The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Coming of Age in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Life is about overcoming obstacles and fears to become truly happy, a message that The Perks of Being a Wallflower teaches its readers as Charlie matures through the coming-of-age process. The story follows Charlie as he encounters drugs, sexuality, and friendship while struggling through his freshman year of high school. This involves meeting new people and going through conflicts he has never had to deal with before such as drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure.
In Stephen Chbosky’s realistic coming-of-age novel, the protagonist, Charlie, grows from naivety to self-awareness and from chastity to sexuality. At the beginning of the book, Charlie is both innocent and naive. An example of his innocence can be seen when Sam invites Charlie to her room to show him the typewriter she bought him for Christmas. Sam asks Charlie if he has ever kissed a girl: “[he] shook [his] no. It was so quiet.” This proves how uncomfortable sexuality is for Charlie (70). His discomfort is also evident when he describes his uncomfortable perspective on the school dances: “At the school dances, [he] sit[s] in the background… wonder[ing] how many couples will dance to their song…’” Again, this shows that he attends dances alone (24). Charlie is also very naive early in the book. For instance, when Candace is hit by her boyfriend, Charlie keeps quiet, despite the violent attack, as he mistakenly believes that his friendship with his sister is more important than her well being, as: “…he wound up and hit her hard across the face…It was not like him at all to hit anybody. He was the boy that made mix tapes with themes and hand-colored covers until he hit my sister and stopped the crying…” This is an example of naivety as Charlie does not realize how severe Candace’s boyfriend’s actions are and how someone may seem nice on the outside but are capable of much more (11).
In a similar case, when Charlie attends his first party with Sam and Patrick “[he] ate the brownie, and it tasted a little weird, but it was still a brownie…But this was not an ordinary brownie” He eats the brownies not knowing, or even considering, that they may be filled with pot (35). Charlie also faces conflict throughout the novel due to his new relationship with Mary Elizabeth, and how his actions are influenced more by what he believes other people would like him to do, rather than what he would like to do. Part of his conflict with Mary Elizabeth is demonstrated by how one-sided his relationship is. Namely, Charlie struggles to participate meaningfully in any conversation with Mary Elizabeth. This deficiency is seen while the two are trying to have a phone conversation and “The only thing [he] could say was either “yes” or “no”. There was honestly no room to say anything else… [he] put down the phone, went to the bathroom, and when [he] came back, she was still talking.”(129). In addition, Charlie and Mary Elizabeth do not have a mutual physical attraction. Mary Elizabeth is head over heels in love with Charlie, while Charlie would prefer to be just friends. This is problematic as Charlie is too timid to break up with the more dominant Mary Elizabeth and this creates tension in their friends circle, as Patrick and Sam believe it would be unfair for Charlie to continue to string Mary Elizabeth along. Charlie’s inability to do things for himself further contributes to his internal conflict. He does things to appease others, but never to make himself happy. An example of Charlie’s inability to do things for himself is when he is comforting a heartbroken Patrick. Patrick kisses him goodnight and continues to kiss Charlie even though Charlie gets no pleasure from the experience: ““Did you want him to kiss you?”… “I was just trying to be a friend,” [he] said.”” Even though Charlie is not gay he allowed Patrick to kiss him, as he didn’t want to upset Patrick any further (201). Charlie again shows his desire for acceptance when he begins smoking and skipping class solely to make Sam and Patrick happy by spending more time with them, despite knowing that skipping school and smoking are unacceptable behaviors.
Charlie has two epiphanies concerning his conflicts. An epiphany happens concerning his relationship with Mary Elizabeth during a game of truth or dare where Charlie is dared by Patrick to kiss the prettiest girl in the room: “[he] knew that if [he] kissed Mary Elizabeth [he] would be lying to everyone. Including Sam. Including Patrick. Including Mary Elizabeth. And [he] just couldn’t do it anymore…” Charlie discovers that faking his feelings for Mary Elizabeth is not helping anyone, including himself (135). After this realization he experiences catharsis by kissing Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth, acknowledging his true feelings for Sam. Charlie’s second epiphany is based on his inability to do things for himself, and occurs when Sam gives him a lecture about being more self-sufficient: “[he] figured that [he] should just do what [he] wanted to do… And if [Sam] didn’t like it, then she could just say so.” This shows Charlie’s progression into becoming self-sufficient as he does not care so much about how Sam would feel, but rather what he feels (202). The catharsis that follows this is Charlie kissing Sam again, but this time it is more passionate.
By the end of the novel, Charlie is more aware and experienced. An example of his new-found awareness is shown when he reflects on his ability to control his destiny. He believes that: “… even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” This illustrates that life is not rainbows and daisies and that there is a possibility Charlie will not like the outcome of his actions/life. (211). Additionally, at the end of the book he becomes aware of how impactful his experiences with Sam and Patrick are on his life and how he will be forever changed from meeting and interacting with them. They have taught him many things such as how to be a good friend and to think for himself. Furthermore, Charlie has become much more experienced concerning his sexuality. This is seen when he allows his true feelings for Sam to emerge. His sexual experiences resulted in a failed relationship with Mary Elizabeth, his first crush, first kiss, and attraction to Sam.
Charlie’s increased self-awareness and confidence in his ability to control his future, including the relationships he engages in, demonstrate his character’s maturity through the novel. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower resonates with its readers, and leaves them with an important message: embrace differences, since life is about overcoming fears and challenges to become as happy as possible.
Content with the Mediocre: The Underside of Acceptance in Chbosky’s Novel
The novel Perks of Being a Wallflower, written by Stephen Chbosky, portrays a series of characters that strive for acceptance and understanding from others. Yet, for the most part, they are constantly ridiculed or treated like the second option. The quote “we accept the love we think we deserve”(Chbosky 24) is an explanation as to why people can always have something better, but choose to conform with what they receive primarily because of the way they view themselves, among other factors.
Someone with low self-esteem will remain with someone who treats them unfairly because they believe thats the treatment they earned. On the other hand, someone who values themselves won’t settle for less. The characters Charlie, Sam, and Patrick portray this idea perfectly due to the constant abuse they receive throughout the novel. First and foremost, Charlie’s oppression is most evident through his interactions with his family and friends. He is constantly trying to make other’s lives better, or at least, easier to handle. Yet, what he doesn’t realize is the harm he causes himself. In the novel, Charlie’s sister says “ “I hate you,” My sister said it different than she said it to my dad. She meant it with me. She really did. “I love you,” was all I could say in return”(Chbosky 26). This interaction between the characters is a general representation of the relationships that Charlie has with other characters. He will try to help and make others happy, but his actions eventually backfire, leaving him with troubling consequences and broken relationships that he tries to fix.
Another problem of his is that he puts himself in situations that are inconvenient, or even heartbreaking, for him if it means that someone else will be happy. An example of this is when Charlie writes “I am really in love with Sam, and it hurts very much”(Chbosky 47). He loves Sam, but is willing to let her be happy with someone else because he’s content with just having her close. It can be said that this is his hamartia, because Charlie will always put others before himself. Furthermore, Sam’s character is involved in a relationship in which her boyfriend loves the superficial aspect of her, not what lies underneath. Craig, her boyfriend, is with her solely for the fear of being alone, not because he actually loves her. He sees her through a perspective that makes her attractive towards him, and doesn’t see the beautiful person she is all by herself. Charlie once commented on their relationship, stating “I just think it’s bad when a boy looks at a girl and thinks that the way he sees the girl is better than the girl actually is. And I think it’s bad when the most honest way a boy can look at a girl is through a camera”(Chbosky 48-49). Sam is more invested in the relationship because it seems that she thinks better about herself because of the fact that an older boy loves her, thus being worthy of love. So she accepts his love as it is, despite knowing that his love does not reach the real her.
Ultimately, Patrick’s secret relationship with Brad is also troubling due to the fact that the love he has is seen as unacceptable and forbidden. Although knowing that getting caught would have dire consequences for both of them, he continued to see Brad despite knowing that this was hurting him. Brad had a reputation to keep, going after the girls and being a jock in general. Patrick was more open and free about his sexuality, but had to be burdened with not being able to express his love in public. Charlie participated in an experiment that clearly showed this relationship. He said “…what the scientists found out was that the rat or mouse would put up with a lot more voltage for the pleasure. Even more than for the food” (Chbosky 50). Patrick is, evidently, the rodent, who is willing to be kept hidden and ridiculed if only it means that his love is reciprocated by Brad.
All things considered, it’s apparent that the famous quote “we accept the love we think we deserve” explains how people will deal with situations in which they are aware of how much hurt they receive because they don’t want to see what they truly deserve. The Charlie’s character shows this because he accepts verbal abuse and will put others before his happiness and wellbeing, while Sam and Patrick’s abusive relationships are based on them putting up with undeserved circumstances because they want to feel loved and seek approval. This is even more tragic because they are teenagers-kids who need guidance and reassurance but are receiving none. They need to come to terms with the fact that they deserve much more than they’re receiving, and need to find something better to be truly happy.