The Role Of Friends In Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
One of the strongest messages portrayed in the novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is that life contains many obstacles, but to obtain true happiness, fears must be overcome with the help of friends. Throughout the novel, Charlie matures and gets exposed to different experiences with the help of his upper class friends. The story follows Charlie struggling through his freshman year of high school as he encounters drugs, sexuality, and friendship. This involves meeting new people and going through conflicts he has never had to deal with before. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie was an innocent and naive freshman who was nervous about starting high school. However, once he meets and befriends some of the upperclassmen, he learns to be more confident with himself. In Stephen Chbosky’s realistic coming-of-age novel, Chbosky demonstrates how an innocent freshman changes into a more confident “wallflower” throughout the course of a school year.
At the beginning of the school year, the author portrays Charlie was an innocent and naive freshman who had no experience with sex, drugs, or drinking. However, throughout the year, he befriends upperclassmen who expose him to these new aspects of highschool, such as drugs and sexual doings. In fact, the first time Charlie starts experiencing pot was at a party with Sam and Patrick. Bob, one of Sam’s friends, offers Charlie a “brownie”, and Charlie took it innocently without knowing it had pot in it. Once he is exposed to being high, he decides that he likes the feeling and starts buying more pot on his own from Bob. Charlie starts changing his actions and personality to become more like Sam and Patrick. For example, when Charlie first realizes that Sam and Patrick smoked and skipped class to do so, Charlie says that he does not feel comfortable skipping class to smoke with them. However one day, he changes his mind: “That’s when she gave me the cigarette. When I lit it, I didn’t cough. It actually felt soothing. I know that’s bad in a health class way, but it was true. […] I am now up to about ten cigarettes a day”. This shows that Charlie’s mindset has changed due to the upperclassmen’s influence on him. Charlie starts imitating the actions that the upperclassmen expose him to in order to fit in with them. Charlie also opens up to sexuality throughout the course of the novel. At the beginning of the school year, Charlie has never experienced anything sexual, such as kissing, making out, or sex. However, when Charlie meets Sam, he instantly falls in love with her and his mindset changes. He starts having sexual dreams: “I had a weird dream. I was with Sam. And we were both naked. And her legs were spread over the sides of the couch. And I woke up. And I had never felt that good in my life”. This shows that Charlie matures because he loses his innocence when he thinks of Sam in a new, more sexual, way. His mindset changes as he starts feeling different emotions for Sam, but has to suppress these views of Sam because he knows nothing will happen between them. Patrick also teaches Charlie to masturbate, exposing Charlie to sexual doings: “I [Charlie] guess I forgot to mention in my last letter that it was Patrick who told me about masturbation. I guess I also forgot to tell you how often I do it now, which is a lot”. By hanging out with the more experienced upperclassmen, Charlie matures and loses his innocence by using drugs and participating in sexual actions.
Throughout the novel, Charlie also becomes more aware of his surroundings as he learns about other’s secrets but keeps quiet about his experiences. Throughout the year, more people start to tell Charlie their secrets because they know that he can keep a secret: “He’s a wallflower. […] You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand”. A wallflower is a term that is used to describe someone who is shy and quiet; someone who listens and observes from the sidelines and keeps quiet about what they hear. For example, when Charlie was high after accidentally eating a brownie filled with pot, he walks upstairs and sees Patrick and Brad kissing. Patrick notices that Charlie had seen this, so Patrick decides to tell Charlie his biggest secret instead of trying to cover it up or lie about it: “Listen, Charlie. Brad doesn’t want people to know. I need you to promise that you won’t tell anyone. This will be our little secret. Okay?”. Since Patrick and Charlie had become close friends, Patrick is able to trust Charlie with his biggest secret: that his is gay and is dating a varsity football player. Charlie finds out that both Patrick and Brad are gay, and he did not tell anyone. Charlie keeping secrets for his friends is a sign of maturity because it shows that he is willing to keep quiet in order to help his friends. Charlie also keeps his sister’s secrets as well. For example, when he finds out that his sister is pregnant, he keeps it a secret from his parents because his sister had asked him to. He also agrees to go to the clinic with her so she could get an abortion. “The only people who know about the pregnancy are me, her, and him… I told my sister that after a while, she probably couldn’t hide it, but she said she wouldn’t let it go that far. Since she was eighteen, she didn’t need Mom or Dad’s permission. All she needed was someone to be with her next Saturday at the clinic… me”. Charlie keeps his sister’s pregnancy a secret from their parents and agrees to go with her to the clinic to get the abortion. Instead of getting her sister in trouble by telling their parents, he is willing to help her in times of need. This shows his maturity because he is able to understand what is going on in the world around him instead of being naive and oblivious of his surroundings. However, Charlie is also mature enough to understand when he is needed to keep quiet about his experiences in order to help his friends and family members.
Charlie also matures throughout the novel as he comes to terms with his family’s harsh past. For example, Charlie learns that his grandfather used to abuse his mother and his Aunt Helen: “I thought about him going into my mom’s room when she was little and hitting my mom and holding her report card and saying that her bad grades would never happen again”. Charlie matures because he is able to comprehend the fact that his grandfather was abusive towards his mother and Aunt Helen. Even with those secrets inside his head, he learns to control his feelings of anger and is able to forgive his grandfather and move on. Charlie is able to understand that his grandfather only wanted the best for his mother and the rest of his family, and even though Charlie does not necessarily agree with his grandfather’s ways, he knows that his grandfather was just trying to look out for his family to make sure they have a better future than his. Charlie thinks about how his grandfather had impacted his family and views these incidents in an optimistic way. “Maybe if my grandfather didn’t hit her, my mom wouldn’t be so quiet. And maybe she wouldn’t have married my dad because he doesn’t hit. And maybe I would never have been born”. Even though Charlie may be upset at his grandfather’s abusive ways, he matures and moves on. Instead of staying upset about something he cannot fix, he looks at the incidents in a positive way; he understands and believes that because of these times, it led his mother to not follow in her father’s footsteps. Another family secret that Charlie learns about his past was that his Aunt Helen, who was his favorite person in the world, had molested him every weekend when he was a kid. Charlie had partially suppressed these memories of his Aunt Helen, but when he finally remembers what had happened in the past, he goes into an unconscious state and is sent to stay in a hospital for two months. However, even after finding out about what his Aunt Helen had done to him in the past, he realizes that he can’t blame her for what she had done. “It’s like if I blamed my Aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him. And God for not stopping all this and things that are much worse”. Charlie changes because he is able to ‘forgive and forget’ instead of holding a grudge against his Aunt Helen; he still views her as the same person he had loved before he passed away. Because Charlie is able to forgive his family members and move on, Charlie matures into an understanding person.
In conclusion, Chbosky demonstrates how an innocent freshman, Charlie, changes into a more confident “wallflower” throughout the course of a school year. Charlies goes from being an outsider to someone who gained many new friends and experiences with them. At the end of the novel, Charlie learns about his past, keeps secrets to help out his friends and family, and takes risks. This shows how Chbosky highlights Charlie’s use of drugs, cigarettes, and secrets to depict Charlie’s coming of age throughout his life-changing freshman year.
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