The Chocolate War: Novel Summary: Chapter 36 - 39
Summary, Chapter Thirty-Six, pp. 239-246
Archie, walking around like a commander, prides himself on coming up with the raffle, which is not just any raffle. This raffle has Archie’s famous touch, that “unexpected twist.” Jerry and Emile Janza must fight as the crowd directs; each ticket buyer gets to write down a blow and who will receive it. The blow that causes a knockout or a surrender will earn its ticket holder the grand prize: Jerry’s fifty boxes of chocolates.
Archie enjoys hearing Carter admit that he does not know how Archie does it, but he always comes out on top. Archie tells Carter that he knew his plan would work “‘because we’re all bastards.’” Everyone, Archie believes, is “‘greedy and cruel,’” and will pay money to watch a blood bath from the safety of the stadium seats.
Carter wonders if he, too, is like everyone else. He has bought two tickets, but then he also, as Vigils president, tries to keep Archie from creating assignments that were too cruel. He is a good guy, right? He is not so sure.
Carter, standing in the boxing ring, gestures for silence, and Archie feels like he is “sipping this sweetest of all events.” His pleasure vanishes, however, when Carter motions for Obie to bring forth the black box. Obie has convinced Carter to use the black box, as Archie himself would reason, “‘Because there are four hundred kids out there yelling for blood. And they don’t care whose blood it is anymore.’” Archie cannot refuse the black box in front of all of them. If he draws the black marble, he will have to become one of the fighters.
Archie, although stunned and furious, still feels invincible. He plunges his hand into the box and withdraws . . . a white marble.
Archie is at the apex of his power. Like an evil archangel, he watches over everything and everyone, and even when Obie and Carter try to check his power, he beats them. He believes he is meant to be all-powerful. And like a Roman emperor presiding over two gladiators whose fates lie in the hands of the spectators, Archie glories in the fact that they are all assembled because of him, because he designed this spectacle.
Like God, Archie has made everyone in his own image. He believes everyone is, like himself, greedy and cruel. And those who refuse to fit his image, like Jerry, must be destroyed.
Summary, Chapter Thirty-Seven, pp. 247-256
Goober has been home “sick” for three days, tired of everything that has happened at school and ashamed of the parts he has played in those events. But when he hears about the raffle and the fight, he decides he must be there, for Jerry.
At the stadium, Goober watches as the fight gets underway. The first ticket drawn commands that Jerry hit Janza in the jaw with his right hand. Jerry thought he wanted this chance at revenge against Janza, but now he hesitates. The blow he aims at Janza barely brushes his cheek.
Janza, however, has the next blow, and he does not hold anything back. His viciousness stuns Jerry. When Jerry launches the next blow, a hard one this time, he is surprised that “he’d enjoyed catapulting all his power toward a target, the release of all his frustrations, hitting back at last, lashing out, getting revenge finally, revenge not only against Janza but all that he represented.”
The crowd cries for more blood, and Carter pulls out a ticket on which an illegal blow to the pelvis is written. Before he can protest that such blows are not allowed, Janza’s fist jams into Jerry’s stomach. When Jerry tries to defend himself, the crowd tells Janza to “kill” him, and Janza begins to pummel Jerry. Carter watches helplessly. Obie has disappeared. Archie is nowhere in sight.
As Janza tires, Jerry lands a “beautiful” blow that makes him reel in pain. Jerry turns to the crowd for approval, but they boo him. That is when Jerry sees Archie smiling evilly at his creation. Jerry realizes that he has become an animal, exactly what Archie intended him to become. He has betrayed himself.
Janza hits Jerry again and again, until Jerry falls, unconscious.
Obie, slinking away from the fight at that moment, spies Brother Leon on a hill overlooking the stadium. With a black coat slung over his shoulders, Brother Leon’s face shines in the stadium lights “like a gleaming coin,” as he watches Jerry’s destruction.
The lights suddenly go out on the field. The kids in the stands go crazy, screaming and tripping over one another, using lighters and matches to illuminate the darkness. Archie trips over a fallen student as he makes his way to the electrical building to turn the lights back on.
In the building, however, he discovers Brother Jacques. With undisguised contempt, Brother Jacques says, “‘Welcome, Archie. I imagine you are the villain here, aren’t you.’”
Archie the Arch Villain has, it seems been caught at last. But not before he has succeeded in bringing Jerry down to his own level. His success in bringing out the “animal” in Jerry seems to underscore the truth of his belief that all people are animals, deep down. Jerry is questioning himself; he wonders if the good he was trying to achieve by “disturbing the universe” has actually “damaged” the universe. Has he really changed anything at Trinity? Is he not just like the other boys?
It is not clear to what extent Brother Leon is involved in the fight. Did he know about it and see it as a way to “catch” Archie? Did he tip off Brother Jacques so his own hands appeared clean when Archie, the boy who dared to think he was in charge of the school, fell? Or did he simply come to investigate all the noise and decide not to stop the fight when he saw that Jerry, the boy who dared to defy him, was getting murdered? Either way, Brother Leon has triumphed. Order has been restored, too late, to Trinity.
Summary, Chapter Thirty-Eight, pp. 257-261
Jerry lies in the boxing ring with his head in Goober’s lap. He comes back to consciousness and the pain floods through him. Yet all he can think about is the truth he has learned. He tries to tell Goober that it is not worth it to disturb the universe. It is better to simply go along. Goober does not seem to be hearing him, so he reiterates: “Just remember what I told you. It’s important. Otherwise, they murder you.”
Brother Jacques interrogates Archie as the ambulance takes Jerry away. Archie, however, plays it cool. He simply says he was doing what the school wanted him to do, get the chocolates sold.
Brother Leon suddenly appears and Archie senses that Brother Jacques may blame Brother Leon for this whole fiasco, but he will not accuse him outright. He merely walks away in disgust as Brother Leon chides Archie for getting “carried away” in his attempts to preserve Trinity’s school spirit. At that moment, Archie realizes that Brother Leon is still in power, and that he, Archie Costello, is still in power, too.
The first line of the novel, “They murdered him,” foreshadowed what might happen to Jerry Renault, and that line has come full circle. Jerry has internal injuries, but his body will probably survive. His soul, however, has been murdered. Archie, Brother Leon, Trinity, the whole cultural system—all of them have crushed his desire to be himself.
Brother Leon tries to pass off the fight as an unfortunate example of boys getting carried away. He tries to cast the social system at Trinity as a system that keeps order, that averts riots and rebellion for the good of peace. If that peace means some boys are always victims and some boys are always victimizers, well, so be it. Those are the checks and balances of a peaceful system. Archie, he believes, has done well in restoring that system by getting rid of the virus that threatened to destroy it.
Like Archie in a previous Chapter, Brother Leon steps off the page and forces readers to ask the question, “Does an imperfect yet orderly system really need reforming? Is not imperfect order better than no order at all?” Is the triumph of Brother Leon and Archie proof of that?
Summary, Chapter Thirty-Nine, pp. 262-263
Archie and Obie sit in the bleachers, watching some students clean up the mess. Obie looks at the goal posts and thinks they remind him of something, but he cannot think what.
Archie tells Obie that he tipped off Brother Leon because he knew the teacher would enjoy watching Jerry get beaten. Also, he would be handy if The Vigils encountered any trouble, as they did with Brother Jacques. Archie also tells Obie that he forgives him and Carter for the black box stunt. Obie reminds him that the black box may get him next time.
Archie is unconcerned. He craves chocolate. He wants to know where all those boxes of chocolates went, and when Obie tells him that the students got into them, he asks Obie if he has a Hershey bar.
The stadium lights go off, and Archie and Obie leave the stadium “in the darkness.”
The story has come full circle. Archie is once again the archangel surveying his kingdom, just as he was the day he picked Jerry for an assignment. Chocolate still stands for power, for both Archie and Brother Leon. Obie is once again his helper, with rebellion in his heart but no courage with which to enact it. Brother Leon is still in power. The Vigils still rule the school.
The Chocolate War seems to confirm the famous words of nineteenth century historian Lord Acton, who in 1887 wrote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Certainly, Archie and Brother Leon are powerful and thoroughly corrupt, but The Chocolate War also forces readers to ask the same question that Jerry Renault asked: “Do I dare disturb the universe?”