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In 'Wednesday Wars,' Holling comes to realize some things about war and discrimination. I will endeavor to outline for you how those realizations shape who Holling becomes.
In the novel, Mai Thi is a Vietnamese refugee whose evacuation from Vietnam has been made possible by the Catholic Relief Agency. When the Home Town Chronicle prints an image of the vandalized Agency home where Mai Thi lives, the unsettling words 'Go Home Viet Cong' is scrawled across the front of the home or image.
This picture brings home the reality of the unintended consequences of the war for those Vietnamese who do not support the Communist takeover of Vietnam. Mai Thi, like many refugees, have to face both the loss of their national identity as well as distrust and suspicion from mainstream American society. Mrs. Bigio, whose Marine husband dies on an unnamed Vietnamese hill while on a reconnaissance mission, is bowed down by indescribable grief. The reality of war means dead American soldiers; they are the husbands, sons, and fathers of many families.
In a poignant scene at school, Mrs. Bigio hands each student a 'Surprise' gift as they are lining up for lunch one day. She tells each of the kids that they should just eat what she gave them. To Mai Thi, her words are especially significant:
Pick it up and be glad you're getting it. You shouldn't even be here, sitting like a queen in a refugee home while American boys are sitting in swamps on Christmas Day. They're the ones who should be here. Not you.
However, Mai Thi has her own 'Something' gift to bestow Mrs. Bigio. This sensitive exchange is a moment fraught with emotion and anguish. Holling observes that both are nearly in tears and wonders 'how many gods were dying in both of them right then, and whether any of them could be saved.' The 'gods' here refer to the preconceived notions and prejudices held by both Mai Thi and Mrs. Bigio. While Mrs. Bigio has lost her beloved husband at the hands of communist Viet Cong, Mai Thi has had to endure ridicule and suspicion on account of sharing the same nationality as those Viet Congs. Both blame each other for their private suffering.
However, when Mai Thi is mocked by an eighth grader, Danny Hupfer up-ends his entire tray of Tuna Casserole Surprise, two glasses of chocolate milk, and red jello with peaches on the 'penitentiary bound eighth grader's stupid head.' Danny then punches the student and breaks the student's nose. For his pains, Danny earns a four day suspension, for which 'Mr. and Mrs. Hupfer used to take him to Washington D.C because they were so proud of him.' Holling learns that each person is responsible for his/her choices and that sometimes, youthful courage can make a difference in dispelling ugliness and discrimination.
Later, Mrs. Bigio makes Vietnamese fried bananas topped with warm caramel nuoc mao sauce for the entire class. When she takes a plate to Mai Thi, Mrs. Bigio breaks down and apologizes profusely for her previous treatment of the girl. Both embrace tightly in an emotional coming together which is the catalyst for Mrs. Bigio's eventual adoption of Mai Thi. Holling learns that the casualties of war are often loyalty and trust, but the alliance of love and forgiveness can dissipate great suffering. When Mrs. Baker's husband returns from Vietnam after being classified as missing in action, Holling also realizes that miracles do indeed happen and that hope is another weapon against despair in life.
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