Chapter six opens with Brother Leon in the classroom, expounding on how discipline must be maintained in a school. He calls a smart, weak boy named Gregory Bailey up to the front of the class, and for some unknown reason strikes him on the cheek with his teacher's pointer. Leon regularly wields the pointer both as an object of expression and a weapon. In a dramatic display of power, Leon wrongfully accuses Bailey of cheating. Bailey repeatedly denies the charge, and Leon continues to badger him.
The accusations intensify, with Leon twisting Bailey's denials and obliquely accusing him not only of cheating, but also of blasphemy and lying. Finally Leon relents, and explains to the class that this was merely a lesson in personal courage. Leon says that Bailey's classmates (and Jerry among them) have transformed the classroom into something akin to Nazi Germany, in that they have permitted an innocent boy to be accused of something he most certainly did not do. Leon says that the only courageous boy in the class is Bailey, who was unswerving, if terrified, in his denials. The class is finally dismissed, with Bailey near to tears. The class - and especially Jerry - is disgusted by Leon's display, but no one says anything in protest.
Chapter seven introduces the character of Emile Janza. Archie comes upon the large, sloppy-looking boy siphoning gas from another student's car for use in his own. Emile, we learn, is thinking about how he likes to play disgusting or painful pranks on other people. There is a suggestion that either Emile is a closeted homosexual, or a sadist who derives sexual pleasure from other people's pain. Archie thinks of Emile as an "animal." It quickly becomes apparent that Archie has some strange hold over Emile, and is blackmailing him for something.
Chapter eight begins with Goober thinking about his morning runs, and how running gives him a better handle on the problems in his life. Goober is in Brother Eugene's homeroom, Room Nineteen, working on unscrewing all the furniture. It nine o'clock at night, and the room is dark so as to keep Goober from being detected. Some masked boys come up the corridor and enter Room Nineteen. They are from The Vigils, and have come to help Goober finish the assignment. Goober is warned not to tell anyone that he has had help, because this assignment is bigger than any one student, The Vigils, or the school. Goober, terrified, agrees. The group finishes the assignment, but it takes them three hours.
In chapter nine, Jerry thinks about his mother's death, and how cruelly the disease ravaged her body. He was filled with anger after her death, and it appears his anger has not resolved itself. Jerry and his father have not shared their emotions since the funeral, and the two have fallen back into their routines of school and work. His father works erratic hours as a pharmacist in a chain of drugstores, so he is often either absent or asleep during the hours when Jerry is home.
The two have dinner, and Jerry remembers a time when he asked his father if he had wanted to be a doctor rather than a pharmacist. His father denied that he had wanted to pursue a medical degree, but Jerry thinks that it was a thwarted or failed ambition. He thinks his father has had a failed life, and is doomed to a drab, gray existence. This depression continues until he goes to bed, thinking that perhaps his adulthood will be as "pale and gray" as his father's.
At the outset of the next chapter, Brother Leon is conducting an assembly meant to drum up school spirit for the chocolate sale. The boys are told that they must sell fifty boxes apiece, twice as many as last year, at double the price. Archie, listening from his seat, recalls that when he told The Vigils that they had to participate fully in the sale he had been greeted with skepticism and resistance. But he had overcome the objections of Carter and the others, stating that Brother Leon's desire for their help was evidence that The Vigils had gained real power in the school. Also, Archie is not directly affected by this, because in his powerful position he delegates the sale of his quota of chocolates to underlings.
The name of The Vigils deserves some consideration, as the word "vigil" can mean many things. In the Catholic Church, a Vigil refers to a mass the night before a holy day, usually a quiet and solemn service. This Catholic reference would lend the group a veneer of respectability, or perhaps a mysterious, sacerdotal quality to this organization of mob rule. A vigil is also the watch kept over something, often a dead body. This solemn task is usually performed from the laying-out in the coffin until the funeral or the wake, and usually encompasses at least one night. The family and friends of the deceased take turns sitting by the body, "keeping watch" so that the dead person is never left alone. This idea of monitoring death adds an element of the macabre to this secret organization, and is borne out by several Vigils pranks, such as the nighttime unscrewing of the furniture in Room Nineteen. Finally, the word "vigil" is similar to the word "vigilante," and thus may be intended to inspire fear and obedience in the underclassmen. The Vigils do have their own violent and arbitrary idea of justice, which they carry out among the students.
That an underground student organization like The Vigils can so completely control a large group of boys through intimidation and fear may seem unrealistic to some readers. Cormier, using his own experiences and those of his children, and from the letters and calls of many of his readers, has explained that such organizations - more or less formal than The Vigils - do in fact exist and function much as The Vigils do in the novel. The complex social interactions found in high schools sometimes create such groups, and the more cruel and vindictive students can easily gain control over them. This realistic portrayal of student social dysfunction is one reason why this novel has remained so popular with young readers.
Chapter six's scene of mock repression (which results in actual pain and fear - another example of Brother Leon's depravity) has a profound effect on Jerry. He is the mute witness to the completely unwarranted public humiliation of Bailey, though in fact it is not Jerry, but another boy sitting in the back of the room who calls out, "Aw, let the kid alone." Leon's message, hypocritical as it is, does strike home: "Witnessing cruelty and doing nothing is the same as condoning it." Jerry later learns how to stand up for himself and make his own choices about tyranny and cruelty.
Brother Leon's favorite classroom prop, the teacher's pointer, is symbolic of Leon's focus and his tendency toward cruelty. We are told that Leon uses it to rap freshmen on the head during class, and to punctuate the meaning of his lectures. This symbol, which could appear to the uninitiated as an unspoken threat of physical violence, is indicative of the teacher's willingness to use intimidation to rule the classroom and the school. Also, the pointer is meant to single out a person or a topic (such as a word on a board) - something Leon does to create examples for the group, such as the intimidation of Bailey, or, later, Leon's blackmail of another student, Caroni. Leon calls Archie into his office at the beginning of the novel, and does again in subsequent encounters later, in order to force Archie to convince The Vigils to make the chocolate sale a success. This willingness to single someone out of the herd and torment him in order to accomplish a goal is a defining characteristic of Leon's temperament.