The Wave Introduction
In A Nutshell
It's a movie! It's a short story! It's a book! It's a scary classroom experiment! It's The Wave! Todd Strasser's 1981 novel The Wave didn't start off as a book. It began as a way for real-life teacher Ron Jones to try to teach his history class about one of the most hideous events in human history: the Holocaust.
Like most people who hear about the Holocaust, Jones' students had lots of questions: how could such a thing have happened? Why didn't anyone stop it? Well, Teacher Jones couldn't explain it, so he decided to try out a little experiment which he called "The Third Wave." He wanted to create an environment in his classroom that would help his students understand what was going on in Germany under Nazi Rule. Sound dangerous? Well, it was.
His experiment was a little too successful and some two hundred students at Elwood P. Cubberley Senior High joined The Third Wave with disastrous effects. Jones describes the experiment as "one of the most frightening events experienced in the classroom" (source).
The story of this experiment was first detailed by Jones in a short story called "The Third Wave."Notice we say "short story" and not "essay." The short story is a fictionalized account of what went on in Jones' classroom, and in fact, there isn't a lot of evidence to support Jones' story. Something definitely went down, but there seems to be some exaggeration and maybe some fabrication going on, too.
In any case, in 1981, Jones' story was adapted into a made-for-TV movie called The Wave. And – wait for it! – what you are reading is a novelization of the movie. Our novelizer (that's a real word and we love it!) Todd Strasser says, "To be honest, I have always wondered if the 'real life' experiment conducted by Mr. Jones actually went as far as his essay alleges" (source).
Still, Strasser believes that this novel has some important lessons for readers. Plus, it's a good way for teachers to start conversations with students about the Holocaust. We agree with you, Todd. In fact, The Wave was published in Europe under the name Morton Rhue, and it's taught in German public schools (source).
This can be a tough one to stomach, but it's totally worth it. And when you finish reading, ask yourself this: would you have joined The Wave?
Why Should I Care?
Here's a list of groups that we at Shmoop belonged to in high school:
- Math Team
- Cheerleading Squad
- Drama Club
- Substance Free Students
- Tennis Team
- A Cappella Group (seriously!)
- Student Council
- Science Olympiad
- Technology Club
And here's the kicker: we still turned out okay. (A little wacky sometimes, but okay.) When we read The Wave, we're almost led to believe that being part of a group is a bad thing. But if we look closer, we'll see that there's more to it than that.
Shmoop thinks the takeaway here is this: when you're part of a group, you shouldn't give up your individuality. It's important to develop your own ideas about what is right and wrong, and if a group asks you to go against something you believe in, it's better to leave the group than to go along with it just to fit in.
Okay, slow down. This is all well and good, but… it's easier said than done, right? What if not going along with the group means losing your job, or your family, or your friends? What then?
This is the kind of tricky territory we get into in The Wave. So prepare to be challenged by some of what you are about to read. And while you're at it, prepare to challenge. The message behind this book is to question things, and a good place to start is by questioning the book itself. So, don't be afraid to disagree with ideas you find in the novel, or hey, even in Shmoop's brilliant take on it.