The Wave Book Essay Online

  • 1

    Discuss the role of organization in The Wave.

    David, Laurie, and Mr. Ross all lament the students' lack of organization at the beginning of the novel. Each of these characters has a goal--be it winning the football game, printing The Gordon Grapevine on time, or teaching twelfth-graders about history--that can only be achieved if all of the students work together in an organized and cooperative fashion. The Wave seems to offer a solution to this problem because of its emphasis on discipline and community.

  • 2

    Why doesn’t Strasser specify what city or region The Wave occurs in?

    Strasser is very vague about The Wave's setting. References to Wheaties cereal and The Night of the Living Dead suggest that the book is definitely set in the United States. However, there is little regional color and the place names––such as Clarkstown and Gordon High––are generically American, and offer no hints as to where the story is set. Strasser's decision not to specify the setting suggests the book's allegorical purpose. Readers are supposed to be able to relate it easily to their own lives. It also demonstrates Strasser's point that atrocities can happen anywhere, regardless of the place or time.

  • 3

    Discuss the role of sports in the novel.

    Many of the characters in The Wave play sports. Besides the football team, which plays an important role in the plot, Christy Ross plays tennis and Mr. Saunders plays golf to relieve his stress from work. The characters' enthusiasm for athletics suggests that there are other ways that people can bring discipline and organization into their lives. According to Strasser, a healthy hobby like a sport or the school newspaper is a good alternative to movements like The Wave.

  • 4

    How does Mr. Ross manipulate his students into accepting The Wave? Why are they so enthusiastic about it?

    Mr. Ross manipulates his students into embracing The Wave by emphasizing values that the students genuinely need help with––like organization and equality. The Wave appeals to students because it seems to offer a fast and easy way for them to solve problems in their personal lives and in the community. However, Mr. Ross also acknowledges that the movement is also successful because the students do not know they are participating in an experiment––something he admits is unethical to Principal Owens.

  • 5

    Compare and contrast Laurie’s and David’s reactions to The Wave.

    Laurie and David are both enthusiastic about The Wave at first. In fact, they embrace it more than the other students; Laurie defends it to her mother and David introduces it to the football team even though Eric warns him that he might be laughed at. Laurie's appreciation of The Wave is altruistic––she likes that it makes life better for people like Robert, who used to be bullied and excluded. She is more suspicious of The Wave; she rejects it as soon as she sees evidence that it is not actually making life better for Gordon High's vulnerable students. David is more self-centered in his motivations; he believes The Wave will help the football team to win. He is also less willing to abandon The Wave when it gets out of hand, although he eventually comes to his senses when it leads him to hurt Laurie.

  • 6

    What are the pros and cons of The Wave?

    Some of the positive elements of The Wave are its inclusivity and its emphasis on community. Students are kinder to Robert and more willing to have each other's backs––for example, Amy and David stand up to support George Snyder so he won't be embarrassed in class. The most important problem with The Wave is that it hurts the students' ability to think critically, something Mr. Ross notices in both their essays and their real-life behavior.

  • 7

    How does The Wave change Mr. Ross’s personality? Does it make him a better teacher or a worse one?

    The Wave initially makes Mr. Ross a worse teacher and a worse husband. He becomes self-centered, focused only on the glory he will achieve when he sees how The Wave improves his students' academic performance. However, the experiment ultimately humbles him and leaves him with important insights about human psychology. After The Wave, he makes a stronger effort to help Robert Billings, and he recognizes how easily and uncritically students will accept a leader.

  • 8

    What is the difference between adults and teenagers in the novel? Are teenagers more vulnerable to The Wave because they are young?

    Some psychologists have suggested that the real-life students who participated in The Wave were more vulnerable to its influence because they were young (Gibson). However, Strasser rejects this idea. He emphasizes that adults and teenagers deal with many of the same problems––Mr. Saunders's problems at work are similar to the ones Laurie faces managing her lazy staff at the school newspaper. And Mr. Ross learns as much about human psychology from The Wave as the students do––even he is unable to predict how far the experiment will go.

  • 9

    Why is Laurie successful in standing up to The Wave?

    Strasser suggests that Laurie is able to stand up to The Wave because of her connection to the school newspaper and because of support from her friends. The school newspaper allows her to criticize The Wave with more authority than she would be able to otherwise; no one listens to her when she questions The Wave at the lunch table, but people take her seriously when her criticisms appear in print. She is also able to do this because she remains friends with Carl and Alex, who have always disliked The Wave.

  • 10

    Was The Wave successful? If so, why doesn’t Mr. Ross want to repeat it next year?

    In terms of sheer emotional impact, The Wave is highly successful, and many of the students seem to have taken to heart the lesson about why people participate in fascism. However, Mr. Ross decides that this benefit is not worth the cost to students like Robert, whose feelings were hurt terribly when he was rejected after The Wave ended, and the sophomore who was attacked.

  • It's a movie! It's a short story! It's a book! It's a scary classroom experiment! It's The Wave! Todd Strasser's 1981 novel The Wavedidn't start off as a book. It began as a way for real-life teacher Ron Jones to try to teach his history class about one of the most hideous events in human history: the Holocaust. 

    Like most people who hear about the Holocaust, Jones' students had lots of questions: how could such a thing have happened? Why didn't anyone stop it? Well, Teacher Jones couldn't explain it, so he decided to try out a little experiment which he called "The Third Wave." He wanted to create an environment in his classroom that would help his students understand what was going on in Germany under Nazi Rule. Sound dangerous? Well, it was.

    His experiment was a little too successful and some two hundred students at Elwood P. Cubberley Senior High joined The Third Wave with disastrous effects. Jones describes the experiment as "one of the most frightening events experienced in the classroom" (source).

    The story of this experiment was first detailed by Jones in a short story called "The Third Wave."Notice we say "short story" and not "essay." The short story is a fictionalized account of what went on in Jones' classroom, and in fact, there isn't a lot of evidence to support Jones' story. Something definitely went down, but there seems to be some exaggeration and maybe some fabrication going on, too.

    In any case, in 1981, Jones' story was adapted into a made-for-TV movie called The Wave. And – wait for it! – what you are reading is a novelization of the movie. Our novelizer (that's a real word and we love it!) Todd Strasser says, "To be honest, I have always wondered if the 'real life' experiment conducted by Mr. Jones actually went as far as his essay alleges" (source).

    Still, Strasser believes that this novel has some important lessons for readers. Plus, it's a good way for teachers to start conversations with students about the Holocaust. We agree with you, Todd. In fact, The Wave was published in Europe under the name Morton Rhue, and it's taught in German public schools (source).

    This can be a tough one to stomach, but it's totally worth it. And when you finish reading, ask yourself this: would you have joined The Wave?

    Here's a list of groups that we at Shmoop belonged to in high school:

    • Math Team
    • Cheerleading Squad
    • Drama Club
    • Substance Free Students
    • Tennis Team
    • A Cappella Group (seriously!)
    • Student Council
    • Science Olympiad
    • Technology Club

    And here's the kicker: we still turned out okay. (A little wacky sometimes, but okay.) When we read The Wave, we're almost led to believe that being part of a group is a bad thing. But if we look closer, we'll see that there's more to it than that.

    Shmoop thinks the takeaway here is this: when you're part of a group, you shouldn't give up your individuality. It's important to develop your own ideas about what is right and wrong, and if a group asks you to go against something you believe in, it's better to leave the group than to go along with it just to fit in.

    Okay, slow down. This is all well and good, but… it's easier said than done, right? What if not going along with the group means losing your job, or your family, or your friends? What then?

    This is the kind of tricky territory we get into in The Wave. So prepare to be challenged by some of what you are about to read. And while you're at it, prepare to challenge. The message behind this book is to question things, and a good place to start is by questioning the book itself. So, don't be afraid to disagree with ideas you find in the novel, or hey, even in Shmoop's brilliant take on it.

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