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Study Guide: The Wave by Todd Strasser - BookNotes

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As editor-in-chief of The Gordon Grapevine, the newspaper of Gordon High School, Laurie is troubled by the lateness of its latest issue: she believes her staff isn't disciplined enough, but does not know what to do about it. As she passes Mr. Gabondi’s French class, she sees her friend Amy Smith and tries to catch Amy’s attention. However, she also catches Mr. Gabondi’s attention and almost gets in trouble if it wasn’t for the end-of-class bell. Amy joins her as they go to Ben Ross’ History class.

Ross is in his classroom, having trouble with the projector. Despite the lack of mechanical skills, he has a strong reputation as an outstanding, charismatic teacher. The faculty is divided on Ross: some like his energy and creativity, while others thought he should be more traditional. For his part, Ben is troubled by the attitude of many of his students, who value their social lives over homework. As the students start to enter class, Ross enlists the help of David Collins for the projector. Robert Billings is teased by Brad when he dully asks if they'll be watching a movie that day. As class begins, Ross warns students about homework getting too sloppy - the third time he's had to do so this semester.


High school social hierarchies are established quickly: David Collins is among the elite and called upon by Ross to help set up the projector, while Robert Billings is derided for asking an obvious question. In his internal monologue, even Ross considers Robert the “class loser”. It's worth noting that in this novel, the elite of the high school hierarchy excel in both studies and extracurricular activities: the split between gifted athletes (“jocks”) and gifted scholars (“nerds”) is never explored extensively, though Brian Ammon is one such example. For that matter, rebels - “cool” kids resistant who earn respect from their peers for opposing authority figures in school - are not represented at all. In this way, the social hierarchy of the novel is actually somewhat simpler than it is in real life, where some students excel in only one aspect of high school life (academic, extracurricular, social) but not in others.



Ben Ross' class is studying World War II and the film they're watching is about the Nazi concentration camps. Ross speaks of Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitism, and the Final Solution. The class is visibly shocked by the millions who died in this manner, which doesn't surprise Ross given their comfortable middle class upbringing. When asked if all Germans were Nazis, Ross answered that less than 10% were party members; asked why no one tried to stop the Nazis, Ross explains that most Germans claimed to have not known about the camps. The students scoff at this claim, adding that they wouldn't let such a thing happen if they were in that situation.

When class ends, David asks Laurie to go to lunch with him. However, she first talks to Mr. Ross further about how the Nazi atrocities could have happened. Ross then stops Robert Billings, his most problematic student, and warns Robert that if he doesn't start participating in class, he'll fail. Robert doesn't seem to care, and Ross knows it's because he lives under the shadow of his older brother Jeff - a popular athlete and student in his time - and had given up on trying. Ross tries to reach out to Robert nonetheless, but it doesn't work.


Robert's lack of response to Mr. Ross' warning is an interesting contrast to his later - and quite sudden - adherence to the discipline of The Wave. Ross threatens Robert with failure, but he already considers himself a failure; in contrast, The Wave assures Robert power and success, more carrot than stick. In a sense, Robert is clearly saved by The Wave and the sense of empowerment it bestows him.

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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on The Wave". . 09 May 2017