In the book The Wednesday Wars, Mrs. Baker says to Holling in "November," "There is a part of us that can be so awful. Shakespeare shows it to us in Caliban. But there is another part of us too - a part that uses defeat to grow."
Where (in the entire book) does Holling use defeat to grow?
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I don't think that there is a single instance where Holling was defeated and then used that defeat to propel himself to higher greatness. The Wednesday Wars is not a superhero book. Holling is not Spiderman. There isn't a single battle to lose, learn from, and later become victorious over evil.
Most of the book is about Holling's struggle over all kinds of rough stuff that 7th graders deal with. He struggles with friendships. At one point the kids in his class threaten to kill him if he doesn't get them some cream puffs. His parents are distant, cold, and indifferent to Holling and his sister. His sister runs away from home. He has a teacher that he doesn't like (at first). He is trying a new sport. He is falling in love for the first time. Add to that the whole puberty thing and Holling has a lot to struggle with and try to balance.
I'll use his relationship with Mrs. Baker for his main struggle/defeat. Holling is not Catholic or Jewish; therefore, he must spend his Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker instead of doing religious studies. At first, Holling just has to do menial, manual labor. Mrs. Baker is not the most encouraging toward Holling and is a strict disciplinarian. Holling is feeling defeated and down in the dumps. He refers to his time with Mrs. Baker as a war—a war that he is not winning.
Eventually Mrs. Baker decides to use their Wednesday afternoons to read and discuss Shakespeare. I teach 7th grade, and I can tell you exactly how many male students that I've had that have been immediately excited to study Shakespeare . . . zero. Holling is no different. He doesn't enjoy the reading. He struggles with it and doesn't see how it can be applied to anything. He basically sees Mrs. Baker and Shakespeare as two great oppressors that have completely defeated him. But as the year goes on, Mrs. Baker gains his trust and respect. She successfully teaches Holling how to read Shakespeare. Then with his knowledge of how to do it, Holling actually begins enjoying Shakespeare, and after that he learns to understand Shakespeare's themes and apply their meanings to his own life. It helps him land a part in a Shakespeare play, grow in his understanding of himself, and understand his feelings toward Meryl Lee, his sister, and his parents.
I'd say that is a tremendous amount of growth that arose out of something Holling referred to as a "Wednesday War" with Mrs. Baker and Shakespeare.
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