Tragedy and Toxicity in Kitchen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower
When one reads through Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower there are not any striking similarities. The ages of the characters, the trials they go through, and the culture they are respectively surrounded by do not imitate each other in any way. However, there is a common trait to each of these novels; while Kitchen deals with death and The Perks of Being a Wallflower focuses on teen discovery, both novels find their protagonists stuck in difficult relationships with each other. Furthermore, these relationships are pushed past the bounds of normal friendship, creating difficult relationship dynamics that require the main characters to lean on each other while simultaneously pushing each other away. It is the push and pull seen in said relationships that raises the question of toxicity; though, we must question who is capable of judging said toxicity. These novels are not outright related, but by examining the relationships their main characters develop throughout the plot, the similarities are made clear.
In the novella Kitchen, the two main protagonists, Mikage and Yuichi, are thrust together after the loss of Mikage’s grandmother, her last living relative. Mikage, an aspiring chef who has lost almost everyone close to her, and Yuichi, a young man dealing with the recent death of his father turned mother, attempt to navigate this unexpected relationship while responding to the tragedy that has befallen both of them. As the story begins Mikage and Yuichi have a healthy, almost enviable friendship. Mikage is capable of understanding Yuichi’s true feelings by seeing past his façade, it is “Because I wasn’t in love with Yuichi, I understood that very well” (29). The lack of romance in their relationship provides a space with no expectations, each member is allowed to be themselves without judgement. However, as Dr. Zack Carter, professor of communication at Taylor College, writes in his article 1-on-1 Opposite Sex Friends: A Blind Spot Threat to Marriage, “There is extremely little research or widespread literature on opposite sex friendship that does not indicate attraction and its conceivable consequences.” These consequences are noted when Yuichi’s girlfriend, who believes the relationship between him and Mikage has developed beyond friendship, slaps him in their school cafeteria, thus becoming his ex-girlfriend. In the beginning portion of the novella, the relationship between Yuichi and Mikage is one of pure friendship, and though the two may have small inklings of feelings, there is nothing to suggest an unhealthy relationship.
The death of Eriko, Yuichi’s male to female transgender mother, is shocking to both the reader and the main characters of Kitchen. It is in this tragedy that the true test of Mikage and Yuichi’s relationship occurs and, while they both feel the pain of Eriko’s passing, for Yuichi this is the death of both his mother and his father. While Mikage can relate, as she has lost every blood relation she had, she does not know how to be there for Yuichi in the way he was for her. The grey-area of their relationship has widened with time and tragedy, leaving Mikage and Yuichi on opposite sides. The mental health of both characters again must be called into question to determine if their relationship is toxic. While Mikage is simply refusing to cope by refusing to grieve, Yuichi is truly worrying. Early on in the novella it is noted that “He was terribly, terribly sad.” (29) However, that feeling is most likely nothing in comparison to the amount of grief and sorrow the loss of a parent provokes. With Eriko’s passing came a wave of unsurprising sadness, but this time Yuichi can’t cover it up with his usual jokes and smiles. He instead retreats into depression and eventually hits hikikomori which is, as multiple scholars have noted, “a term that’s also used to describe the young people who withdraw” (Kremer/Hammond). The issue that arises with Yuichi is clearly not healthy for his mental state, but does that qualify his relationship with Mikage as unhealthy as well? While issues in communication are mainly one-sided, Mikage is still willing to travel to Yuichi to drag him out of his funk, repaying the kindness shown to her by both Yuichi and Eriko. This relationship, however, does not rely on a barter system; these two do not trade good deed for good deed. Mikage and Yuichi are friends before anything else, they understand each other on a deeper level and, even when one is sinking into the darkness, they can pull each other back to reality.
As in Kitchen, the protagonists in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are involved in complicated platonic and romantic relationships with each other. Charlie, a high school freshman and stereotypical wallflower, is “adopted” by Samantha and Patrick, two high school seniors that take notice of his isolation and work to rid him of his wallflower status. Though Charlie is just a freshman, Sam and Patrick force him to actively participate in not only his first high school party, but his life. As the professor of psychology at Hanover College, Dr. Skip Dine Young, summarizes, “it is during adolescence that we really begin to construct coherent, lasting stories about the kind of people we are, what we believe and what we value.” Sam and Patrick could be portrayed as good friends; they are simply attempting to break Charlie out of his shell and make him a participant of the real world. There is evidence of this in the Rocky Horror Picture Show in which Charlie is decidedly made Rocky, the character that has to wear basically nothing. Though this garners Charlie a larger friend group and eventually a senior girlfriend, there is some question about exposing Charlie to such a scene. Furthermore, the introduction to the high school party scene also introduces Charlie to drugs and alcohol being recreationally used. It is not Sam and Patrick’s fault that Charlie has anxious tendencies and shows signs of PTSD, but to introduce him to such vices is a dangerous idea. The toxicity of this friendship, at least at the beginning of the novel, comes into question because of their part in introducing Charlie to these vices; however, it seems there is more of a positive outcome than a negative. A review of the character Charlie reveals that “It is when his support group is the strongest that his symptoms subside.” (Bowman) So, at least in the first few parts of the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie establishes somewhat healthy relationships with his peers, a feat he had struggled with in the past.
“So, this is my life,” Though Charlie attempts to inform the reader of the feelings stirring inside, he is incapable of truly describing what is happening within his brain. “And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying figure out how that could be” (11). Charlie does not have an easy life, neither does Sam, and neither does Patrick, but put them all together and somehow they make their lives work. They have fun and do crazy, high-school things, but they’re all hiding something. As The Perks of Being a Wallflower moves into its depths, we discover that Patrick is in a relationship with a closeted jock while Sam is just trying to find a guy that won’t ruin her life. And then there’s Charlie with issues deeper than either other protagonist can understand. There is no question of healthy relationship in the second portion of the novel; these three don’t have one. At least, there is not a healthy relationship between Sam and Charlie or Charlie and Patrick. They encourage “risk-taking behavior,” a trait that Kalila Borghini of GoodTherapy lists as an unhealthy way of coping. Beyond that, they use Charlie for their own risk-taking behaviors; Patrick kisses Charlie after his boyfriend breaks up with him, and Sam allows him to love her while he’s in a relationship with another girl. Even after they use him, they both have the idea that it is somehow his fault, that Charlie should have known better than to follow the lead of the older friends he thought he could trust. Though Sam and Patrick are good friends in the way that they bring Charlie out of his own head, there is a question of if he is there for his own benefit or theirs. One can argue that if that question needs to be asked, the answer is already clear.
Looking at the novella and the novel examined in earlier paragraphs, perhaps it is still not clear how they intersect. The first parallel to be drawn is between Mikage, the female protagonist from Kitchen, and Charlie, the male protagonist from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both Charlie and Mikage find themselves in some kind of debt to their counterparts; while Mikage owes Yuichi for his invitation into his home, Charlie owes Sam and Patrick for their invitation into their friend group. The point here is not to compare what is done for Charlie and Mikage, but rather look at how these two behave as if they owe the people that care for them. There is a sense of guilt shared between the two, even if their fellow characters attempt to eradicate it. Furthermore, these characters deal with the tragedies of their lives in basically the same manner: denial. The ability to put their head down and pretend that they are okay is a shared ability; however, while Mikage must take care of Yuichi, this ability cracks Charlie and he has a complete mental breakdown.
These two are not the only characters that contain similarities as Sam and Patrick line up in an surprising way with Yuichi. Yuichi is obviously depressed, and one could argue there is more of him in Charlie than in Sam and Patrick; however, Yuichi is the counterpart to Mikage like Sam and Patrick are to Charlie. Yuichi exploits Mikage’s willingness to make him happy and though it is not in a malicious way, it is similar to how Sam and Patrick exploit Charlie’s willingness to be the wallflower friend. Kitchen does not paint Yuichi in a negative light because of this nor does Perks, but it is worth noting that these characters are relatable in their ability to almost manipulate the main character. The biggest difference between these novels is the toxicity of the relationships. While Mikage and Yuichi have a generally stable relationship, Charlie does not have such a friendship with Sam and Patrick. Though this could be attributed to a number of varying factors including age and setting, it is feasible to question if the characters themselves are the driving force behind the functionality of these relationships.
The relationships in Kitchen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are, at best, somewhat healthy. However, when presented with tragedy we see how these characters and their relationships are quite different. While Mikage and Yuichi evolve with their tragedy, they never lose sight of assisting and being there for each other. In Perks, we find that Sam, Charlie, and Patrick are incapable of evolving together and instead fall apart when things are tough, only reconciling after the true hardship is over. The toxicity of each, respective relationship cannot be determined through simple comparisons, but when truly examining the characters and their interactions we can see how friends should act, and how they sometimes do.
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When one reads through Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower there are not any striking similarities. The ages of the characters, the trials they […]