The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

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Chapters 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis


In November, Mrs. Baker has Holling read The Tempest. Despite his preconceptions, Holling is captivated by all the "good stuff" in the play, especially the cussing, which he decides to learn by heart. He figures that Mrs. Baker could not have read the play herself; if she had, she certainly would not have let him have it. Holling is amazed when he discovers that his teacher not only has read the play, but she knows the bad parts as well. Mrs. Baker gives Holling a one-hundred-and-fifty question test on The Tempest, and assigns him to read the play again, telling him "there is a lot more to (it) than a list of colorful curses."

The deadline set by Holling's classmates for him to bring them cream puffs arrives, but although Holling's father's company has won the Baker's Sporting Emporium contract, he refuses to extend an advance on his son's allowance. Desperate, Holling goes to Goldman's Best Bakery, offering to work for the money he lacks to buy the cream puffs. Coincidentally, Mr. Goldman, who is active in Long Island's Shakespeare Company, needs a boy to perform in their upcoming Extravaganza, and because of his work with Mrs. Baker, Holling fits the bill. Mr. Goldman gives Holling the required number of cream puffs in exchange, but sadly, while the students are at recess, Caliban and Sycorax, the escaped rats who inhabit the classroom walls and ceiling, come out and decimate the treats. Somehow, the disaster is blamed on Holling; he must clean up the mess, and his classmates decree that he still owes them cream puffs. The next Wednesday, Holling brings five cream puffs to school, which is all he can afford. In addition to facing his classmates' ire, he has to deal with the fact that, in the Shakespeare Company Holiday Extravaganza, he must play the part of Ariel, who is a fairy, and wear yellow tights with white feathers on an unmentionable part of his anatomy; "not a good thing for a boy from Camillo Junior High." To Holling's surprise, just when things are at their darkest, Mrs. Baker comes through for him, bringing cream puffs for the students on his behalf. That afternoon, Mrs. Baker and Holling discuss The Tempest, and whether or not Caliban, the "monster," deserves a happy ending. Holling argues that, as the antagonist, he does not, but Mrs. Baker muses whether Shakespeare might have shown, even in a monster, the capacity of humankind to use defeat to grow.

Mrs. Bigio stumbles into the classroom at this point, emitting sounds of indescribable sadness; she has just learned that her husband has been killed in a futile reconnaissance mission in Vietnam. Two nights after his funeral, the Catholic Relief Agency, which houses Vietnamese refugees, including Holling's classmate Mai Thi, is the target of a hate crime. Holling reflects that Shakespeare, with his happy endings for nearly everyone in The Tempest, is wrong. He says, "sometimes, there isn't a Prospero to make everything fine...and...the quality of mercy is strained."

In December, Camillo Junior High is awash in "signs of the season." Mrs. Baker, however, does not share the holiday spirit, but Holling is too absorbed with his problems with the Shakespeare Holiday Extravaganza to wonder why. As always, Holling seeks help from his family, but to no avail; his mother comments insipidly that his embarrassing costume is cute, his father tells him to wear it to please Mr. Goldman, who might one day need an architect, and his sister warns him that if news of his role gets to the high school, no one better find out they are related. The only thing that prevents December from being a total disaster is Mrs. Baker's announcement that Mickey Mantle will be signing autographs at the Baker Sporting Emporium. Unfortunately, Mrs. Baker also tells the class about Holling and the Shakespeare Extravaganza, and encourages the students to attend both events.

Holling's classmates are intensely curious about his role as Ariel, whom he euphemistically describes as "a warrior." Mr....

(The entire section is 1,598 words.)