The Wave Summary (Elsie Dunn)

Elsie Dunn


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bach, Peggy. “A Serious Damn: William Faulkner and Evelyn Scott.” The Southern Literary Journal 28 (Fall, 1995): 128-143. Bach compares the challenges that both William Faulkner and Scott faced as writers. Both transcended the restrictions of southern traditions, were subjected to unfair criticism by the critics, and were condemned by Freudians who attributed the characters’ opinions to the authors. Although biographers downplay the assistance the novelists extended to each other, Bach argues that they actually helped each other gain recognition.

Callard, D. A. Pretty Good for a Woman: The Enigmas of Evelyn Scott. New York: Norton, 1985. A definitive biography that offers keen insight into the social challenges Scott faced as a female writer. Discusses some of her works and includes a bibliography for further reading.

White, Mary Wheeling. Fighting the Current: The Life and Work of Evelyn Scott. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. A well-researched biography of Scott that profiles one of the most creative minds among American modernists. Although not a critical work, White’s book does offer insight into the influences that shaped Scott’s work, including The Wave.