The Wednesday Wars Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

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Themes, Motifs, and Symbols in The Wednesday Wars

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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


The Wednesday Wars Themes

People are not always what they seem

As he matures, Holling changes his opinions about the people around him. At first, he believes Mrs. Baker is an evil teaching machine, but later discovers that she is a former Olympic athlete with a soft heart. Holling also discovers that his idol, Mickey Mantle, is not actually a nice guy. Finally, he realizes that his father is not as wise as he once assumed. Other characters bear out this theme as well. Heather discovers that her boyfriend is not the wonderful person she had thought after he leaves her on her own in Minneapolis. Holling’s school community, and particularly Mrs. Bigio, also learn that it is wrong to judge Mai Thi based on her Vietnamese origins. Although they associate her with their enemies overseas, they eventually realize that, on the inside, she is no different from any of the American girls her age.


We must choose our own identities

Throughout The Wednesday Wars, Holling is struggling to find his identity. At home, he is the Hoodhood heir, dutiful successor to his father’s architectural firm. At school, however, he begins to explore his strengths and think for himself as he reads the Shakespeare Mrs. Baker assigns. Like the sprite Ariel, who longs to be free, Holling must escape the confines of expectation in order to live out his destiny. By the end of the book, he has begun to realize this when he decides that he does not want to be like his father. He proves his independence of mind when he boldly tells his father what it means to be a man after Danny’s bar mitzvah.



The Wednesday Wars Motifs & Symbols

Holling’s yellow tights with white feathers

The tights Holling is forced to wear for his role of Ariel represent humiliation. Doug Swieteck's brother humiliates Holling when he plasters the newspaper photo of Holling's in his tights all over the school. The tights also lead Mickey Mantle, Holling’s hero, to mock him and refuse to provide an autograph. The tights are also a sign of Holling's insecurities and lack of confidence early in the year. He obsesses over what others will think of him and discourages his friends from attending the play due to his costume.


The collapsed ceiling in the perfect house

The collapsed ceiling represents the destruction of the "perfect house." As Mr. Hoodhood continues to pursue his career while ignoring the needs of his children, Holling begins to realize that his home is far from perfect. In fact, the tensions in his home have made his family quite fragile. This becomes increasingly clear when Heather runs away and Holling’s parents stop talking to each other. The collapse of Holling’s house mirrors the collapse of his family.


Shakespeare’s plays

Shakespearean plays are a recurring motif throughout The Wednesday Wars. Shakespeare's plays address many of the issues Holling faces in his daily life, including love, justice, betrayal, fear, hope, and identity. Mrs. Baker assigns Holling only comedies and tragedies, fitting for a book that mixes the comic foibles of Holling's seventh grade with the serious matters of the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and the deaths of MLK and RFK. The novel is clearly marked as a comedy, however, by its conclusion. Mrs. Baker tells Holling that “comedy is about characters who dare to know that they may choose a happy ending after all”. In the last chapter, Holling dares to stand up to his father and choose his own future. Even more tellingly, the novel’s last scene shows Mrs. Baker joyfully reuniting with her husband, paralleling the romantic conclusions of Shakespeare’s comedies.



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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Wednesday Wars. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Wednesday Wars you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme

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