The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War Summary and Analysis of Chapters 36-39

In chapter thirty-six, the exact nature of Archie's cruel raffle is revealed. Each boy may buy tickets on which to write down the type of boxing punch to be inflicted, and the contestant who will deliver it. The entire fight between Emile and Jerry will be scripted: described, bought, and ordered by the screaming crowd in attendance. The raffle is also a chance to win a hundred dollars (the tickets are a dollar apiece) and the symbolic fifty boxes of chocolates that Jerry refused to sell. Archie talks to Carter about this, saying that all people are two things: greedy and cruel. This raffle satisfies both of those urges. People want money, and will gamble a small sum in hopes of winning a larger one. Also, the crowd will get to watch a vicious fight from a safe distance. This exchange inspires Carter to reflect on how much he dislikes Archie.

At the boxing match, with the whole school in attendance, the fifty boxes of chocolates are stacked in a pyramid shape. Archie performs the black box ceremony, and for a moment the reader imagines that Jerry will be given a reprieve, and that Archie's game will turn on its creator. But Archie, as always, draws out a white marble.

Chapter thirty-seven opens with Goober arriving at the match, reluctant but unable to stay away. Carter is explaining the rules of the match. The student whose ticket describes the blow that actually ends the fight will win the hundred dollars and the chocolates. Carter draws out a ticket, which describes a blow that Jerry will deliver to Emile. Again Emile taunts Jerry with the epithet "fairy." Jerry delivers the described right to the jaw, but the jab is ill-timed and brushes ineffectually off Emile. The next ticket orders Emile to hit Jerry with a right uppercut. The blow lands solidly.

The next ticket requests that Emile hit Jerry in the stomach, but with the next ticket Jerry gets another chance, and delivers the requested right cross. The blow connects, and Janza stumbles. The next two tickets describe two blows for Janza to deliver, the second one being an illegal low shot. The crowd erupts, and Janza reacts before Carter can put a halt to the proceedings. He pummels Jerry mercilessly. Jerry manages to connect with Janza's stomach, but the hit angers Janza to such an extent that he begins beating Jerry to a pulp, ignoring the rules of the game. Jerry, who has never fought in cold blood before, thinks while he is being beaten that Archie has done this to him. Finally, bloodied and beaten, Jerry drops to the canvas.

The lights are suddenly turned out. Before they went out, however Obie looked up and saw Brother Leon standing on the hill, watching the fight without making any move to stop it. Archie makes his way to the utility shed to check the power, and finds Brother Jacques there, waiting, his hand on the switch. He says to Archie, "I imagine you are the villain here, aren't you?"

In chapter thirty-eight, Goober cradles Jerry in his arms. Jerry is barely conscious, covered in blood, and his jaw is broken. Jerry thinks frantically that he needs to tell Goober to do all the things the school and The Vigils want him to do. He urgently wants to tell Goober to fit in, to play football, to run track, to sell chocolates, and to not disturb the universe. Finally, Jerry is taken away in an ambulance.

Brother Leon and Brother Jacques talk to Archie, and Brother Jacques tries to lay the blame on Archie. Leon jumps to his defense, saying that boys will be boys. Archie's excuse is that this is the payoff for the students' having sold all the chocolates. Archie continually justifies his actions, taking no blame for Jerry's very serious injuries. Leon says that Jerry will get the best of care. It is clear there will be no serious consequences for Emile, Archie, or The Vigils.

The last chapter echoes the first chapter of the novel. Archie and Obie again sit in the bleachers where they first saw Jerry playing on the freshman football squad. Obie says that one day Archie's evil deeds will catch up with him. Archie says that he tipped off Leon with an anonymous phone call: Leon had known about the fight from the beginning, and watched the whole thing. Archie tries to threaten Obie, because Obie brought out the black box to try to foil Archie's fight, but there is nothing he can do to him. Obie says that maybe the black box will work on the next Assigner, or that another defiant kid like Jerry will come along.

The money for the raffle remains, and will be given away in a drawing at an assembly. The chocolates have been stolen by the crowd of boys. The book ends with Archie asking Obie whether he has a Hershey bar. Obie does not.


The full-circle return to Obie and Archie in the bleachers makes it obvious that Archie has been the architect of this entire spectacle. The severe beating of Jerry is in truth Archie's doing, though it was Emile who actually delivered the blows. Obie, who hates Archie and could be the voice of reason, has been an enabler throughout the proceedings. At any point, he could have stood up to Archie and tried to stop the persecution, but his attempt to make Archie face the black box at the match is too little, too late.

Brother Leon has become a figure of such pure evil it is hard to imagine that he could ever have been hired to teach young men...and in a religious order, to boot. His shocking allowance of the fight, and the fact that he watched it surreptitiously from the hill, shows that he has a truly sadistic side. It is possible that Leon admires - even envies - Archie's power over the boys.

The injection of monetary reward into the already gladiatorial staged fight between Emile and Jerry cheapens all of those who bought tickets and described blows. Archie, a master manipulator, wants to spread his cruelty around. He not only invents and allows the violence - he makes the crowd party to it.

It appears that Jerry is defeated at the end, when he tells Goober to fit it and to not rock the boat. But, as Obie says later, only one boy like Jerry is needed. Jerry provided the lesson, serving as the focal point of a rebellion against The Vigils. He had the personal integrity to do what many others could not. His action inspired people like Frankie Rollo to defy The Vigils, if only temporarily, when such a thing would never have happened before. The fact that Jerry tells his friend to avoid his fate by fitting in after being severely beaten does not mean that his previous actions were meaningless. This is the first time in school history that The Vigils have been seriously challenged.

But Jerry, as we see, doesn't win in the end. Here the Christian ideas are very clear: Jesus redeemed souls not by overcoming Pontius Pilate and the Romans, but by being crucified by them. Even Jerry's best friend, Goober, abandoned him, not unlike Peter forsaking Jesus (Matthew 26:72-75). However, the point was not for Jerry to have friends, to overthrow The Vigils, or to be the most popular boy in school: his defiance and personal integrity are what matter. The book begins with "They murdered him," as Pontius Pilate murdered Jesus. It is a story about defiance and standing up for what is right, not about success and accomplishment.

Though Cormier is a Catholic author, and his Christian bias is evident in this book, it is not necessary to understand the Christian parallels to internalize Cormier's point. Jerry, a person who has been separated from most of the boys by his mother's death and his subsequent isolation, is able to clearly see that the school and The Vigils have created a culture of violence and evil. It is a book that can be understood in the context of outsiders in any environment. The desire to change evil institutions and to fight implacable and self-interested authority is at the heart of this book, and ultimately it is just that which Jerry accomplishes.