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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.
Before being confronted by Leon or Archie, Jerry must first confront himself. His body repels against him, as does his mind. He feels sick and he cannot sleep. He knows that what he has done is significant, and he knows that he will probably pay a price for it. He doubts his decision to prolong the ordeal, and part of his pain and insomnia is due to simple fear. Turning it over and over in his head, he finds no answers, only that unsettling feeling in the bit of his stomach that will not go away.
Jerry's decision is polarizing. While Brother Leon and Archie are angry at his defiance, other students at school admire him. This does not make the fear or the doubt subside, though, as Jerry realizes that his refusal has taken on a whole new meaning. Goober is particularly upset, and Jerry tells him: "It's not The Vigils, Goob. They're not in it anymore. It's me." The poster inside of Jerry's locker sums it up perfectly: Do I dare disturb the universe? Disturbing the universe of the school is precisely what Jerry is doing, and at his own volition, although he does not know exactly for which purpose yet. All he knows is that the way things are, with Archie and Brother Leon controlling, manipulating and terrorizing students is wrong. Jerry once again refuses the chocolates during the roll call, taking it upon himself to, somehow, make the world a different place.
The Vigils and Archie are still at work, issuing assignment, traumatizing students and teachers. In Chapter 20, Archie's loyalties come into question. Although he conceived of the assignment to plague Brother Jacques, he also betrays The Vigils and his own assignment, giving Brother Jacques the means to get revenge. It is clear that Archie will do anything to cause chaos or problems, even if it is helping a teacher get the best of The Vigils. To Archie, it is all a game, and he changes sides in conjunction with his whims and in accordance with what he thinks is most amusing. The reader is left to wonder how Archie will react upon hearing that Jerry has defied him and that for the first time, a student has not obeyed an assignment. By now, the reader knows that to Archie, nothing is sacred, which means that the consequences for disobeying him could reach new and dangerous heights.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Chocolate War!