Ben is the cool teacher. You know, the one who doesn't wear a suit, and who almost seems more like a friend than a teacher. This is probably the reason his students follow him to begin with: they like him and trust him to lead them somewhere good.
Even though he's our main character, Ben isn't fully fleshed out. He's kind of a type – the cool teacher type. Cool teachers like Ben are usually creative and are always on the look-out for new ways to help their students relate to what they are studying. In movies and books, and sometimes real life, cool teachers can get carried away with this creative streak.
This is what happens to Ben Ross in The Wave. His motives are good: he wants his students to understand a huge historical tragedy, the Holocaust. But he wants them to understand it too fast. Even historians who have studied this period for decades struggle with getting a handle on it.
This is not to suggest that teachers shouldn't be creative in their efforts to introduce students to the Holocaust. (Shmoop knows better than that!) But, such creativity has to be balanced with the best interests of the students. Ben learns from his experience and plans to be more careful how he teaches in the future. Unfortunately, many of his students might have already been seriously hurt by his experiment.
Unfortunately, the novel doesn't give us information on how the experience impacts Ben's life. Any guesses?
"I know what they're saying about me. That I'm crazy with power…that I'm on an ego trip." (15.8)
Oh, did we mention Ben is a tad dramatic? He has a real flair for entertaining – another reason his students love him and want to follow him. After all, boredom is a huge complaint about school, and Ben keeps things lively and interesting.
But even though he doesn't admit it to his wife Christy (the person he's talking to in the quote we just threw out there), he knows that what people are saying about him is true, at least partly. He has gone a little crazy with power:
[H]e had to admit that before the experiment had gone bad, he had enjoyed those fleeting moments of power. A crowded room full of students obeying his every command, the Wave symbol he'd created posted all over the school, even a bodyguard. (15.78)
Luckily, Ben is coming to terms with this. But, he isn't doing it alone. He has help from other members in the real communities he belongs to: school, neighborhood, and home. His wife Christy, concerned parents, concerned students, and, of course, the school principal, pressure Ben into snapping to his senses. If it weren't for the way that these people handled the situation, something really bad might have happened before Ben got around to putting an end to things.
As noted in "What's Up With the Ending?" the way Ben chooses to end The Wave might not be the best idea. He, um, compares the students to Hitler and the Nazis. (We told you he was dramatic!). For sure, Ben needed a quick and intense way to get The Wave to put a stop to itself. But come on, really, Ben?
Sure, Ben is smart, and he understands the way his students think. But we have to wonder: is he just playing with students' heads, manipulating them to get them to do what he wants? Couldn't Ben have just talked to them about it instead? Would that have worked? Did Ben do the right thing in the end? Or, was this, too, an abuse of his power over his students?
One last thing: Ben's married! Sorry, ladies. So what's his relationship with his wife like? Ben and Christy seem very interested in keeping things equal in their relationship. They both work and share household responsibilities. They also seem pretty good at communicating with each other. Ben's respect for his wife becomes clear as The Wave unfolds. When Christy speaks her mind about The Wave, Ben carefully considers what she says, and takes her advice to heart. And good thing he does: Christy's practical, cautious nature balances Ben's reckless creativity.
Ben's respect for his wife and his willingness to put his pride aside to listen to her concerns gives him a boost in our books. It helps make him a sympathetic character, someone readers will probably like – even if they don't agree with some of his choices.