Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Riding the Wave

Let it be known that I have the most amazing girl in the world. A girl who has taken the time to get to know me and what I like, so when she gives me a book to read, I rarely think twice. As I sauntered off for a month in California to unwind from stressful semester at school, I was carrying a backpack filled with books from her private collection. The first I decided to read was The Wave a novel by Todd Strasser, it is a novelization of a short film, which in turn is based on a real life classroom experiment.

dgfhgfhThe concept of The Wave piqued my interest because I am a university student completing a double major in both History and Political Science. The topic of my recently completed thesis for my history degree focused on the political climate in Germany that led to the rise of the Nazi Party and the establishment of the Third Reich. I will not say The Wave offers an entirely comprehensive look at the phenomenon of group identity, or that it even comes close to explaining what would make a person support, actively or passively, the atrocities of the Nazi Party. What it does do, however, is help its target audience of young readers to understand the allure of group identity, the inescapable power of the collective, and the dangers associated with groupthink.

The Wave was effective in the novel for many similar reasons that the Nazis were effective in Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s. High school is made up of vulnerable, impressionable children, fragmented into many cliques, constantly searching for a place to belong and an identity. Weimar Germany was also hopelessly fragmented, political divisions took the place of cliques, the Jocks, the Nazis, the Nerds, The Communists, The rich kids, the bourgeoisie, the poor kids, the proletariat. These comparisons are not really accurate, but instead are made to illustrate a point. Each group has its own goals, and was willing to sacrifice much to attain them. Even those with the power to stop the Wave, or the Nazis, namely Mr. Ross the Teacher, or President Hindenburg of Germany turned a blind eye in order to create order and unity, something both desired in their own territory.

As a student who focused on European history and international politics, primarily the period from the outbreak of WWI through the establishment of the UN after WWII, the social, economic and political factors are studied in depth. The human factor is usually noticeably absent. A history course on the development of the Nazi party even glossed over the thought process of the people who brought the Nazis to power, as did The Wave. For a novel that attempts to explain the reasoning at the heart of Nazi power, it fails in the same way most academic courses do. Ambiguity is paramount in The Wave, often students say they feel “good” or feel “something” or some kind of “power” in the Wave, but no real explanations are made for the draw of the collective, nor for the rejection of it by the individual, some feel right in it, some feel wrong. Maybe the novel and history classes fall short for the same reason: There is no answer. Only theories exist, but no single theory can encompass the actions of a hundred, let alone a million individuals. It can only be said that each person finds their own reason to be part of the wave, or to fight against it.

The Wave succeeds in showing the reader that, despite popular thinking, what happened in Germany from 1933 to 1945 could definitely happen again. It also shows some signposts that we must watch for on the road to a tyranny of the masses. But, it cannot give any insight into the thought process of every person who chooses to subjugate their will to that of the group, because each person follows their own reason, each is willing to abandon something different in hopes of gaining something better. The Wave was an excellent read as a way to fill out a part of my education that may have been lacking, but it offers no real answers, only warnings.


Pam said...

Was this a translation work?

Anonymous said...

I've always found this story fascinating. When I was studying theater at WSU, I worked with a student who wrote a musical based on this work for his Master's project. Fascinating stuff.

Hamm said...

Pam, it was written in English, under the pen name Morton Rhue, or so says Wikipedia.

It was adapted from a short film.

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