The Chocolate War

by

Robert Cormier

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The Chocolate War: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Brother Jacques delivers a lecture to his students. Every time he says the word “environment,” the boys all jump out of their chairs and perform an “insane jig,” then sit down again, stone-faced, as if nothing had happened. Brother Jacques, of course, does not know that “environment” is the trigger word for the large-scale Vigils prank; but Obie, who is a member of the class, of course does. Obie’s own special assignment is to make certain that if Brother Jacques doesn’t utter the word environment during a class period, a question that triggers the word is asked. Obie resents Archie for giving him this assignment “at this stage of the game,” in Obie’s senior year.
This prank by the Vigils is a more harmless one—but still, it manages to be a sinister blend of physically and psychologically taxing to the students forced to undertake it. Obie is still indignant about Archie’s power over him, and resentful of the fact that despite his seniority he, too, is still getting roped into Archie’s strange and sinister psychological manipulations.
Themes
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon
Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, Brother Jacques uses the word “environment” five times. He has clearly figured out the trigger word, and is torturing his students playfully without acknowledging that he is any the wiser. Obie wonders if Jacques has figured it out on his own, or whether Archie tipped him off; either way, it is the teacher, not the students, now in command. As class files out, Obie sees Archie lingering in the doorway, smirking, and vows to get the “bastard” back.
Brother Jacques is shown to be a canny teacher who gives as good as he gets; unlike Brother Leon, who is desperate to insert himself into student drama, or Brother Eugene, who is demoralized and shaken by it, Jacques is ready to fight back against the Vigils in small ways. He clearly disagrees with their existence, and wants to point out to his students how embarrassing and even painful things can be for them if they succumb mindlessly to the Vigils’ commands.
Themes
The Individual vs. Society Theme Icon
Control vs. Chaos Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Tradition Theme Icon