The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier
Villain time again. Emile is the most physically violent character we see. He enjoys beating people up. Through his character, Cormier asks us to think about physical violence and to compare it to Archie's psychological violence. It makes us want to toss out some hard questions: Is physical violence worse than psychological, or vice versa? Are they equally awful? Can one even exist without the other?
Let's Get Physical
Emile is brutal, and even Archie thinks he's too much. We're told:
Actually, Archie hated people like Janza even though he could admire their handiwork. People like Janza were animals. But they came in handy. Janza and the picture – like money in the bank. (7.21)
This is one way that Archie justifies blackmailing Emile Janza. Emile is a bad person, so it's OK for Archie to use him. (Is there a conscience buried somewhere under there, Archie?) But, really Emile doesn't mind. He wants to be a Vigil, and he's happy to beat up Jerry. He's so excited about his assignment that he turns it into what Archie calls "a gang bang" (33.4). Even Archie is upset when Emile brings in some ten or more guys to help him beat up Jerry. Though mostly this is because Archie knows that too much physical violence will draw attention to The Vigils.
Emile is aware that Archie thinks he's some kind of dog on a leash. When he's up on the platform before the raffle begins, we're told:
Emile was tired of being treated like one of the bad guys. That's the way Archie made him feel. "Hey, animal," Archie would say. Emile wasn't an animal. He had feelings like anybody else. (35.38)
Emile knows he's not a nice guy. Like Archie, he believes he has to be bad to keep people from doing bad to him. But, in terms of Archie, he's a good guy. He's on Archie's side, but Archie's treating him like the enemy. This is what ticks Emile off. The line also shows part of what makes Emile so violent. He wants to belong. He thinks violence is his ticket to getting in with The Vigils and being respected by the school.
We already know Emile is physically violent. He also uses public humiliation and fear to harass his victims:
He found that people had a fear of being embarrassed or humiliated, or being singled out for special attention. Like in a bus. You could easily call out to a kid […] and say, "Jeez you've got bad breath, know that? Don't you ever brush your teeth […]" […] As a result, people went around being extra nice to Emile Janza. (7.7)
As with the physical violence, Emile is using public humiliation to carve out a place for himself in society. He enjoys it, sure, but it's also a defense against what he himself fears – which is the same thing everybody else does. Part of why he beats Jerry so badly during the raffle is that Archie told him that kids were questioning whether Emile could beat Jerry without the help of his friends. He wants to prove himself to the public.