The significance of history and the study of past events is a constant theme in this novel. The eponymous Wave originates in Ben’s history class, as he attempts to teach his students the most important lesson of their lives. By forming The Wave and making the students feel that they belong to it, he teaches them about the past and how German citizens might have succumbed to the National Socialist regime.
It is implied throughout that it is possible, and vital, to learn from history and that the present and future depend on us learning from the past. Without history, it is suggested, we will continue to repeat our mistakes.
Through the characterization of students such as Laurie, the need for independent thinking is broached. It is only through the actions of the minority, notably Laurie, Carl and Alex and latterly David, that The Wave is openly questioned and articles condemning it are published. Independence from the group and the possession of a critical outlook is seen to be vital in the face of this fascist organization.
The bonding of the group is seen to be one of the positive aspects of The Wave, as when Robert is at last included in the group at lunch time when previously he has been ostracized. Equality in unity is also cited as another positive reason for The Wave to continue. This equality and unity is seen to be illusory, however, when people are coerced or threatened into joining and Laurie is almost attacked by David for criticizing the movement.