The Wednesday Wars Themes
The main themes in The Wednesday Wars include transformation, the power of literature, and love and friendship.
- Transformation: The Wednesday Wars is Holling coming-of age-story. In the course of a year, his sister runs away, his father loses a big contract, and Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated. These events force Holling to grow up.
- The power of literature: Holling falls in love with Shakespeare’s works, which inspires him to branch out and perform in a school play.
- Love and friendship: Holling’s friends, including Meryl Lee and Mrs. Baker, provide the support he needs in this difficult year.
The Wednesday Wars is primarily a story about Holling Hoodhood coming of age. When the novel opens, he is relatively passive. His own sister even tells him to get some guts when he brings his story about Mrs. Baker to her. Holling has a vivid imagination and longs for adventure, as evidenced by his repeated readings of books like Treasure Island. Otherwise, though, he is mostly a normal kid, one who does not really have extraordinary experiences. This changes through the course of his seventh-grade year, and so does he. He moves from being a boy relatively alone to being part of a complex social structure. Mrs. Baker was an alien and an enemy at the start of the book, but she becomes an active mentor of his mind, body, and spirit. The Wednesday afternoon sessions that had been war become tutoring sessions, more nurturing than anything Holling experienced at home.
The Power of Literature
Holling is a great reader from before the book starts. He loves adventure fiction, such as Treasure Island. However, under Mrs. Baker’s exacting eye, he learns first to make his way through Shakespeare’s plays, then to enjoy them, and finally to realize their potential for adding meaning and understanding to his life. The necessity of having a good and caring teacher is part of this theme, as is discipline. Primarily, though, the ageless qualities of the great works are underscored time and again.
Love and Friendship
The Wednesday Wars opens with Holling in a relative state of war. The war that gives the novel its name is with Mrs. Baker, who he is sure hates him, but that is not the only war. The rest of the seventh-grade class threatens to kill him, and he and his sister squabble. From this state of tension and disarray Holling learns many different ways to love and many different kinds of friendship. He cannot be peers with Mrs. Baker. She is an adult, and he is a child—but she trains him in track, mentors him in literature and life, and helps arrange his life so he blossoms. In return, he stands up for her and coaches her on how to make the class more at ease. They learn to be friends despite the great distance between them in age and role. Holling does not necessarily understand his sister, but he goes through a similar transformation with her. When his parents essentially abandon her after she has run away to find herself, it is Holling who goes to get her, and Holling who brings her home. Finally, through watching Mrs. Baker love her husband Tybalt at a distance, and through having his own first romance with Meryl Lee, Holling learns about romantic love.
At the same time that his own understanding of love is growing, though, Holling learns a darker lesson through his parents. He learns what happens when love fails—when it rots away from the inside, as his family’s Perfect House does with the water damage—and when it is gone. Holling is shown the cost of living without love, and it is bitter.