Finally, the day has come when Jerry is supposed to accept the chocolates. The Goober is relieved, as he recently learned that Jerry was refusing because of an assignment, and he almost looks forward to the roll call and the ending of the tension in the classroom. Brother Leon is looking forward to it, since this is to be the end of Jerry's refusal, and would signal a unity in the chocolate sale. However, when Leon calls out Jerry's name, Jerry, stunning even himself, says no.
Jerry struggles to understand exactly why he refused the chocolates. He cannot sleep, the moment keeps replaying in his head and he feels like "both interrogator and suspect." He thinks about death, and what happens to people and their bodies when they die. Over and over, Jerry keeps coming back to the fact that he does not know why he refused the chocolates. He considers it being about Brother Leon and how he tortures students, and wanting to stand up to him but Jerry knows there is more to it than that. All he wanted was for his life to be normal again—no more assignments, no more Vigils, no more refusing the chocolates. But, for reasons he cannot grasp, he denied himself that normalcy.
The next morning, Jerry feels hung over—he is achy and nauseous. On the bus, a junior at school sits next to him and tells him he "has guts" for standing up to Leon that way. The student congratulates Jerry for thinking of something so simple and effective as refusing to sell the chocolates. Jerry appreciates being admired, but dreads the roll call. The roll call is tense, and when Leon calls Jerry's name Jerry thinks about how easy it would be to say yes, and to accept the chocolates, but he does not. Again he refuses, and feels an intense sadness on saying the word no.
At school, The Goober asks Jerry why he refused the chocolates, and Jerry tells him he does not know. As students are drifting into their classrooms, many of them congratulate Jerry on his refusal. Goober implores Jerry to take the chocolates, but Jerry says he cannot because he is "committed now" and explains that now it is not about The Vigils, but about him. Jerry meditates on the poster in his locker, which says: Do I dare disturb the universe?
For a week now, everyone in Brother Jacques class jumps up and dances insanely every time Jacques says the word environment. Brother Jacques is a new teacher, and easy prey for The Vigils. It does not seem that Brother Jacques has figured out what triggers the sudden, outrageous behavior. If Jacques did not naturally say the word "environment," it was Obie's job to ask some kind of question that would elicit the trigger word. Brother Jacques begins using the word over and over, making the boys get up and dance until they are exhausted. Obie notices a smile on Brother Jacques lips and realizes that Archie has tipped the teacher off, turning the tables once again.
Something takes over in Chapter 17, shocking even Jerry. Something inside him does not allow him to accept the chocolate, even though he was planning on it and even looking forward to it. Cormier tips off the reader to the fact that this is perhaps the single most important moment in the book, by writing, "Cities fell. Earth opened. Planets tilted. Stars plummeted. And the awful silence." This is a moment in which Jerry exercises his own decisions, his own feelings. He defies expectation, he defies Brother Leon and he defies The Vigils. In a sense, he defies his own previous definition of himself, which means that for the rest of the book, all bets are off.
That's my favorite quote from the book and it makes Jerry realize that individuality isn't very meritorious because of the people of the world who will aim to bring you down. This was perfect.
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