Wonder tells the story of ten-year-old August Pullman's first year going to school. Because he was born with a rare craniofacial condition that necessitated multiple major surgeries, his parents felt it was best to homeschool him for much of his childhood—both to help him keep up with his studies, and to protect him from the bullying and stares he attracts that would likely intensify in a school setting. As August embarks on his journey of leaving homeschooling to start middle school, the novel interrogates what it means to be kind, and the sacrifices one must make for the sake of kindness. However, while the novel certainly positions kindness as always being the right choice, it also goes to great lengths to underscore the ways in which choosing to act kindly can sometimes be an extremely difficult choice.
Though August is described as being a kind character to the core, the lack of kindness shown to him by others often keeps him from actually behaving kindly on a regular basis. On the first day of school, Ms. Petosa forces a boy named Henry to sit in the empty seat next to August. Though Henry does as he's told, he's clearly unhappy to do so and even puts his backpack on the desk between himself and August to create a barrier. As August watches Henry struggle with his lock for his locker, he confides in the reader that had Henry not been rude to him, he would've absolutely helped him with his lock. This suggests that kindness isn't always something that can happen regardless of circumstances; people must not only be willing to receive kindness, but in many cases must also behave in such a way as to make it seem worth one's while to behave kindly in the first place.
A girl named Summer is the only person willing to sit with August on his first day of school. Though she explains to the reader that she sat with him on the first day just to be nice and because she felt bad for him, she finds within days that she actually enjoys hanging out with August. Especially when Jack says almost the exact same thing when he talks about his friendship with August, it shows that acting kindly doesn't have to be an act of martyrdom, as kids like the mean-spirited bully Julian would like to think. Rather, acting kindly towards someone can lead to positive social interactions and far more fulfilling friendships than the ones available via bullying and peer pressure. However, it's also important to keep in mind that the very real friendships that Summer and Jack form with August do come at a cost to their friendships with the rest of their classmates. Though Summer doesn't seem to care much that she's jeopardizing her chance at being popular by hanging out with August, Jack struggles deeply to reconcile his desire to be accepted by the popular crowd with his desire to be nice to August and maintain their friendship. When Jack finally takes a stand against Julian's bullying by punching him in the face, Jack discovers what some of the consequences of behaving kindly and standing up to mean people can be. He not only gets suspended from school, but upon his return, he and Summer are ostracized and bullied themselves, just like August is.
Despite the negative consequences, Jack remains firm in his belief that he did the right thing by standing up for August. He recognizes that by behaving kindly and prioritizing his friendship with August over his social standing, he will, in the long run, be a much happier and more fulfilled person—even if, in the short term, acting kindly has the potential to be lonely and alienating.
The Difficulty of Kindness ThemeTracker
The Difficulty of Kindness Quotes in Wonder
What's cool about really little kids is that they don't say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings. But they don't actually know what they're saying. Big kids, though: they know what they're saying.
Henry still couldn't get his lock to open […] He got really annoyed when I was able to open mine on the first try. The funny thing is, if he hadn't put the backpack between us, I most definitely would have offered to help him.
Maybe no one got the Darth Sidious thing, and maybe Julian didn't mean anything at all. But in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious's face gets burned […] His skin gets all shriveled up and his whole face just kind of melts.
I peeked at Julian and he was looking at me. Yeah, he knew what he was saying.
Hey, the truth is, if a Wookiee started going to the school all of a sudden, I'd be curious, I'd probably stare a bit! And if I was walking with Jack or Summer, I'd probably whisper to them: Hey, there's the Wookiee. And if the Wookiee caught me saying that, he'd know I wasn't trying to be mean.
"I love Auggie very, very much," she said softly […] "But he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you."
How I found out about this is that Maya Markowitz told me that the reason she won't play Four Square with us at recess is that she doesn't want to catch the Plague. I was like, "What's the Plague?" And she told me. I told Maya I thought it was really dumb and she agreed, but she still wouldn't touch a ball that August just touched, not if she could help it.
And the truth is, though nobody's that obvious about it: nobody wants to hang out with him. Everyone's way too hung up on being in the popular group, and he's just as far from the popular group as you can get. But now I can hang out with anyone I want. If I wanted to be in the popular group, I could totally be in the popular group.
Before she went out, she looked left and right outside the door to make sure no one saw her leaving. I guess even though she was neutral, she didn't want to be seen with me.
it's just been so nice being in a new school where nobody knows about him, you know? nobody's whispering about it behind my back […] but if he comes to the play, then everyone will talk about it, everyone will know […].
I don't even know how I got so mad. I wasn't really mad at the beginning of dinner. I wasn't even sad. But then all of a sudden it all kind of just exploded out of me. I knew Via didn't want me to go to her stupid play. And I knew why.
We knew we were being mean, but it was easier to ice her out if we pretended she had done something to us. The truth is she hadn't changed at all: we had. We'd become these other people, and she was still the person she'd always been. That annoyed me so much and I didn't know why.
"Kinder than is necessary," he repeated. "What a marvelous line, isn't it? Kinder than is necessary. Because it's not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed. Why I love that line, that concept, is that it reminds me that we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness."
"There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie," she said, looking at me. "But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other. Just like Jack was there for you. And Amos. And those other kids."