Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.


Ironically, the word that Archie uses to do his deeds, "assignments," is the same as the word that teachers use when giving out homework. The word elevates Archie to a status higher than the students, and makes it such that an assignment is not a request, but an order to be followed. The assignments are tailor-made, and reflect everything that Archie is about: fear, manipulation and following orders. Just as in school there is a consequence for not finishing an assignment, there is a consequence to not completing an assignment from The Vigils. Once an assignment is given, the recipient is stuck and either he completes the assignment or he suffers as Jerry suffered.


Cormier sets a number of scenes during football practice. At first, these scenes set up Jerry's inner strength. Again and again, Jerry is tackled and hit, but he keeps getting up and trying. Eventually he gains some success as a quarterback. It is his dream to make the football team, and his relative ease in turning this dream into a reality is a foil for his difficulties in dealing with The Vigils. The Vigils use football practice as a way to strip away Jerry's achievements in the sport. They get Carter to tackle him, and they get other players to gang up on him. The Vigils force the team to drop all of Jerry's passes, thus getting Jerry dismissed early from practice, and setting him up for a beating by Janza. At the beginning of the book, football is an innocent activity that Jerry wants to succeed in and works hard for, but by the end—especially after Goober quits—The Vigils have stripped football of its joy as well.

Roll Call

The chocolate roll call provides a moment of tension for all the students every day. It highlights the fact that Jerry is disturbing the universe. Everyone else whose name is called says yes to the chocolates and everyone else announces how many boxes he has sold. Brother Leon insists on the roll call even when it is not necessary to make Jerry feel like an outcast. This roll call eventually ensures that the other students become annoyed and/or angry with Jerry. The roll call is also a subtle threat from Brother Leon to Jerry. Each time Jerry says no Brother Leon stares him down as if to tell Jerry that he will pay for his refusal.