What is February about in Gary Schmidt's Wednesday Wars?
In Gary Schmidt’s novel The Wednesday Wars, each chapter represents a month of the school year, and a different play by William Shakespeare. Chapter Six, then, is dedicated to the month of February, with the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet providing the fodder for young Holling Hoodhood’s temperamental angst. Schmidt’s story, of course, traces the life of Holling during the socially turbulent period of 1967, when America’s youth was becoming increasingly restive over the controversial war in Vietnam. The counter-culture was in full-swing, and hippies were a common feature of many cities and towns. Holling’s sister’s rebellious outlook regarding the American government and the ongoing war injects strife into the Hoodhood home. For a socially awkward twelve-year-old like Holling, whose alienation is compounded by his outsider status by virtue of his Protestant faith, it is a difficult time. Furthermore, February is the month Mrs. Baker requires him to read and discuss Romeo and Juliet, a story the seventh-grader finds completely without merit, criticizing the play as stupid because the teenage lovers wouldn’t actually kill themselves (“I think that it was so incredibly stupid, because I don't understand why Romeo and Juliet didn't just run away together instead of them killing themselves”), a stance from which Holling eventually retreats upon further consideration and input from both Mrs. Baker and Meryl Lee, especially the latter, about whom he is developing deep feelings. Holling’s romantic inclinations toward Meryl Lee begin to bear fruit, evident in her decision to celebrate Valentine’s Day with him. Holling and his family attend the Kiwanis Club dinner where his father, an architect, is presented with the Commerce Businessman of 1967 Award, a positive developing contrasting with the collapse of the family home’s ceiling due to poor workmanship by the carpenters. Meryl Lee’s father, like Holling’s, is also an architect, and a competitor of Mr. Hoodhood, who is angered by Holling’s drawing of his father’s idea for how to design a new structure that Meryl Lee innocently displays for her father.
“February” in The Wednesday Wars, then, is a transitional period for Holling as he learns more about human nature by virtue of his own passionate feelings for Meryl Lee, passions that develop in consort with his forced reading of Romeo and Juliet. On the home front, it is a time of triumph for Mr. Hoodhood’s business, but a time of disaster in terms of the collapsed ceiling, a possible metaphor for the internal strife involving Holling’s sister, the budding hippie.