What are the top topics that are the "big ideas" of Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The thematic "big ideas" in Schmidt's deceptively lighthearted novel have to do with the events that were current during the 1967 to 1968 school year. This confirmed when, in April of 1968, Holling and Mrs. Baker hear the news of Martin Luther King's assassination (April 4, 1968) along with the rest of the world. The thematic "big ideas" cover social, cultural, and political topics.

On the social level, one thematic idea is the role and effect of television on the American family. Schmidt considers the impact of television after roughly two decades of invading the American dinnertime and living room. At first the invasions were from Milton Berle, Red Skelton, The Philco Television Playhouse, and George Burns and Gracie Allen ("Say good-night, Gracie." "Good night Gracie."). But in the mid- to late-1960s, the invasions were from in-the-field journalists exposing the Vietnam War and university student hunger strikes and assassinations.

Walter Cronkite was announcing new bombing in Vietnam. I thought [the tights] might catch [my father's] eye, even though the CBS Evening news was on.

On the cultural level, Schmidt explores the business milieu and work ethic, often referred to as the "rat race," of the 1960s through Mr. Hoodhood's competitive and big stakes profession as an architect. He also explores the disintegration of the American family through both the distracted indifference of Holling's parents and the nearly catastrophic temper tantrum of Holling's sister.

The largest "big idea" thematic concern provides the distant backdrop for all--until Mrs. Baker brings the backdrop to the foreground--and that is the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite moderates nightly reports from the front lines of the "conflict" and Mrs. Baker, a past-Olympian, learns first-hand about the terrors of MIAs (persons missing in action) when her husband is reported missing. In summary, the thematic big ideas relate to social, cultural, and political issues current in 1967 and 1968 and specifically examine television (no trivial nor insignificant thing), work, and the Vietnam War. Metaphorically, Schmidt is humorously exploding the vision of the perfect America by exploding the image of “The Perfect House”:

all the cement squares were perfectly white ... This was also true ot the cement squares of the walkway ... bordered by perfectly matching azalea bushes ... alternating between pink and white ... [that] stopped at the perfect stoop ... up to the two-story colonial, with two windows on each side, and two dormers in the second floor.

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The Wednesday Wars

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