“Officially, The Vigils did not exist. How could a school condone an organization like The Vigils? The school allowed it to function by ignoring it completely, pretending it wasn’t there. But it was there, all right, Archie thought bitterly. It was there because it served a purpose. The Vigils kept things under control. Without The Vigils, Trinity might have been torn apart like other schools had been, by demonstrations, protests, all that crap.”P. 27 Archie Costello thinks about the power of The Vigils, the secret society that rules Trinity High School. The administration at the school seems to think that a fraternity that operates by hazing and humiliating students is a minor threat to school operations in comparison to the social upheaval taking place outside the school.
“Was this all there was to life, after all? You finished school, found an occupation, got married, became a father, watched your wife die, and then lived through days and nights that seemed to have no sunrises, no dawns and no dusks, nothing but a gray drabness.”p. 64Jerry Renault is questioning the direction of his life. He wonders if his own life will turn out like his father’s, without any real meaning.
“The world was made up of two kinds of people—those who were victims and those who victimized.”
p. 106Archie watches as Emile Janza bullies a freshman into buying him cigarettes, and the scene confirms his view of the world. It also confirms for Archie that he is one of the victimizers, not the victims.
“‘Look, Jerry. There’s something rotten in that school. More than rotten.’ He groped for the word and found it but didn’t want to use it. The word didn’t fit the surroundings, the sun and the bright October afternoon. It was a midnight word, a howling wind word.
“‘The Vigils?’ Jerry asked. He’d lain back on the lawn and was looking at the blue sky, the hurrying autumn clouds.
“‘That’s part of it,’ The Goober said. He wishes they were still running. ‘Evil,’ he said.”p. 159The Goober is trying to express to Jerry what he feels is wrong at Trinity. A school that would allow a cruel society like The Vigils to exist must, Goober believes, have evil at its heart.
“Jerry suddenly understood the poster—the solitary man on the beach standing upright and alone and unafraid, poised at the moment of making himself heard and known in the world, the universe.”p. 196Jerry Renault thinks about the true meaning of the poster he keeps in his locker. The words on the poster are a question: Do I dare disturb the universe? Since his refusal to sell the chocolates or acquiesce to The Vigils’ demands, Jerry has been ostracized and his things vandalized. He now sees that disturbing the universe is like facing a vast, dangerous ocean alone.
“The Goober started to step forward in protest. He has only sold twenty-seven boxes, damn it. He had stopped at twenty-seven to show that he was supporting Jerry, even though nobody knew, not even Jerry. And now the whole thing evaporated and he found himself sinking back into the shadows, as if he could shrivel into invisibility. He didn’t want trouble. He’d had enough trouble and he had held on. But he knew his days at Trinity would be numbered if he walked into that group of jubilant guys and told them to erase the fifty beside his name.”p. 207The Goober has been credited with selling fifty boxes of chocolates, even though he has not done so. He does not have the courage, however, to deny that total. He does not have the courage to support Jerry as he stands up to the social system at Trinity.
“Jerry felt as though he could actually beat Janza in a fight. He could feel a gathering of outrage that promised strength and endurance. But he didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want to return to the grammar school violence, the cherished honor of the schoolyard that wasn’t honor at all, the necessity of proving yourself by bloody noses and black eyes and broken teeth. Mainly, he didn’t want to fight for the same reason he wasn’t selling the chocolates—he wanted to make his own decisions, do his own thing, like they said.”p. 211Jerry Renault is being provoked into a fight after school by Emile Janza, a notorious bully acting under orders from The Vigils. Jerry is no frightened freshman, however. He can stand up to Janza, if he chooses. But he has decided to “disturb the universe,” to be true to himself, and this decision involves defying the unspoken rules that determine who belongs and who does not belong at Trinity.
“Suddenly, he was invisible, without body, without structure, a ghost passing transparently through the hours. He’d made the discovery on the bus going to school. Eyes avoiding his. Looking away. Kids giving him a wide berth. Ignoring him, as if he wasn’t there. And he realized that he really wasn’t there, as far as they were concerned. It was as if he were the carrier of a terrible disease and nobody wanted to become contaminated. And so they rendered him invisible, eliminating him from their presence.”p. 223Jerry Renault realizes that the whole school has turned against him. The ostracism, ordered by The Vigils, is intended to make him feel dead, without presence or meaning.
“A new sickness invaded Jerry, the sickness of knowing what he had become, another animal, another beast, another violent person in a violent world, inflicting damage, not disturbing the universe but damaging it. He had allowed Archie to do this to him.”
p. 254During his boxing match with Emile Janza, Jerry Renault lets out all the anger and pain that have been building in him for weeks. It feels good to fight back, until Jerry realizes that he has played right into Archie’s hands. He has betrayed himself.
“They tell you to do your thing but they don’t mean it. They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It’s a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don’t disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.”p. 259Lying barely conscious after his fight with Emile Janza, Jerry tries to tell The Goober that going against the system is futile. He has given up trying to disturb the universe.