What is the significance of Gary Schmidt's title The Wednesday Wars?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gary Schmidt's chosen title for The Wednesday Wars represents two aspects of the plot. First, Holling, the protagonist, is left alone every Wednesday afternoon with his seventh-grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, because all other seventh-grade students are either bused over to Temple Beth-El or to Saint Adbelbert's Catholic Church. The word war in the title represents the feelings of being hated Holling battles with on these Wednesdays and also with his general feelings of cowardice, a battle that leads to a great deal of maturity by the end of the novel. Second, the title refers to the setting of the novel, the 1960s, during the Vietnam War. As Holling develops more maturity, he becomes more aware of the atrocities of the war.

On his first day of school in the seventh grade, Holling reaches the conclusion Mrs. Baker hates him as soon as he observes her realize that Holling will be left all alone with her on Wednesday afternoons. She had probably been looking forward to a free class period, and the news that Holling would still be in her class served as a disappointment that registered on her face:

This look came over her face like the sun had winked out and was not going to shine again until next June. ("September")

When Holling confides in his sister that "Mrs. Baker hates [his] guts," his sister advises him to "get some," meaning to get some guts, which is exactly what he does as the story progresses.

At first, Mrs. Baker fills up their time alone together by having him do menial chores like cleaning the blackboard, cleaning the chalkboard erasers, and cleaning the windows. When Holling wreaks havoc fulfilling these chores, Mrs. Baker changes direction by deciding to teach him Shakespeare. The more Holling learns about the lessons Shakespeare teaches in his plays and applies them to his own life, the braver Holling becomes until he is finally able to stand up to his father by saying he believes becoming a man is about choosing your own life for yourself.

During the time Holling spends with Mrs. Baker learning Shakespeare, Mrs. Baker's husband is reported missing in action in Vietnam. Since Holling has grown close to Mrs. Baker through their Shakespeare lessons, Holling begins being deeply affected by the war and starts watching the news devotedly, hoping to see "a sign, any sign" that Lieutenant Baker is still alive. The more he becomes aware of the atrocities of the war, the more he develops his sense of spirituality to the point that he feels inspired to light candles in prayer at the Catholic church. It is because of his spiritual maturity that he develops the courage to stand up to his father at Danny Hupfer's bar mitzvah.

Hence, in short, the title represents Holling's internal war and the war going on around him, and both help him develop his mental, emotional, and spiritual maturity.

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The Wednesday Wars

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