What does Holling learn about betrayal in life through reading Romeo and Juliet in Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In February of Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, Holling takes Meryl Lee Kowalski out on a date for Valentine's Day. Meryl Lee's father is the owner of Kowalski and Associates, the architecture firm Mr. Hoodhood is competing against for the contract to build the new junior high school. During the date, while sipping Cokes at Woolworth's, waiting for Meryl Lee's father to pick them up, Holling and Meryl Lee enter a candid conversation about their fathers' work on designs for the new school. Holling feels so comfortable with Meryl Lee that he actually draws out his father's design for her on his place mat. When her father arrives, Meryl Lee takes the "placemat as a souvenir." Soon after Meryl Lee takes the place mat, Holling has reason to suspect her of foul play. It's during this same month that Mrs. Baker assigns Holling to read Romeo and Juliet on Wednesdays. Because of his experience with Meryl Lee, Holling at first sees the play as a lesson in betrayal.

Soon after his date with Meryl Lee, the school board meets with the architecture firms to choose which design to go with; Holling attends the meeting with his father. While at Woolsworth, Meryl Lee had explained that her father's design was very classical, complete with multiple pillars. But, what Mr. Kowalski presents to the school board is the exact same very modern design Holling had drawn for Meryl Lee, complete with a glass domed ceiling. Mr. Hoodhood blames Holling for Mr. Kowalski's theft of his design, while Holling blames Meryl Lee. It is after this act of deception that Holling writes an essay on Romeo and Juliet for Mrs. Baker beginning with the following sentence:

What Shakespeare wanted to express about being a human being in Romeo and Juliet is that you better be careful who you trust. ("February")

However, he soon learns that Meryl Lee had no idea her father would steal Mr. Hoodhood's design and feels so humiliated she is wearing sunglasses in class to hide her red, teary eyes. Holling is then able to see her innocence and that she did not mean to betray Holling just as Holling had no intention of betraying his father. Deception occurred only because Holling and Meryl Lee care about each other as much as they care about their two feuding fathers and because Meryl Lee's father decided to unethically take advantage of the situation. As soon as Holling realizes that betrayal isn't always intentional but is instead often a consequence of complex human nature, he revises his essay for Mrs. Baker and writes the following:

What Shakespeare wanted to express about being a human being in Romeo and Juliet is that it's hard to care about two things at the same time--like caring about the Montague family and caring about Juliet, too. ("February")

He then goes to Meryl Lee's house to apologize and make up with her. Soon after, Mr. Kowalski withdraws his design from the school board.

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The Wednesday Wars

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