The Wave

The Wave Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-5


Laurie and David sit together at lunch. They see Robert come into the cafeteria with some food. When he sits down at a table, the girls sitting there pick up their trays and walk away. Laurie and David wonder why Robert is such an outcast. He sometimes acts strange and sloppy, but they think he only does this because he is treated so badly.

Laurie is still disturbed by the movie—so much that she has lost her appetite. She gives her hamburger to David, whose appetite is fine. Amy and Brian Ammon join them at their table. Brian complains that the football team will probably lose its game this weekend. The players are disorganized and many do not show up to practice. Laurie is still upset about the movie, but David believes that she is taking it too seriously.

Amy and Laurie talk about boys in the publications office. Although Amy hides it well, Laurie can tell her friend is jealous that she is dating a football player. Although they are friends on the surface, the girls often compete with each other for boys, for popularity, and for good grades. Two practical jokers, Alex and Carl, interrupt their discussion by barging in pretending to be Principal Owens.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ross can’t stop thinking about the lesson. He feels bad that he couldn’t explain to his students why people living under the Nazis acted the way they did. Mr. Ross decides to design an ‘experiment’ to show his students what life was like under the Nazis. When his wife Christy returns home from playing tennis, he is absorbed in planning the lesson.

The next day in history class, Mr. Ross writes the words “STRENGTH THROUGH DISCIPLINE” (29) on the board. He explains that discipline and hard work are the secrets to success in life. Then he gives the class a posture lesson and spotlights Robert, who sits up straighter than anyone. They practice getting to their seats quickly after the bell rings.

Mr. Ross announces that from now on, students will be required to stand next to their desks and address him as “Mr. Ross” when answering questions. They also must bring a pencil and paper to class every day. The students enjoy the new routine because they find it exciting.

After class, the students chat about the lesson. David is deeply impressed by Mr. Ross’s new teaching techniques. Brian agrees but thinks that David is taking the lesson too seriously. In the bathroom, David reflects that the football team could be a lot better if he could just teach the players Mr. Ross’s version of discipline. In the bathroom, he sees Robert practicing the snap to attention that Mr. Ross taught them in class.

That night, Mr. Ross tells Christy about the experiment. He is surprised at how much the students seemed to enjoy the discipline. However, he does not think he will continue the experiment because they need to move on to a new unit.


In this section, parallels between the Nazis and the students become increasingly obvious. Robert, formerly a ‘loser,’ finds his place in the class by excelling at Mr. Ross’s new discipline. This parallels the way that Adolf Hitler (and many other prominent Nazis) rose to power under the new regime even though they used to be poor social outcasts.

Mr. Ross’s tactics also mirror some Nazi behaviors. For example, he uses a short slogan—“STRENGTH THROUGH DISCPLINE”––to simplify a complex set of ideas and behaviors. The Nazis also relied heavily on slogans and symbols like the swastika and the eagle. Furthermore, they enthusiastically embraced personal discipline; their ideology was not just political but also extended deep into an individual’s daily life.

In these chapters, Strasser reveals some of the subtle divisions within this seemingly tight-knit group of friends. For example, Amy and Laurie frequently compete with each other despite being close friends. Laurie and David have very different attitudes about history. Laurie believes that atrocities can be prevented by ‘never forgetting’ past events, while David believes that it’s best to put the past behind us.

By showing Mr. Ross preparing his lesson plans, Strasser demonstrates that the teacher truly does have good intentions in starting the experiment. It also becomes clear from these passages that Mr. Ross has underestimated the impact of what he is doing. He brushes off the experiment after Christy asks him about it, and is hesitant to bother pursuing it for another day.

Strasser strategically withholds information to build the story’s suspense while also giving readers more perspective than the students have. He draws a clear connection between Nazism and the discipline exercises, a relationship the students do not yet understand. He also does not immediately reveal Laurie’s reaction to the discipline experiments. By refraining from describing how Laurie feels, he allows readers to come to their own opinions about Mr. Ross’s teaching methods.