Beginning on April 12, 1861, with the firing on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces, and ending with the parade of victorious Union troops in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 1865, the action of Evelyn Scott’s The Wave conforms externally to the events of the American Civil War. On its simplest level, the book is a fictional account of that war; Scott’s real emphasis, however, is on the effect of the war on the hundreds of characters which crowd her novel. The key to her method, and to the thematic point of The Wave, is the book’s epigraph, a statement discussing the relationship between the movement of a wave and an object riding the water. The point of the epigraph is that unless affected by wind or current, a floating object remains relatively stationary. Scott’s characters are like the objects riding the wave—largely unaware of the meaning of events beyond their personal dimensions and certainly unable to see the Civil War from the viewpoint of history.
Scott divides The Wave into twenty numbered chapters and subdivides each of these into a number of episodes, each having its own focal character and moment of tension or conflict. The novel achieves its effects, therefore, by juxtaposition of characters and actions. In the first half of the book, the episodes in a particular chapter are used to show a conflict between the mechanistic force of the war itself and the actions, presumably free, of various persons in both the North and the South. Dickie Ross, in the first chapter, rows across Charleston Harbor in anticipation of the firing on Fort Sumter; a man called Percy gets caught up in a mob protesting Abraham Lincoln’s...
(The entire section is 683 words.)