The Chocolate War
Chapter 21 again focuses in on various students' progress in the chocolate sale. Kevin Chartier is on the phone with his friend Danny, complaining that he has been unable to sell any chocolates. They begin talking about Jerry, saying that perhaps he has the right idea after all. Kevin mentions that it used to be a "Vigil's thing," but that now it was "something else." Next year, Kevin will be a junior, and perhaps in line to become a member of The Vigils. Danny is curious about what Kevin thinks of the situation with Jerry. Kevin speculates that The Vigils might take some action, but adds that he does not care what happens, so long as he is done selling chocolates soon.
The chapter shifts to two more students, Howie Anderson and Richy Rondell. Howie tells Richy that Jerry has the right idea, and that he is going to stop selling the chocolates as well. Howie's declaration is surprising, since Howie is a high honors student, a varsity football player, and a respected student at school. Howie says that on principle, Jerry is right on, and that saying "no" is the simplest and best response. Richy says that he is with Howie, and will not sell chocolates either, but Howie tells Richy to do his own thing, and not to sell or refuse to sell based on what anyone else is doing.
The next scene cuts to the gym, where Obie has asked Archie to meet him. Obie tells Archie that Jerry still refuses to sell the chocolates. At first, Archie does not react, but then seems to appreciate the fact that Jerry's revolt is infuriating Brother Leon. Obie tells Archie that the sale is a farce now, and that many students are refusing to sell the chocolates. Obie suggests that now, Jerry is defying The Vigils, especially since The Vigils agreed to help Brother Leon with the sale. Archie, ready to devise a plan, leaves the gym.
The sales figures for the chocolates drop sharply, and the treasurer for the sale, Brian Cochran, worries about what Brother Leon will do. Brian tells him, and Leon reacts in anger, making Brian read off the names of everyone who has fulfilled his quota. Leon then rants about how Jerry's refusal to sell chocolates has "infected" the boys with "apathy." Leon repeats Jerry's name over and over, contemplating a way to "cure" the infection.
The Goober announces that he is quitting the football team. Jerry is upset and asks Goober why. Goober launches into an explanation about what happened in Room Nineteen and how ever since Brother Eugene has been on sick leave. Goober explains that there is something "rotten in that school. More than rotten." Jerry suggests that it is The Vigils, and Goober says it is, but also there is something more—plain evil. Goober does not want anything to do with the school, does not want to give anything back to the school.
The confrontation between Brother Leon and Archie finally takes place. Leon yells at Archie, telling him that the sale is failing, and that Archie is not doing a very good job promoting the sale. Archie has a trump card up his sleeve since earlier that morning, Brian Cochran told him about a conversation he overheard between Brother Leon and Brother Jacques. Jacques was accusing Leon of abusing his power and spending too much of the school's money in advance for the chocolates. Leon was $20,000 in the hole, and needed at least that much to break even on the sale.
Brother Leon asks Archie why he is not using his influence and tells him that Jerry's assignment has backfired. Archie mentions that last year, the quota was half as many boxes for a price of half as much, and suggests that the increased prices and quota are responsible for the failure of the sale. Leon suggests that The Vigils make Jerry sell his chocolates, and "throw their full weight behind the sale." Leon threatens Archie and says, "if the sale goes down the drain, you and The Vigils also go down the drain."
Jerry is becoming a kind of underground hero at school. Other students consider doing what he is doing. The point Howie makes in this chapter is important, though. Richy agrees that Howie is right, and he says that he will not sell chocolates either. But Howie tells Richy not simply to agree with him, but to make the choice for himself. This is what Jerry has done. At first he refused only because of The Vigils, but now he is refusing to sell the chocolates because of himself. Based on Richy and Howie's conversation, the possibility of a school-wide revolt becomes real. Obie clues into this, and is worried that The Vigils are in a lose-lose situation. Jerry has defied the last part of their assignment, and now the rest of the school is beginning to follow in Jerry's footsteps, thus undermining The Vigils, especially in the eyes of Brother Leon. Archie understands the precariousness of the situation, and exits the scene, leaving the reader to wonder what he is concocting.
In Chapter 22 Archie contemplates how to solve the problem of Jerry. At the same time, Brother Leon thinks about how to stop Jerry or make him accept the chocolates and boost the sale. At first, when Jerry refused to sell the chocolates Brother Leon and everyone else blamed The Vigils. But now, Jerry is on his own—he cannot claim that his actions are because of anyone or any assignment. Brother Leon knows this, and has trouble swallowing the individualism Jerry has brought to the classroom and the sale. Jerry becomes a singular target for both Archie and Brother Leon. Now, Cormier introduces the possibility of a union between the two cruelest characters in the book, Leon and Archie, both of whom see Jerry as their central problem.
Goober has decided to act for himself and only himself. In Chapter 23 he decides to quit the football team, and quit running for the school. Despite the fact that he must attend the school, he wants to distance himself from it as much as possible. He is the first person to actually say what has been going on for much of the book—that something is wrong at the school, and it extends beyond The Vigils. He calls it "rotten," which is quite accurate, since the school is rotten to the bone, all the way to its core administrators and teachers who have since teamed up with The Vigils. Goober does not know how to affect change, so he reacts passively, quietly, without jeopardizing himself or drawing attention to him. While Jerry is in the thick of it, Goober withdraws, not wanting a part of anything at the school. Jerry is now officially alone in the mess around him, while his enemies are gaining in number.
Brother Leon's previously inexplicable obsession with the sale is finally explained in Chapter 24. He has in effect spent $20,000 of the school's money that he was not authorized to spend, and if he does not sell the chocolates he will be personally responsible for that debt. Leon confronts Archie about his duplicity, simultaneously presenting obstacles to the sale while having promised to help. Archie has information that could hurt Brother Leon, so in essence he has the upper hand. Now, he has information to blackmail Brother Leon, and he has the motivation to go after Jerry. Because of Leon's intense involvement in the sale, Archie knows that he can do anything to Jerry or do anything to promote the sale, and Brother Leon will not punish him. In fact, Brother Leon would probably sanction any action Archie takes against Jerry. With any possibility of punishment out of the way, Archie can plot against Jerry without any fear, sparing no expense.