Major Themes

The main theme of the novel is the appeal of fascism: what makes individuals want to become a part of a community that places an authoritarian state above all other concerns? In what ways are compromises and excuses made, what advantages are gained and what freedoms are lost?

The other major themes of the novel spring from this central concern: individualism and the role of the minority is one such theme, as is the question of equality and egalitarianism. The desire for power and success is another related theme, and the proper role of education is handled, though primarily in light of fascism and the power of educational authority.

Minor Themes

Mass media and its ability to mold opinions is an important minor theme of the story, providing many of the contemporary nuances in the novel. Another minor theme is the nature of social hierarchies in high school: how some students form an elite while others are outcasts.


The novel is serious in tone, often carrying a sense of journalistic reportage, much like a docudrama. This mood is achieved by the sparse, straightforward style of writing and the novel's basis in real life events.

Todd Strasser - The Wave Free Study Guide / Notes / Summary
Todd Strasser

Todd Strasser - BIOGRAPHY

Todd Strasser, who also writes some items under the pen name Morton Rhue, was born May 5, 1950, in New York City, New York. His parents moved to Roslyn Heights, New York on Long Island when he was young. He attended Willets Elementary School and then attended the Wheatley School. He has described his best subjects as math and science, but he also liked to read. He attended New York University but dropped out, living on a commune and then traveling to Europe and working as a street musician, then returning to the States to study at Beloit College concentrating in literature and writing. Graduating from Beloit in 1974, he went on to work in both journalism and advertising. His first novel, Angel Dust Blues, was published in 1979. With the money he earned, he started-up the Dr. Wing Tip Shoo fortune cookie company that helped support his writing whim over the next twelve years

Strasser has written a wide variety of books for the young adult market. He has done adaptations for movies such as Free Willy, Jumanji, and Star Wars: Episode 1. He has a long-running series called Help! I'm Trapped, as well as several books in the Time Zone High series. He has also written books with more serious and controversial messages for young readers, including The Accident, about drunk driving; Give A Boy a Gun, about gun violence; Can't Get There From Here, about homeless teens; and CON-fidence, about the difficulties of being popular in school. Strasser's most notable book is The Wave: starting as a magazine article about a real-life incident, it was turned into a television movie and then adapted to a novel by Strasser in 1981.

Todd Strasser has won numerous awards and recognition for his books, and continues to write prolifically. He married in 1981 and has two adult children. His favorite current hobby is surfing.


The real-life incident on which The Wave is based occurred in 1969 in Palo Alto, California, in a Cubberley High School history class taught by Ron Jones. Jones wrote an article about his experience for the magazine Whole Earth Catalog in 1972; a copy of the article is available at Todd Strasser's website at Jones' account of it led to both a teleplay by Johnny Dawkins, which became the 1981 ABC television movie The Wave, and Todd Strasser's novelization of the same year.

There is a significant body of Holocaust literature, including The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Weisel's Night, Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, and Art Speigelman's Maus. These works provide first-hand account of the Jewish experience during World War II, from the oppression by the Nazi regime which forced many families to go into hiding, to the travails of the concentration camps, and the aftermath when Holocaust survivors were freed and had to re-establish their lives. In fiction, works such as Don DeLillo's Running Dog examine the fascination with Nazism decades after the end of World War II.

There is one particular literary idea that enriches an understanding of The Wave . In her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Jewish writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term the banality of evil: this refers to the observation that evil is allowed to occur, not due to fanatical leaders and power-mongers, but by everyday people who accept what they are told by those leaders and believe that what the state does is justifiable. That is, the masses have a responsibility to speak up against power when it encourages immoral behavior. Their failure to do so is what allows the great atrocities of history, such as the Holocaust, to occur.

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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".