The Wave: Essay Questions
1. Explain why Ben conducts the classroom experiment of The Wave.
The Wave is set up initially as a response to students’ questions about how German people responded to the National Socialist Party and why they did not challenge the regime more. By setting up this movement, Ben hopes to illustrate by lived example how easily one may succumb to the overt and covert pressures of a fascist organization.
The Wave is also a reaction against those who say, as David does, that it could never happen again and Nazi rule is part of history and therefore not relevant to the present. By setting this experiment up, Ben aims to demonstrate how the past never entirely disappears and cannot be discounted. He also clearly shows that one must be vigilant against fascism in whatever form it takes.
2. Give an analysis of how The Wave influences so many students.
Ben employs the tactics of other fascist groups to entice his students into feeling that they are part of a united movement. He gives them mottos to chant and a salute to perform. He even hands out membership cards and a select few are given the role of monitor. The class is unified by its membership to The Wave, but also dominated in a hierarchy of thinking that has the teacher as the leader and the monitors as deputies (of sorts). The students are made to feel special in that they are included in the group, but this sense of inclusion comes at the price of giving up their freedom and independent thinking.
It should also be noted that one of the reasons cited for its initial success is that ordinarily in school there are cliques and some students are isolated. With The Wave, all students are given the opportunity to join. This perhaps highlights the inadequacies of a school society in that a fascist group is deemed preferable to the usual hierarchical structure.
3. Examine Ben’s role in the experiment.
As the conductor of the experiment, Ben leads the students into learning about how influential fascism can be. One of the unexpected outcomes (unexpected for Ben, that is), is that he also becomes embroiled in the experiment to the point that he begins to enjoy the power he exerts.
This involvement to the point of being caught up in his own experiment highlights the dangers of fascism and shows how intoxicating power can be. It takes pressure from others, such as Christy, Laurie and David, to alert him to the way The Wave has ceased being a game or experiment and is turning into a reality for some. By exposing his attraction to the power he holds, the effect of The Wave is seen to be all the more overwhelming. This is because prior to the experiment Ben is characterized by his casual style and liberal attitude to discipline and learning.
4. Analyze Robert’s role in The Wave.
Before The Wave, Robert is depicted as an outsider in the class. He is bullied and isolated and has little input in the classroom. Once The Wave is introduced, he is seen to benefit from the inclusive aspects of the movement. He finds a place for himself when previously he had been ignored and goes on to be the self-appointed bodyguard of Ben.
Through the character of Robert it is possible to see how the sidelining of individuals in mainstream society, by bullying and social exclusion, may leave them open to extreme groups that profess to be inclusive. Robert is drawn as a vulnerable young man and it is not until the introduction of The Wave that even Ben, the liberal-minded teacher, begins to give him responsibility and value.
5. Consider the outcome of the experiment and how useful this is to students of history.
The Wave is introduced in a history class as a means to teach the students how the past is always relevant to the present. More precisely, it is also used to show by example how easily susceptible we may be to fascist groups such as the National Socialist Party.
By taking part in an experiment, the students are forced to learn the message they questioned at the beginning of the class. Ben trawls through history books looking for answers to the questions they pose, about why the German people reacted to the National Socialists as they did, and decides it is only by replicating an aspect of the culture that he can teach them the answers they are looking for.
The dangers of this experiment are that it is not possible to recreate the exact conditions that led to the rise of the National Socialists, and therefore the experiment could have failed. As it is, the students are soon in thrall to The Wave, and so become another representative sample of how we must learn to question the politics of fascism.