Topics for Discussion

1. Many readers are disturbed by the conclusion of the novel because it is not a “happy ending.” Others claim that it is the only sensible ending to the story. Which view do you agree with?

2. As the book progresses, Obie seems less and less tolerant of Archie’s behavior. What prevents him from opposing Archie?

3. Both Carter and Obie dislike and fear Archie’s “psychological” tactics. How does Archie control the Vigils without using physical violence?

4. One notable characteristic of Cormier’s style is his use of a shifting point of view; we see the action through the eyes of several Characters. How does this add to our understanding of the story?

5. Goober is one of the most puzzling Characters in the novel. In the same situation, would you have done what he did? Why or why not?

6. Leon and Archie seem to dislike each other even though they cooperate on the candy sale. Can you explain what lies at the bottom of this mutual contempt?

7. What convinces Archie and Carter that Jerry Renault is a serious threat to the Vigils?

8. Considering how important every dollar is to the candy sale, how do you explain Leon’s calmness in the face of Jerry’s refusal to participate?

9. Sending Emile after Jerry Renault does not seem to accomplish much from Archie’s point of view. Why does he decide that the “boxing match-raffle” will be more effective?

10. Based on what we know about Archie’s character, can you explain why he never draws the black marble?

11. The opening chapter of the novel introduces Jerry as he tries out for the football team. What do you think Cormier intends the reader to learn about Jerry from this scene? Does Jerry’s subsequent behavior bear this out?

12. Brother Leon is the only teacher in the novel who is described in the classroom. Does Cormier intend the reader to view him as a typical teacher or does he represent a bad example of a teacher?

13. Chapter 14 deals with a minor character named “Tubs” Caspar. What is the author’s purpose in telling us about this lonely, overweight student?

14. Emile gets away with his brutish behavior because he has discovered something about human nature. What is this vulnerability that allows him to go on unopposed? Is his understanding of people similar to or different from Archie’s?

15. The “hippie” that Jerry meets in the third chapter tells him he is “missing a lot of things in the world.” Later, Jerry realizes the truth of this statement. What is it he thinks he is missing?

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