the chocolates and his silent protest against both The Vigils and Brother Leon demonstrate a defiance and strength that are belied by his reticence. Jerry is full of surprises, and he does not always appear to be as strong as his actions suggest. He is beaten up and traumatized, and never says a word. He could have called the police when the phone calls continue incessantly, or he could have called the police after the first time Emile Janza beat him up. He never does, however. He does not complain about the situation he is in and he does not even tell his father. Instead, he takes what happens to him stoically.
Jerry's sudden decision not to accept the chocolates when The Vigils assignment is over begins his downward spiral. The action is brave and it comes from within. Jerry did not anticipate refusing the chocolates, he just does. He feels good about himself for a while, and the other students admire him too. The poster in his locker is a beacon of hope for him, and throughout the book affirms his decision to go against the tide. Jerry knows that he is standing up for what he feels is right, but he never knew how difficult it would be to do so. Most of the time there is backlash when someone decides to do his own thing, but the punishment Jerry undergoes is beyond that. His privacy is shattered, his home life disrupted, his homework stolen, locker trashed and his safety is compromise. The Vigils strip him of everything he has, except his decision not to sell the chocolates. This is the reason he clings so tightly to that decision, even though he knows that simply accepting the chocolates would stop The Vigils from harassing him any more. Jerry wants to keep control over one thing in his life, whether or not he sells the chocolates.
Jerry's last decision is to take part in the boxing match. It is not clear if he does thing simply to get the whole situation over with, or whether he fails to realize the potential danger of the situation. Perhaps Jerry feels that if he refuses he will eventually be drawn into a similarly unfair fight. At the end Jerry realizes it is not worth it to resist or refuse and that he has learned that the easiest and best course of action in life is to do that which he is expected and told to do.
Archie's cruelty reaches levels that are quite unbelievable. He demonstrates that cruelty without abandon, using it to manipulate anyone who stands in his way, or anyone he simply decides it would be fun to manipulate. He manipulates everyone in The Vigils to supporting his plans, he manipulates every student who gets an assignment, he manipulates Brother Leon and he manipulates the entire student body. Archie's supreme understanding of people comes from an unknown source, but his talent lies in determining what will hurt a person most. Perhaps he assigned Jerry to the chocolates because something told him that this would grow to be bigger than originally planned. Perhaps he envisioned Jerry's strength and ability to resist conformity and knew that he could extend the fight.
The fact that Archie undertakes the sale as a cause and makes someone refuse the chocolates is interesting, as it seems as if he is making it more difficult to fulfill his responsibility. What he is really doing, however, is setting up both Jerry and Brother Leon for a tragic downfall. Knowing their personalities and vulnerabilities, he can alternately plot against both of them by using the sale. Perhaps the single most frustrating element of Archie's approach is he uncanny ability to escape punishment. Everyone knows he is behind the destruction of Room nineteen, Jerry's initial refusal to sell the chocolates and the boxing match. But he does not receive as much as a slap on the wrist for any of these actions. He manipulates Brother Leon into standing up for him—not only because he is helping Brother Leon with the sale, but also because he knows that Brother Leon recognizes the similarities between himself and Archie.
Brother Leon is ever bit as evil as Archie, and he is somewhat of a prototype for an adult Archie. He is just as manipulative and just as unconcerned with the consequences of his actions. Like Archie, he out for number one, which is part of the reason he goes to Archie to ask for The Vigils support in the sale. Archie uses Brother Leon for power and protection, but Brother Leon uses Archie too for exactly the same reasons. He knows that with The Vigils behind the sale, he will be protected from the fact that he illegally spent school money. He also knows that with The Vigils acting on his behalf, his power over the students and the sale is greater. It seems as if Brother Leon actually enjoys watching Archie traumatize and control the students. Similarly, Brother Leon taunts and controls the teachers and administrators, as well as the students. Brother Leon grows angry with Jerry, even though he knows that Jerry's refusal was initially due to Archie's assignment. Archie bits Leon against Jerry, thus clearing the way for Archie to punish Jerry however he wants with Leon's blessing. Leon exhibits many of the psychopathic tendencies that Archie does but uses them not just to arbitrarily punish people, but also to advance himself and his control over the school.
Obie is the one member of The Vigils who doubts what they are doing. He does not want to involve Jerry because he feels sorry for the fact that Jerry's mother recently died. Obie hates Archie and hates what he does to people, but he is not strong enough to speak out against Archie. Perhaps he is afraid, and simply wants to avoid the fallout that would result if he defied Archie or voiced his opinions against him. Obie could have blown the whistle on Archie at any time, but does not, perhaps because he feels it would be useless, or perhaps because he fears that he would then become Archie's next target.
Obie's one attempt to get back at Archie comes at the end, with the black box. The only reason Obie can get away with it is because all the students are watching, and Archie cannot back out. However, Archie handles it easily, and it ends up making Archie even stronger. Obie is outsmarted by Archie at every turn and knows it. That knowledge seals his involvement with The Vigils and Archie.