Seeing that he could never compete with his brother's achievements, Robert had decided it was better not to even try. (2.46)
The novel suggests that Robert is open to The Wave because he desperately needs a place to belong – the competitive atmosphere at school is too much for him. He needs to be part of a group because, well, we all need other people in our lives. Sadly, until The Wave comes along, no group at school will have him.
It sometimes bothered Laurie that underlying their friendship was a constant competition for boys, grades, popularity, almost everything one could compete for. Even though they were best friends, that constant competition prevented them from being really close. (3.86)
It's hard to say what drives Laurie's success. Some people might assume that she's a competitive person because she achieves so much. Yet, Laurie's success seems driven by something other than competition. But this doesn't stop others from trying to compete with her, or from being jealous.
"I'm tired of feeling like every day is a popularity contest. That's what's so great about The Wave. You don't have to worry about how popular you are. We're all equal. We're all part of the same community." (8.61)
Laurie finds it hard to see anything wrong with this idea. If you wanted to challenge the speaker, what argument might you use?
The class's homework assignments improved, but rather than long, thoughtful answers, they wrote short ones. On a multiple choice test they might all do well, but Ben had his doubts about how they'd do on an exam of essays. (9.3)
In the question and answer game Ben develops as part of the experiment, students are in competition with each other to answer quickly and correctly. The novel suggests that this method of learning discourages students from thinking deeply about historical events. If the class had been <em>discussing</em> Word War II instead of being quizzed on facts, do you think things would have turned out differently?
He enjoyed thinking that he had helped break down the petty popularity contests and cliques that he felt often preoccupied too much of his students' thinking and energy. (9.6)
Ben creates the experiment to show his students the danger of going along with a group for the wrong reasons. But during the experiment, he also starts to think that maybe he has helped make the ultra-competitive atmosphere of school easier for these kids to deal with.
The Gordon High Community
Then he got mad. He said pretty soon people in The Wave wouldn't want to be friends with people who weren't in it. He even said I'd lose all my friends if I didn't join. (11.10)
Yes, Wave members are pretty confused. They like The Wave because it makes them worry less about popularity, but then they threaten others with lack of popularity if they don't join. Hmmm.
"Come on Laurie, the only reason you're against The Wave is because it means you're not a princess anymore." (14.10)
In this moment, Laurie realizes that even her boyfriend feels like he's competing with her. Is this Laurie's fault? The fault of the competitive atmosphere at school? The fault of David and Amy's insecurities? Or some combination?
"Because it means that nobody is better than anyone else for once," Amy said. "Because ever since we became friends all I've done is try to compete with you and keep up with you. […] For the first time in three years I feel like I don't have to keep up with Laurie Saunders and people will still like me." (14.8)
In this moment, Laurie's suspicions about Amy's true feelings are confirmed. Without getting to know Amy better than we do in the novel, it's difficult to analyze why a beautiful, smart girl like Amy is so insecure. What are your thoughts?