Summary – Chapter Seventeen
As Ben walks to the auditorium for the rally, he thinks how it is incredible that before The Wave it would have taken a week to organize this many students. This rally only took a few hours to organize and thinks ‘so much for the positive side of discipline, community and action’. He wonders if sloppy homework is the price to pay for freedom. Christy encourages him before he goes on and Robert tells him the doors are secure and the guards are in place.
Ben thanks him and goes on stage. The students stand spontaneously and give The Wave mottos and salute. When they finish their chants, he holds up his arms and they are immediately silent. He asks Robert to turn on the television, which he does. Outside, David and Laurie try the doors but find they are locked. They run around the outside to see if any are still open.
Inside the auditorium, the screens are blank and the students begin to ‘squirm and murmur with anxiety’. They wonder where their leader is. The tension builds and they do not know what they are supposed to do. Ben notices the anxious looks on their faces and realizes all the more how serious this ‘little experiment’ has become.
A student suddenly jumps up and shouts ‘“there is no leader is there!”’ Two Wave guards rush the student out and Laurie and David slip in. Ben shouts that yes, they do have a leader, and this is the cue for Carl. He pulls back the stage curtains to reveal a large movie screen and Alex flicks on the projector in the projection room.
Ben shouts ‘“there is your leader”’ and the students gasp in surprise ‘as the gigantic image of Adolf Hitler appeared on the screen’. Laurie whispers to David how this is the film he showed them the other day. Ben shouts again, and tells them there is no National Wave Youth Movement, no leader and if there was it would have been Hitler: ‘“Take a look at your future.”’ He tells them they traded their freedom for what they thought was equality and they would have made ‘“good Nazis”’. He also reminds them that although they said it would never happen again, ‘“look how close you came”’: ‘“Fascism isn’t something those other people did, it is right here, in all of us.”’
He says for the experiment to be successful they will have learned to be responsible for their actions and to always question rather than blindly follow the leader. He also apologizes as he led them into this and became more of a leader than he ever intended to be. The lesson has been painful for him too.
The effect on the students is staggering. A few are in tears and others avoid looking at those next to them. The posters and membership cards are discarded. Amy sees Laurie and cries and runs to hug her. Eric and Brian are sheepish and David says it is over now. David and Laurie talk to Ben and Ben apologizes for not telling them of his plans. Laurie asks what will happen now and Ben says he will use another history period to discuss today’s events. He also says he has decided to skip this lesson in next year’s course.
When these students leave, Ben thinks he is alone and is relieved it has ended well. He is about to go too, but hears a sob. He sees Robert crying and Ben thinks he is the only one to lose from this. Ben puts his arm around him and tells him he looks good in a jacket and tie. Robert manages a smile. Ben leads him off the stage and suggests they go for something to eat and talk about some things.
Analysis – Chapter Seventeen
The denouncement comes when Ben reveals the experiment for what it is and the students who have been following him are made to see the outcome of what they have been thinking. As Ben tells them, they would have made ‘good Nazis’ and if they followed the logic they had begun to believe in, Adolf Hitler would have been their ultimate leader.
He teaches them a lesson in independence and responsibility, and does so by taking the experiment to a dangerous level. It is possible to see that with a vulnerable student such as Robert, the outsider has been made to feel welcome at last only to discover the lie of what he has been told.
As Ben points out, this has been a painful lesson for all of them and the moral of the story has been made clear. He too has been caught up in the fascist drama he has created and the high school now appears to be an ideal breeding ground for groups that prefer the illusion of unity over independent thinking.