Plot Summary With Analysis
Summary – Chapter One and Chapter Two
The novel begins with a description of Laurie Saunders sitting in the publications office at Gordon High School. She is described as pretty and is chewing on a pen. She looks around the small empty office and thinks how other students should be here punching out stories for the school paper, The Gordon Grapevine. The problem is it is a beautiful day and everyone except Laurie is outside. There is no rule that the students have to give up free periods to work on the paper, but Laurie knows that they know the next edition is due out the following week. She has been ‘on staff’ for three years and it has always been late, and it has made no difference her being editor-in-chief.
She leaves the room and goes down the corridor. In one of the classrooms, she sees her best friend, Amy Smith, in Mr Gabondi’s French class. Laurie has been taught by him before and thinks he is boring. She stands where Amy can see her but the teacher cannot and crosses her eyes and pulls her ‘famous fish face’. She makes Amy laugh, and turns away and turns back again to surprise her with another creation. However, when she turns back Mr Gabondi is standing at the door and he is very angry with her. Before he can reprimand her, the bell rings and his class spills out into the hall and Amy and Laurie walk off together.
The narrative cuts to Ben Ross in the classroom where he teaches history. He is trying to thread a film into a film projector. He is inept at this sort of thing and usually leaves anything mechanical to his wife, Christy, to do. She also works at the school and teaches music and choir. They have both been there for two years.
His reputation is that of ‘an outstanding young teacher’ and his students speak of his intensity and charisma. His colleagues are more divided in their feelings about him and is known to bring a ‘new outlook’ when possible. He is also thought of as teaching students ‘the practical, relevant aspects of history’. When they studied political systems, for example, he divided the class into political parties. Other colleagues see him as ‘naive’ and ‘overzealous’ and think he will settle into teaching the ‘right way’ eventually. Others do not like the casual way he dresses and others ‘were just plain jealous’.
He flicks through the essays he is about to return and thinks the grades are becoming predictable. Laurie and Amy received As and one of the students who received a D, Robert Billings, he thinks of as a ‘real problem’ and is referred to as ‘the class loser’.
The students start to enter the room and these include Laurie’s boyfriend, David Collins. He is described as good-looking and is on the football team. Ben asks him to help him set up the projector and he does so in a matter of seconds.
Robert trudges in and is described as untidy and a ‘heavy boy’. When Ben returns their papers, he reminds them all to not hand in messy homework. This is the third time this semester he has had to say this.
In Chapter Two, the class is watching the film and it is a documentary ‘depicting the atrocities the Nazis committed in their concentration camps’. As the film rolls, Ben explains the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist party and gives background information about Germany’s defeat in the First World War and how the economic misery became an ‘opportunity’ for Hitler to assume power in the Nazi Party and later over the country: ‘In 1923 he was thrown in jail for his political activities, but by 1934 he and his party had seized control of the German government.’
The film shows gas chambers and piles of bodies laid out. Ben explains how the death camps were what Hitler called his ‘Final Solution’ (Endlösung) and that not only Jewish people but anyone deemed ‘unfit for their superior race’ were herded into camps and were worked, starved, tortured and exterminated in gas chambers when unable to work. He also tells them how many did not survive more than a week. As the film ends, he also tells them ‘the Nazis murdered more than 10 million men, women and children in their extermination camps.
When the lights are turned back on, Ben sees some of the students look stunned. Some start to fool around not long after, though, and he thinks these must have seen it as another television programme. Robert is asleep, but Amy and Laurie look upset.
Ben encourages the students to ask questions and Amy asks if all Germans were Nazis. He says only 10% of the German population belonged to the party and she asks why nobody stopped them. He explains they were a minority, but were a ‘highly organized, armed, and dangerous minority’. He also says that after the war the majority of Germans said they did not know about the atrocities. Two boys and then Laurie question this and Ben is pleased that most of the class are concerned about what they have seen. When Laurie asks how people could even say they did not know about it, he replies as such: ‘The behavior of the rest of the German population is a mystery – why they didn’t try to stop it, how they could say they didn’t know. We just don’t know the answers.’
At lunch time, Laurie and a couple of others stay behind as they are affected. Robert is also there, but has just woken from his nap. Laurie says to Ben that she cannot believe the cruelty and he says that after the war many Nazis tried to excuse what they did by saying they were only following orders and would have been killed too if not. Laurie queries this and says they could have run away or fought back and could have thought for themselves. He nods in agreement.
The narrative switches to Robert trying to sneak past Ben and Ben stops him. He tells him he wants him to participate in class more. If he does not, he will have to fail him and he will not graduate. He asks Robert if he has anything to say and Robert shrugs. He tells Ben he does not care and that he would not do any good anyway. Ben thinks how Robert’s case is a ‘tough one’ as he lives in the shadow of an older brother who had been a model student. Ben tells him nobody expects him to be like him but just wants him to try more.
Analysis – Chapter One and Chapter Two
These first two chapters set the scene and introduce several of the main characters. As this is a novel for young adults, these introductions are relatively straightforward and consistent. Laurie, for instance, is depicted as dedicated but independent in her thinking and Robert is an outsider who does not fit into the normal regime of school life. We also learn a few details about Ben Ross, the teacher, and he is seen to be liberal and quite casual in his approach to the students.
In Chapter Two, the history class focus on the National Socialist Party in Germany and the impetus behind the experiment of The Wave is first broached. The students are seen to be generally ill at ease with what they learn, but, as Ben notes, some appear to consider the film to be another television programme. He also has difficulties in explaining why the German population did not challenge the rise of the National Socialist, and this should be noted by readers as a significant point when looking back over the novel as a whole.