Even before he invents The Wave, Mr. Ross notices that his students are not living up to their potential because they lack organization in their lives. The Wave instills organization, but at a terrible cost to individual freedom. The novel does not offer any simple answers about whether people can think for themselves and be organized. Laurie has a strong work ethic (as shown by her commitment to her homework and to the school newspaper) but she is still unable to get things done because her peers lack similar organization skills. Laurie combines her strong work ethic with a fierce commitment to thinking for herself, but Strasser is cynical about whether the majority of people will ever be able to combine the two things as well as Laurie does.
At the beginning of The Wave, the students in Mr. Ross's history class all agree that they would never have allowed the Holocaust to happen if they had lived in Nazi Germany. However, most of them lack real critical thinking skills. They are excited about The Wave, and the militaristic culture of the movement discourages them from thinking differently. As Robert says, the movement will only work if the students all agree with it and follow it blindly. This is not necessarily true. Some of the best parts about The Wave––like its inclusivity, for example––are actually enhanced by critical thinking and disagreement. Although The Wave incorporates former 'losers' like Robert, it also excludes moderate thinkers like Laurie.
The needs of the individual versus the needs of the community
Many of the students in The Wave think they must put aside their individual needs to fully embrace the movement. There are some positive aspects to this philosophy. For example, David believes that The Wave will help the football team cooperate with each other instead of only trying to advance themselves in the school's athletic hierarchy. However, there are also points in the novel when the needs of the individual are not mutually exclusive with those of the community. For example, both the individual and the community benefit when the students invite Robert to sit at their lunch table.
Bullying is a crucial secondary issue in The Wave. At the beginning of the novel, Brad teases Robert and plays cruel pranks on him. The Wave seems to solve this problem; after a few days in the movement, Brad and Robert seem to become friends. However, this resolution of the bullying problem isn't as real as the students think it is. The bullying is simply redirected; now, people outside the Wave––like Laurie and the Jewish sophomore––are the new objects of harassment. Strasser seems to accept bullying as an inevitability of high school life that individuals must stand up against.
Strasser portrays two different kinds of peer pressure in The Wave. The first kind is the stereotypical, negative peer pressure that is based on intimidation. This type of peer pressure appears when Brad tries to make Laurie salute to enter the football game, and when David and Laurie avoid Robert at lunch even though they think it's wrong for other students to pick on him. However, Strasser also acknowledges that peer pressure can be used for good. For example, the articles in the school newspaper encourage other students to speak out about The Wave, and The Wave inspires students to be nice to Robert when they otherwise wouldn't.
The importance of family
Throughout the novel, Strasser portrays families torn apart because of The Wave. In the first days of the experiment, Laurie argues with her mother when she points out some of the cult-like elements of the movement. The experiment also causes friction between Mr. Ross and his wife, who dislikes how he neglects her and his chores because he has become so obsessed with his new project. Even Laurie's fight with David can be seen as destroying a family, since they are dating and have considered getting married. Strasser shows how embracing a group as wholeheartedly as the students embrace The Wave often comes at the cost of family life.
In the novel, Mr. Ross is shocked by how quickly and passionately the students embrace him as their leader––Robert even volunteers to act as his bodyguard. Strasser is ultimately very fatalistic about people's need for a leader. "Was it really true that the natural inclination of people was to look for a leader?" Mr. Ross thinks to himself. "If people were destined to be led ... this was something he must make sure they learned: to question thoroughly, never to put your faith in anyone's hands blindly." (133) Strasser accepts that people will always be passive and accept a leader easily. He insists that the best way to deal with this is not to try to change human nature, but rather to work around it by having people think critically about their leaders before accepting them.
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.