Archie disliked violence—most of his assignments were exercises in the psychological rather than the physical. That's why he got away with so much. The Trinity brothers wanted peace at any price, quiet on the campus, no broken bones. Otherwise, the sky was the limit.
In Chapter 2, Cormier describes The Vigils and how they work. This is the first time the reader has a chance to learn about The Vigils and gain insight into how their work. Cormier makes it immediately clear that the tactics they utilize are primarily psychological rather than physical. There are a number of reasons for this—first, because it is much easier to escape detection and punishment from teachers and administrators. Secondly, psychological damage can last longer and having more far-reaching and unpredictable consequences than physical damage. Archie believes that any thug can beat someone up, but that it takes a true master to think of an assignment or punishment that hurts someone in a way less tangible and simple than physically.
Was life that dull, that boring and humdrum for people? He hated to think of his own life stretching ahead of him that way, a long succession of days and nights that were fine, fine—not good, not bad, not great, not lousy, not exciting, not anything.
This quote from Chapter 9 accompanies the reader's first introduction to Jerry's father. Jerry's father plays a curiously small role in the book, and this quote helps explain why. This quote also exemplifies the reason Jerry ultimately decides to disturb the universe. His father is an example of someone who does not and will not disturb the universe. His father goes about each day in the same way, working, coming home, and napping. There is nothing to celebrate or be happy about, but there is nothing to bemoan or be upset about. Jerry feels that his father lives in this strange stasis between emotions, and that makes him slightly less than human. Despite that condition preventing his father from feeling much pain, that condition makes the life Jerry's father is living not much of a life at all. Even though Jerry knows that disturbing the universe might result in bad days, painful times and difficult consequences, he chooses to do it simply because it reflects that he is alive and can think for himself.
"My name is Jerry Renault and I'm not going to sell the chocolates," he said to the empty apartment. The word and his voice sounded strong and noble.
This statement in Chapter 26 reflects Jerry's strongest moment in the entire book. He has just gotten off the phone with a girl he had seen at the bus stop. Even though the phone call did not go particularly well, he is proud of the fact that he was able to summon the nerve to call her. He becomes proud of the fact that he is resisting the chocolates, and understands and appreciates the fact that the refusal has begun to define who he is. Unlike at the end of the book, here Jerry is cognizant and proud of disturbing the universe.
"You see, Carter, people are two things: greedy and cruel. So we have a perfect set up here. The greed part—a kid pays a buck for a chance to win a hundred. Plus fifty boxes of chocolates. The cruel part—watching two guys hitting each other, maybe hurting each other, while they're safe in the bleachers. That's why it works, Carter, because we're all bastards."
Archie's quote from Chapter 36 explaining how he knew the raffle and the boxing match would be a raging success is perhaps the most nihilistic and depressing quote of the entire book. Archie says something about the student body at school that we as readers desperately do not want to believe—both for Jerry's sake and our own sake. We believe deep down that there is good in people, and that people are generally not driven by cruelty and greed. We want to believe that it is Archie who is driven by those principles, not an entire cluster of students. Archie's statement is proven correct, however. Not only do all the students show up to the assembly, but they purchase all the raffle tickets. Students willingly pay for the chance to dictate the fight. No students blow the whistle, and none demonstrate any discomfort or qualms about what is happening. Even The Goober, who is afraid of what is going to happen at the assembly shows up and does nothing to try and help Jerry. At the assembly it becomes clear that the students are more like Archie than they are like Jerry. Jerry, the only person who does not let cruelty or greed dictate his emotions, suffers and suffers alone.
They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It's a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.
This quote from Chapter 38 demonstrates Jerry's real downfall. The physical beating he has suffered in the previous chapter is brutal and horrible, but he is not truly beaten until he takes back everything he has done. The times when he was proud of himself for being an individual and for resisting the rotten tide at the school are now forgotten. That pride and distinction was not worth it, Jerry tells The Goober. Nothing is worth it because people like Archie beat you down and eventually make it impossible to go against the grain. It is believable that eventually, Jerry could have been killed simply for deciding not to sell the chocolates. The difficulties he encounters after he decides to do his own thing are so extreme that it is understandable that Jerry comes to this conclusion. This ending is dismal—the reader hopes for Jerry's strength and autonomy to result in the "right" ending, or a "good" ending, but it does not. We know that the novel ends and the wrong people win and the right people suffer, and there is no real resolution for that. The reader, along with Jerry, is left in limbo and not in control of his or her own destiny. Jerry tries to determine his own fate but The Vigils are so powerful that not only can they get people to perform assignments, but they can infiltrate someone's life so much as to determine its path. Jerry, rocked and beaten out of his own universe is exhausted and beaten, and as a demonstration of his loss accepts that he is not the master of his own universe.
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