“The Nazis might have been a minority, but they were a highly organized, armed, and dangerous minority. You have to remember that the rest of the German population was unorganized, unarmed, and frightened.”
Mr. Ross's explanation of the Nazis' success foreshadows how the Wave will spread throughout Gordon High. According to Mr. Ross, disorganized people cannot resist groups like the Nazis, who are appealing and effective because they are so organized. This is why he gets so upset when his students are late to class and turn in sloppy homework.
“All I can say is, I would never let such a small minority of people rule the majority.”
Eric's remark is ironic because he will later embrace the Wave wholeheartedly. The movement's similarities to the Nazis do not even occur to him. His comment in class illustrates the fact that it is easy to make moral judgments in hindsight, but it is harder to make ethical decisions in the moment.
“...As something horrible that happened once, it bothers me. But that was a long time ago, Laurie. To me it’s like a piece of history. You can’t change what happened then.”
David says this when he talks to Laurie about the graphic video depicting Nazi concentration camps. Laurie believes that people have an obligation never to forget historical atrocities, while David believes that society has learned its lesson and should try to move on. His emotional distance from the tragedy makes him more susceptible, at first, to Mr. Ross's discipline exercises.
“I’ll do anything ... Eat my Wheaties, join The Wave, do my homework. Anything to stop that guy.”
Here, Brian talks about his fear of the upcoming match against Clarksville. Although he is joking, his comment is still very revealing. In Germany in the 1930s, many citizens were afraid that their country would be invaded or left behind economically. In fact, Hitler justified many of his early military actions by claiming they were 'defensive.' This fearful mentality helps to explain the Germans' enthusiasm for Nazism, and it also helps to explain why David introduces The Wave to his team despite his own misgivings. It is also important that Brian compares joining the Wave to two very commonplace actions--eating cereal and doing homework. The students do not think that joining The Wave is a serious ethical decision--it is just part of their daily life. Likewise, many Germans did not recognize the magnitude of the ethical decision they were making by becoming Nazis until after the war was over.
“Almost subconsciously [Mr. Ross] sensed how much they wanted him to lead them, and it was something he could not deny.”
The Wave does not only affect the students in Mr. Ross's history class. It also affects Mr. Ross himself. After the students adopt his ideas about discipline, community, and action, he has more power over them than he does before. This power goes to his head, and Mr. Ross begins to think more about his ego than what is best for his students. All the while, he rationalizes this by assuming that the students "want" to be led.
“The whole idea of The Wave is that the people in it have to support it. If we’re really a community, we all have to agree.”
Robert's mentality about The Wave is part of what frightens Laurie. She doesn't object to its principles, but rather to the 'creepy' conformity it inspires in her fellow students. Robert becomes popular in The Wave because he is the best at conforming. Strasser challenges the idea that the only way to achieve a strong community is for everyone to agree about everything.
“You have to understand that this experiment can’t go any further than I let it go. The whole basis for The Wave is the idea of a group willing to follow their leader. As long as I’m involved in this, I can assure you that it can’t get out of hand.”
When Mr. Ross discusses The Wave with Principal Owens, he is still confident in his ability to control the experiment. Since he invented The Wave and is its leader, he believes he can control what its members do. However, Strasser undermines this idea even as Mr. Ross professes it wholeheartedly. On the way to Owens's office, Mr. Ross notices that students have begun to take The Wave into their own hands, saluting him outside of class and advertising for it in the hallways. This foreshadows his later revelation that the students are starting to promote The Wave even without 'orders' from him.
“Except the crazy thing was, he’d never given those orders. Somehow they’d simply evolved in the students’ imaginations, and once there, they automatically assumed he’d given them. It was as if The Wave had taken on a life of its own and now he and his students were literally riding it.”
Here, we learn the significance of the novel's title. It refers not only to the student movement started by Mr. Ross, but also to the human tendency to 'go with the flow' rather than standing against the way other people behave. This is also the first concrete evidence we get that Mr. Ross has lost control over the behavior of the students in The Wave.
“Sure, it got them psyched up, made ‘em think they could win. But out on the field they couldn’t execute. All the waves in the world don’t mean a thing next to a well-executed quarterback option. There’s no substitute for learning the damn game.”
Although Coach Schiller was excited about The Wave at first, he realizes that The Wave cannot solve real-world problems. It makes his players feel good, but lacks the impact that would come from hard work. This difference is an important lesson in the novel, and it is why the parents sometimes argue that The Wave cannot replace direct study of history through textbooks and lectures.
“I realize now that I made a mistake. A history class is not a science lab. You can’t experiment with human beings. Especially high school students who aren’t aware that they’re part of an experiment.”
Here, Mr. Ross explains the lesson he has learned from The Wave to Principal Owens. Although he believes the students will take to heart The Wave's lesson about fascism, Mr. Ross understands that it went too far and he did not exert enough control over his experiment. He admits that his project has had repercussions on other people, something that his ego prevented him from recognizing before.
The Wave Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Wave is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.