The Chocolate War
This chapter breaks from the plot progression and focuses on Jerry remembering his mother's illness and death. She was a hard-working, passionate woman, and it was incredibly difficult to watch. During her illness, Jerry and his dad grew estranged. Jerry felt his father was sleepwalking through that period of time. Cormier describes a scene at Jerry's mother's funeral in which Jerry and his father shared their first and last moment of emotion, crying and hugging at the cemetery.
These memories surface as Jerry watches his father sleep on the couch. When his father wakes up, Jerry asks him how his day was. His father answers, "fine." According to Jerry's father, almost everything is "fine," and Jerry thinks to himself that just once he wants to hear his father describe something as great, or horrible—anything except fine. Jerry's father is a pharmacist, and Jerry asks him if he ever wanted to go medical school. His father says no, and Jerry doubts the answer and is reminded of the previous day when someone called him "square boy" at the bus stop. Looking in the mirror that night, Jerry sees his father's face superimposed over his, and thinks that he wants to do something, even if it is just joining the football team.
The chocolate sale begins at school. Brother Leon puts up a chart in the auditorium with each boy's name and a box, to fill in the number of boxes they sell. The other members of The Vigils are less than thrilled to be involved with the sale, but Archie says they should be proud because Brother Leon needed their help. Archie plots for the sale of his own boxes, trying to figure out whom he should make sell them.
It is the next morning, in Brother Eugene's room and "It was as if somebody had dropped The Bomb." The students come in, brush against desks, try to sit down and everything begins to fall apart, even Brother Eugene's chair. A student credits the event to The Vigils. Brother Leon hears the commotion and comes over, accusing Archie of orchestrating the destruction of the room. Leon gets rough with Archie, pushing him up against a wall and yelling at him. Archie, while angry and somewhat embarrassed at having people see him get worked over by Brother Leon, smiles as he sees Brother Eugene surveying his classroom, crying.
This chapter brings the reader back to football tryouts. Again, Jerry is being manhandled on the field. They try a play over and over, but Carter, president of The Vigils, keeps tackling Jerry. Finally, on the seventh try, Jerry gets off a pass to The Goober, who runs it in for a touchdown. The coach congratulates Jerry, and finally feeling triumphant, he finishes practice. Afterward, there is a note from The Vigils on his locker, summoning him to receive an assignment.
Cormier compares Jerry's father and mother in Chapter 9, even though Jerry's mother is dead. She was a woman once full of life and passionate—in direct opposition to Jerry's father. Her death was, in a sense, the death of boy of Jerry's parents because since then Jerry's dad has acted like a zombie. Nothing is great or terrible, even good or bad, but everything is simple fine, and it makes Jerry crazy. Jerry longs for some kind of genuine feeling, even if it is negative. His father's apathy and general lack of passion and enjoyment scares him, and he vows not to be like his father. Cormier employs foreshadowing here, as Jerry will soon show his strength and passion, and consciously make waves.
Brother Leon is almost frighteningly invested in the chocolate sale. He announces it in the school with much hoopla, egging on the boys, telling them they each must sell fifty boxes. The degree to which he pushes the sale raises some question as to whether the sale is legitimate, or whether Leon has ulterior motives. The other members of The Vigils may sense this, as they grow uncomfortable with being involved in the sale. Archie assures them that their involvement is recognition of their power. This sets up a potential conflict between The Vigils and Brother Leon, or perhaps The Vigils and Archie, depending on how the chocolate sale progresses.
The destruction of Brother Eugene's room could not have happened any faster or any more perfectly. The entire place falls to pieces in less than one minute. There are actually two breakdowns that occur here: the physical collapse of the classroom, and the collapse of power and order. The students of Room Nineteen actually laugh as desks and chairs fall apart, "watching with glee as they fell apart, and toppling the stubborn pieces of furniture that refused to go down without help." The assignment works more perfectly than anyone could have predicted, which is how Brother Leon knows immediately who is behind it. Brother Leon and Archie's confrontation expands their relationship into a new dimension, and sets them up as antagonists, even though they have teamed up for the chocolate sale.
Chapter 12 provides a brief respite from The Vigils. Cormier revisits a recurring motif: the football tryout. Whereas twice before Jerry has been pummeled in practice, this time he is successful. Interestingly enough, the Goober catches the touchdown pass. That pass is a physical connection between the Goober and Jerry. The Goober's interaction and assignment from The Vigils lay in the recent past, and Jerry's lay in the very near future. Jerry's triumph is somewhat ironic, as it is clear an evident more difficult challenge waits just ahead of him. He must triumph again, only it will be more difficult this time. Cormier mixes the success of the practice with the suspense of the note from The Vigils, and arouses two different, strong emotions simultaneously.