What is the main theme of the January chapter of The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Each chapter of The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt is a month in Holling Hoodhood's seventh-grade year. January starts as a difficult month for Holling. First, when everyone comes back to school, Holling discovers that Doug Swieteck's brother has taken a photo of him from the newspaper--dressed as Ariel in yellow tights, blue floral cape, and white feathers and flying through the air--and hung them up everywhere in the school. Literally, they are everywhere, including the bathrooms. 

While Holling is proud to have been in the theater production, he is certainly not thrilled that this particular picture is plastered all over the school. In fact, he wants to transfer to a military school; ironically, his sister, Heather, constantly fights with Holling but supports him in this decision. Mr. Hoodhood, of course, will not even consider allowing his son to leave the school because his architectural firm is bidding on the contract to build a new junior high school building. 

Holling continues his Shakespeare reading with Macbeth, but Holling's insensitivity to Mrs. Baker's feelings during their discussion causes Holling to feel bad and Mrs. Baker to ignore him for the rest of the week. The beginning of January brings terrible weather, but school is not canceled because standardized tests have been scheduled and the principal, Mr. Guareschi, is adamant that the tests will go on--even when their is no electricity for lights or heat. Holling endures the examinations. 

The weather is bad, and Holling is on his way home when a skidding bus is about to hit his sister; he manages to save her (for which she is quite grateful), but Holling gets side-swiped (rear-swiped) by the bus and needs to go to the emergency room. Mrs. Baker and Mr. Guareschi take him, but when Mrs. Baker calls his parents, they are not interested enough to come to the hospital to check on Holling (a fact which infuriates Mrs. Baker, of course).

In a kind of bookend to the newspaper articles which Holling was forced to endure at the beginning of the chapter, Holling's picture is in the newspaper again. He is seen leaping in the air (just like Ariel was) to save his sister, and the pictures are plastered all over the school once again, only this time Holling is hailed as a hero by everyone. 

One last pair of "bookend" events is the falling-in of the ceiling of the piano room (the most perfect room in the Perfect House) due to water damage at Holling's house and the bulging-ready-to-fall ceiling in Mrs. Baker's classroom due to the rascally actions of Sycorax and Caliban.

Mr. Hoodhood also wins the Chamber of Commerce Businessman of the Year Award, as expected.

The theme of this chapter has to be the concept Holling and Mrs. Baker talk about during their Macbeth discussion. She claims that Shakespeare's goal was to "express something about what it means to be a human being." The discussion turns to malice, the seeking of revenge, being a "small and petty thing." Of course Holling had just been the victim of Doug Swieteck's picture-hanging campaign, so when Mrs. Baker makes the point that people will soon forget, Holling says:

"it's not like it's your picture in the halls, or that you have all that much to worry about." 

Of course Mrs. Baker was right, and this chapter proves it to Holling. Just weeks ago, Holling's embarrassment was such that he wanted to change schools; now he is hailed as a hero. Malice is, indeed, a "small and petty thing," and people's attention is fickle. 

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