The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Image of the Self Essay
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Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel about a 15-year-old boy, Charlie, who is unable to repress any emotions. The novel was first released on 1999 by MTV Books. It has quietly sold nearly half a million copies.1 Stephen Chbosky was born on January 25, 1970 and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He grew up in Upper St. Clair, and graduated from the University of Southern California’s Filmic Writing Program in 1992, which is where he received his Bachelor of the Fine Arts degree.
He is an American novelist, screenwriter and film director. His first film was The Four Corners of Nowhere. He wrote the screenplay for it and also directed it himself. The movie first premiered at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival, which is known for being the largest independent cinema festival in all of the United States. The film has also won Narrative Feature honors at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Stephen Chbosky has also written the screenplay for the film version of Rent, and had been the co-editor and contributor for another play called “Sexaholic.
He is best known for his first novel, “The Perks Of Being a Wallflower.”2 As it turns out, Chbosky said he never meant for his book, “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” to be for adolescents. However, because it focuses on adolescents, critics have viewed it as just that. In an interview with Marty Beckerman, he stated, “people can’t agree to disagree, and people can’t find common ground. The people who object for moral reasons cannot see the value of the book, and the people who see the value of the book don’t realize why it’s upsetting to more religious people.”
Despite the conflicts other people are having with the book, he told Marty in the interview that, “he is very optimistic about literary freedom in America.”3 Today he lives and works in Los Angeles, California and is an active gay rights supporter. He also continues to work on films.4 The book was recently turned into a film. The film stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, Ezra Miller as Patrick, Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth, and many more renowned names. The Perks of Being a Wallflower hit the theaters on September 14, 2012. The movie was released by Summit Entertainment,5 and produced and directed by the author of the book himself, Stephen Chbosky.6
The film was a success to say the least. It received mostly positive reviews from critics – 85% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 150 reviews7, and 67% on Metacritic based on 36 reviews.8
Fifteen-year-old Charlie is coping with the suicide of his friend, Michael. Charlie is starting his first year of high school. This novel is written in letters to an anonymous person, explaining his experiences as they happen. In these letters we learn about his family and friends. He begins his letters off by talking about his friend, Michael who has committed suicide. He describes how much he misses him, and about how he and this other girl, Susan, used to be best friends. However, things change, and she stops talking to Charlie after middle school.
Then he describes his family, which consists of himself, his mom, his father, his brother, and his sister. There are also the outspread relatives that they only see on holidays and his deceased Aunt Helen, who was his favorite person in the whole world. His father, is a very proud and strong man. He has an attitude of whatever he says goes. His mother is usually very quiet and lets her husband handle problems. She is a bit emotional, and loves her children very much. His brother is a freshman at Penn State University, and loves cars and models.
He is now a football player at school and is only seen by Charlie at big events. As for his sister, she and Charlie never seem to really get along. She is a senior in high school and has a secret boyfriend throughout the novel. Her boyfriend becomes a secret due to an incident with her boyfriend hitting her and her parents finding out. They eventually break up because she got pregnant and he dumped her. She graduates second in her class. There is a specific memory that Charlie has when his family was watching the last episode of M*A*S*H and the feeling he got of how everyone was bonding and how much he loved it. He also explains how this bonding hasn’t happened again until everyone gathered around the television to watch Charlie’s brother play football together. At school, Charlie finds a friend and mentor in his English teacher, Bill.
He also overcomes his chronic shyness and approaches a classmate, Patrick, and his stepsister Sam, become two of Charlie’s BFFs. Charlie’s new found friends – Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth and Bob – aren’t exactly popular and are outcasts themselves. They are all seniors and often hang out at the Big Boy except Bob who doesn’t go to school. During the course of the school year, Charlie has his first date and his first kiss, he deals with bullies, he experiments with drugs and drinking, and he makes friends, loses them, and gains them back. Sam and Patrick smoke very often. Charlie likes Sam a lot but she begins to date an older boy named Craig, until she learns he has been cheating on her the whole time.
Craig’s friend, Peter, told him enough was enough and that if Craig didn’t tell Sam, he would. He ended up telling her and they broke up. Patrick is homosexual. His partner, Brad, is a closeted homosexual that has to abuse drugs and alcohol to be with Patrick. Brad’s father finds out and beats him, this caused Brad and Patrick’s relationship to end. Patrick was heartbroken causing him to constantly go out to places to pick up men, or to just drink. He drags Charlie along and at one point he even kisses him, and Charlie did nothing to stop him.
Mary Elizabeth is in charge of the Rocky Horror Picture Show that her, Patrick, Craig, Sam, and a great amount of other people perform in, and of her school newspaper. She is Sam’s best friend and she talks a lot. She went out with Charlie for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. It becomes more of a one sided relationship, where Mary Elizabeth is doing all the talking, and Charlie is just there. He doesn’t want to be with her anymore, and picks the worst way to express this to her. One night, while the group of friends was playing truth or dare, Patrick had dared Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. That’s when Charlie got up, with Mary Elizabeth right next to him, walked over and kissed Sam. It was a messy ending.
The last one is Bob, and he is the groups weed supplier. Charlie had his first experience with weed from him; he later begins smoking a great deal of it as well as cigarettes. Charlie is the only freshmen of the group and it is clear he has some depression issues especially around Christmas time, when he remembers how his Aunt Helen passed away. She had gone out to buy Charlie a birthday gift as she does every year, but this time, she got hit by a car and died instantly. He is also a very bright freshman according to his English advance teacher, Bill. Bill often gives Charlie books to read because he says Charlie is smarter then all the other kids and can handle more work. Charlie also loves music very much and it shows all throughout the book, especially with his favorite song ”Asleep.” There is a time when Patrick, Sam and him are in the car driving and he describes this feeling as being infinite.
Throughout the novel Charlie learns much about himself, dealing with love, alienation, depression, and mental instability. Charlie has a relatively stable home life, though, with supportive, if distant, parents to fall back on. Unfortunately, a disturbing family secret that Charlie has repressed for his entire life surfaces at the end of the school year. He comes to realize that he had been molested by her and that is why he ends up going back to the same hospital he was in when he was seven years old, around the time his Aunt Helen died. His friends come to visit him, but he doesn’t acknowledge anyone, not even Patrick.
Charlie’s final letter closes with feelings of hope: getting released from the hospital, forgiving his aunt Helen for what she did to him, finding new friends during sophomore year, and trying his best not to be a wallflower. Charlie hopes to get out of his head and into the real world, participating in life instead of just watching it fly by. 9 10
I first heard of the book just last year, around more/less a month before the movie was released. I’ve heard about the book from friends who have finished reading it. After all the positive feedbacks, I’ve decided to give the book a try. So I did, and I didn’t regret doing so.
As I started reading the book, I initially felt weird and confused because the book is filled with letters. At first I thought that it was just for a few pages, so I decided to quickly scan the book, then did I realize that the book really is a compilation of letters.
The book is very well written. I didn’t encounter any grammatical and spelling errors. And I give props to Stephen Chbosky, who was 29 years old on 1999, for writing the book in a way and manner than teenagers could understand.
For me, the book is about many things. It is not only about growing up, it is also about the society and how they perceive teenagers. It is also about the overwhelming feeling of our firsts – love, friends, addiction, etc.
Even though the book’s characters are almost completely teenagers, the book itself is not only for teenagers. Adults can also read the book, and understand the message the author is trying to send us.
Overall, the book is just great. Any person who is as lost as Charlie is would definitely understand the story, not only by heart, but also by the soul/spirit.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a deeply affecting coming-of0age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.”11 This was the exact description written at the back of the book. Being the very first novel of Stephen Chbosky, it is quite a shocker that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has been critically acclaimed. The Perks of Being a Wallflower may have been written to target teenagers, but it’s mature content attracts adults to read the book as well. To quote Denise Kersten’s review: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower is part of an MTV Books series that targets teen-age readers. But it is more mature than most young adult literature and can be enjoyed by older readers as well.” Another review by the School Library Journal states that the book will stay on the readers’ life for years to come, unlike other ‘popular’ books that can easily be forgotten as time passes by.
To quote: “Charlie develops from an observant wallflower into his own man of action, and, with the help of a therapist, he begins to face the sexual abuse he had experienced as a child. This report on his life will engage teen readers for years to come.”12 What is a wallflower? According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a wallflower is a person who is shy or unpopular and who stand or sits apart from other people at a dance or party.13 Given the definition, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about the perks brought about by being an unpopular or introverted student. And it really is about that. Charlie’s clique is composed of unpopular kids. But given that they are unpopular, they are still having the best times of their life.
The easiest comparison is that of Brad and Patrick. Both are homosexuals but the only difference is that Brad is a popular kid and Patrick isn’t. Not being a popular kid, Patrick is an open gay. He freely shows the world what he is, proud and without shame. Brad, on the other hand, is a closet gay. This is because he thinks that being gay will just destroy his credibility as the school’s quarterback, thus lessening his popularity. This is one of the many perks of being a wallflower. You are free to be yourself without people minding and/or judging you. Another perk of being a wallflower is experience. As a wallflower, Charlie was able to try many different things. Even though some of which are not-so-good things, at the end of the day, he learned, and this is what’s great about experiencing things, we learn from them. But then of course, too much of everything is bad.
This can also be seen in the movie wherein some characters have too much drugs, alcohol, sex, and many more. But just like what I’ve said a while ago, the more important thing is that we learn from our experiences and mistakes. This story is about a molested child. It always breaks my heart whenever I read about children being abused and/or molested. Coincidentally, before I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I read Fifty Shades of Grey, which was also about a grown man who was sexually abused when he was a child.
Though their experience in the past affected who they grew up to be, the difference between Charlie and Christian Grey is that Charlie put himself away from society, while Christian thrived for the society to notice him. This story shows how Charlie tried his best to rise up from his past. He was half successful in doing so by blocking the negative event – him being molested by his Aunt Helen – in his memory.
This worked for quite a while but Sam freed this memory when she tried to do things with Charlie. This is just one example of the ever-so-cliché saying, “Love sets us free.” Though this memory was free, he was again able to fight it because this time around, he has his parents and true friends who are fighting with him. All in all, the image of the self portrayed in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is someone who is constantly fighting his own self to become a better individual. Not only did Charlie become a better person, he also became a honed individual.
His experiences in life made him appreciate everything and everyone around him. This self, in my own opinion, is the self that all of us should become – someone who is constantly thriving, if not for perfection, for betterment. Someone who will do anything to become a better individual not only for his own, but also for those he loves and those who love him.
Charlie was broken as a child when the only person he thought loved him truthfully, molested him. He was also broken all throughout the story because his parents who were supposed to comfort him do not know anything, even though it doesn’t seem like it because he was able to cage all of his negative memories. But when his negative memories were freed, he wasn’t able to control himself, and all of the emotions he kept to himself showed. Then again, he was able to regain his normal self. But this time around, he didn’t block his memories; instead he fought them and the nightmares they cause, because now he has people fighting with him – his family and his friends.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is not a feel-good novel to say the least. It is something the will open our eyes and minds to the reality of this world. It is what some people refer to as reality fiction. It is something, I think, everyone can relate to. And I strongly believe that the kind of person Charlie is is the kind of person we should become – a fighter.
Beckerman, M. ”An interview with Stephen Chbosky.” Word Riot. Accessed October 11, 2013. http://www.wordriot.org/template.php?ID=552 Chboksy, S. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Great Britain: Simon & Schuster, 1999. back cover. Google Books. “Stephen Chbosky’s Biogrpahy.” Accessed on October 11, 2013. https://sites.google.com/site/theperksofbeingawallflower123/biography Google Books. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Accessed on October 14, 2013.