The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

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There are three closely related settings in The Wednesday Wars. The first and most important setting is Holling’s junior high school. This is specifically Camillo Junior High on Long Island, in New York, and, most often, Mrs. Baker’s room on Wednesday afternoon from 1:45 p.m. until the end of school. The specificity of the room and time are very important. This is Mrs. Baker’s domain, and she is very much in charge of every inch of it. Her gaze fills the room, and Holling seems quite aware of where she is in it and where other key members of his class are. The physical descriptions are clear enough, but relatively limited compared to the social descriptions or to the descriptions of objects/creatures that engage Holling’s attention, such as Mrs. Baker’s rats or the cream puffs. Except for the explorations of Shakespeare, which are rare in any time, and the escaped rats, this could be any room in any junior high school.

The second key setting is the “Perfect House.” This house is a symbol of Mr. Hoodhood’s conformity and his ambition as an architect and businessman. The house and everything in it must be “Perfect.” It is as if Mr. Hoodhood’s home is a remnant of the Eisenhower era, something from Leave It to Beaver. However, his two children are not part of the Cleaver family. Holling’s main divergence is his imagination, but his sister is a more active rebel. These shifts in the family threaten it and are symbolized by the water stains on the Perfect Living Room’s ceiling. Mr. Hoodhood built a perfect house, but it is rotting, and the outside world is creeping in.

The third setting is the novel’s pervasive backdrop—Vietnam War-era America. The war itself enters people’s lives in a number of ways. Mrs. Baker’s husband is fighting in the war and is wounded; the tension of those who have loved ones fighting in the war plays out through her face and body throughout the novel. Mai Thi offers the possibility of redemption; she was brought to this country from Vietnam, in a humanitarian act. She faces the suspicion and racism of the period. Holling’s sister embodies the revolutionary spirit of the era, especially as it played out gradually in middle-class homes. She listens to “rebellious” music and then begins speaking and acting out. She paints a flower on her face and then tries to run away to start a new life. Like many such period attempts, it fails,...

(The entire section is 601 words.)