Summary – Chapter Sixteen
The chapter begins the next morning in the principal’s office. Ben is reprimanded and is told the principal cannot tell concerned parents he has been conducting an experiment. Owens also says the rabbi of the boy who was bullied has been to see him and this rabbi spent two years in Auschwitz. He asks Ben rhetorically if he thinks the rabbi ‘“gives a damn about your experiment”’. Ben admits he has made a mistake and says the history class is not ‘“a science lab”’. He also asks that he be allowed to still teach these students a lesson and just needs the rest of the day to carry it through.
Owens asks what the plan is and Ben tells him (but it is not divulged in the narrative at this point). Owens agrees to him having a day to sort it out, but if the plan does not work he says he will ask Ben for his resignation. Ben nods in agreement and when he leaves he sets off to find Carl and Alex.
In the history class, Ben waits for the students to come to attention. He tells them he has a special announcement about The Wave. At 5pm, he says, there is to be a Wave rally in the auditorium for Wave members only. He says this is because it is more than a classroom experiment as unbeknown to them teachers across the country have been recruiting and training a ‘“youth brigade to show the rest of the nation how to achieve a better society”’. He says the country has never had such a low morale and unemployment levels and crime rates are high. He says he believes the country is ‘“doomed”’ if the trend is not stopped.
David thinks it sounds like Ben is going more deeply into The Wave. Laurie is also concerned when Ben talks of turning the country around. David jumps up to protest and Ben cuts him off (before he reveals they talked together last night).
Ben tells the class that during the rally the founder and leader of The Wave will appear on cable television ‘“to announce the formation of a National Wave Youth Movement”’. The students start cheering, but David and Laurie stand up and protest and David accuses him of lying. The class glare at them and Ben has to think quickly. He asks Robert to take over the class while he escorts them to the principal’s office. In the corridor, they accuse him of lying and he denies it and asks them to trust him.
David and Laurie wait for most of the afternoon to see the principal and are sure Mr Ross has tricked them. When they see the principal, he is not very helpful. He has a report from Ben and they do not know what it says but presume it accuses them of disrupting the class. They plead with him to stop the rally, but he insists it will be alright. Finally, he tells them to return to their classes and they are incredulous. They are both angry and decide to walk out of school.
David says he cannot believe how ‘“dumb”’ he has been and she reassures him he was being ‘“idealistic”’ in believing it made everybody equal. He asks why nobody else is seeing through it and she says it as though they are in a trance. They go to the park together and talk. She reminds him that he said it could never happen again and she wants to go back to the rally to see the leader for herself. She will not believe it is happening until then.
Analysis – Chapter Sixteen
Ben’s plan is not revealed to the readers and this has the effect of heightening the drama, as we do not know how the story will unfold, and leaves us in some uncertainty as to whether he will keep his word. The reaction of David and Laurie heightens this sense of ambiguity as they are left to wonder if Ben is trustworthy any longer. This in turn invites the readers to question Ben’s altruism.
The closing conversation between David and Laurie highlights how David and the others were susceptible to the experiment. Laurie is forgiving of him, and when she compares the students to being in a trance she avoids an outright condemnation of their behavior. It is of interest, however, that she did not succumb to the power of the movement and her parents are seen to have been separately critical of it. These points are not discussed in the novel, but are aspects worth considering.