The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a modern classic, written by Stephen Chbosky, an American writer. The book was first published in 1999 and was later adapted into a film, which was released in 2012. It is a coming-of-age story, which touches on first love, loss, mental illness, and self-discovery. Plot The story is told from the perspective of 15-year-old Charlie, in a series of letters, which he writes to an anonymous recipient, about his life as he enters his freshman year of high school. It is not known as to whom exactly he writes to, nor is there a single reply that he gets back from the person. This makes the book more or else a collection of diary entries in which we get to know about the protagonist and his thoughts,views, and life. He begins by relating a recent tragedy which occurred in his life; his best friend, Michael, had committed suicide the previous year. He describes the desolation he felt when he received the news, and the confusion he felt as to why Michael did not even leave a note. He then goes on to talk about his late aunt named Helen, who died in a car crash when he was 7 years old. He is trying to cope with these two deaths as he writes his first letter, and he then ends it off with the admission that he is starting high school the following day and that he is afraid of going.

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From then on, Charlie's letters are about his days as he navigates high school, and although he is initially anxious, he soon finds comfort in his teacher, Bill Anderson, who soon becomes his trusted confidant, and his newfound friends, Patrick and Sam, two seniors who are step-siblings, who integrate him into their group of friends. The three of them soon form a close-knit trio. The entire school year passes in a whirlwind of events. In terms of relationships and first loves, Charlie realises he has a crush on Sam, and tells her. She merely treats him fondly, saying he is too young for her. Charlie eventually gets together with Mary Elizabeth, a girl who is in their friendship circle. However, things do not work out, and they break up. As for Patrick, he is gay and in a secret relationship with closeted quarterback of the football team. When Brad's father finds out about his relationship with Patrick, he beats up his son and sends him to undergo rehabilitation. This causes Brad to withdraw from Patrick and verbally abuse him. They break up after a physical fight which breaks out between them. Patrick is initially depressed, but eventually finds a way to move on. Sam gets together with a boy named Craig, but eventually finds out that he has been cheating on her the whole time.

Charlie's sister is in an abusive relationship with a boy and gets pregnant. She undergoes an abortion without the knowledge of her parents. In terms of family, Charlie's is dysfunctional, yet the underlying love between each member is evident. While it may appear as though he has a distant relationship with his parents and siblings, he does, in fact, have an established bond with them which becomes increasingly clear as the story progresses. For instance, despite the on-the-surface cold relationship between Charlie and his sister, she trusts him enough to ask him to accompany her to the clinic for her abortion to be carried out. As for the aspect on mental illness, Charlie battles with his depression and anxiety throughout the book. He would often get flashbacks of the time he had with Aunt Helen, which would resurface every now and then. The climax of the book, oddly enough, would have to be towards the end, to the point to which all these flashbacks have been leading to right from the start. It is the point at which the memories of him being molested by his Aunt Helen are triggered, and this fact comes as a harsh surprise, to not only the reader, but to himself as well.

We come to realise that Charlie has repressed this series of memories- immediately filed them away to a not-easily-accessible part of his brain, after every occurence. He eventually gets admitted to the hospital for two months and undergoes therapy sessions to help him come to terms with his long-felt grief, along with recovery. He comes out of therapy with a much more positive outlook on life, without any desire to blame anyone for his mental disorders, and chooses to look forward. In his last letter, we see that Charlie has finally managed to put things into clear perspective; his thoughts are no longer clouded by fear or anxiety. He finally feels liberated, for he has faced his demons head on.

Characters Charlie (Narrator): Charlie is a 'wallflower'. As the narrator of the story, he is a silent onlooker, always a witness to everything and everyone around him, quietly observing, but never participating in things himself. As his teacher and confidant, Bill, puts it, he uses thought to not participate in life. He watches people and forms opinions and thoughts about them, but he himself never goes to dances, or on dates, to put himself in the situations of the people whom he surveys. He is always in the background, and is not often noticed by many. He has had a rough childhood, with certain traumatic experiences which have led him to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression as well, which have inadvertently shaped him to be the person he is throughout the course of the story, which is mostly reserved and complaisant. When it comes to relating the days' events, he is extremely earnest, thoughtful and honest. He feels things deeply and in their entirety, which makes his accounts so captivating. For instance, about the girl he used to know in middle school and the way her looks and personality changed over the summer, he observes that she does not look as happy or lively as she used to be. He looks at her and feels sad because they were friends by association with Michael, his late best friend, and he knows how smart and fun she is but is clearly living a lie by concealing her intelligence and true nature.

Such a thing likely would not matter so much to someone else, but to Charlie, it does, because he feels things on behalf of others. He looks at people and sympathises and hopes they are happy although he knows deep down that many are not because that is just how high school is; the trials of adolescence spare no teenager. However, the way Charlie perceives the relationships between people and events that he witnesses suggests that he senses a lot of unhappiness around him, and this makes the reader wonder what has made him this way. It comes to light soon enough that Charlie has beared witness to or experienced certain incidents in his past which has, in a way, damaged him. There was this time when he was about 12 years old, during a party which thrown by his elder brother at their house when his parents were away, he ended up witnessing an incident of rape. Charlie himself, caught in the same room as them, did not have the courage to speak up or protest. This, being a traumatic experience for him, would also serve as an example of his passivity. Nearing the end of the story, we eventually come to find out that Charlie had been molested by his aunt Helen when he was younger and nobody knew. Meanwhile, Charlie had put the memory of it ever happening to the back of his head but it has, evidently, subconsciously affected him, which has led to the eternal conversations he holds in his head, his indescribable feelings of sadness, and the way he has to keep himself occupied at times when he feels like anxiety is about to hit. However, despite all of that, Charlie's emotional growth is evident as the novel progresses, for he learns how to be a conscious participant in life, and not remain as a bystander forever. It is his experiences which slowly push him to mature emotionally, and not rely on the coping mechanism he has cooked up for himself- to passively let things bypass him. Patrick Patrick is a senior, and is Charlie's friend. He is loyal and a steady pillar of support for Charlie. However, he is unable to extend the same support to himself. He is unable to be kind to himself when it comes to needing to deal with issues himself.

As a result, he goes down an unhealthy path of self-destructive behaviour when he breaks up with Brad, and tortures himself by making out he is alright, yet doing absurd things like kissing Charlie. He does not face his sadness head on, and instead does all in his power to evade it. When he eventually pulls himself together, that is when he grows emotionally as well, because he finally truly realises his worth. Sam Sam is a highschool senior, Patrick's step-sister, and Charlie's friend and love interest. She is described by Charlie to be somewhat perfect. This is not surprising, considering how he adores her, and eventually realises that he loves her as well. However, Sam has her fair share of trials and tribulations as well. When she was younger, she was abused, sexually, just like Charlie was. It is the reason why she kisses him at at one point because she wants his first kiss to be from a person who genuinely loves him. Despite this fact, she fails to see how they could be together in a relationship if Charlie is one who does not know how to openly demonstrate his love for her like she wants him to. Perhaps it is the moment during which she tells him this that serves as wake-up call for him to no longer sit back and let others take centre-stage, but instead, grab at opportunities as they come by. It is through Sam that Charlie slowly understands the concept of being able to give and receive love equally, and this helps him tremendously as he journeys toward self-growth. Setting The story is set in the early 1990s, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the heart of suburbia. This was the time period in which the story was written, and the area in which the writer was born. Figurative language Metaphors A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action, to which it is not literally applicable.

Perhaps it would be one of the most famous quotes in the book- the line, "I feel infinite." This was said by Charlie as he rode through a tunnel during a car ride with Sam and Patrick, at the end of an amazing song which was playing. He put it so simply, yet the three words hold much meaning within them. He meant that in that moment, anything seemed possible, he was not being held back by a thing, not his depression, not his past, not even his fears. It was such an important moment when he said that because for the first time, there is truly hope that he will turn out to be fine in the end, despite all the trouble he faces. He said this another time at the very end of the book, "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.", and this time, it is an affirmation that he has truly been freed from that which restrained him before. The metaphor of infinity is used, in both cases, to symbolise the vastness of what is out there, and how small Charlie, as a person, is in comparison to everything else. It serves a reminder of hope for him as a character, because ultimately, he can do anything he wishes to if he sets his mind to it, including overriding the shortcomings in his nature and breaking free from his depressive state. Another metaphor used would be the line Bill said as he gave Charlie one of his books titled 'The Fountainhead', to read and analyse. He tells him, "Try to be a filter, not a sponge." This metaphor initially makes him confused as to what his teacher means, and while reading the book, he grows increasingly frustrated with its complexity. However, the meaning of it fades into view after a while, and it essentially means, 'to not simply mindlessly absorb everything that is read, but to be discerning enough to be able to retain the better parts of the read'. As an avid reader and aspiring writer, Charlie gains some valuable advice from this metaphor, which he ought to apply to basically every book he reads, not to mention certain parts of his life as well. For instance, friends he makes. He ought to learn from the best parts of their characters, and not automatically emulate their every move, because every person has his flaws.

There is an instance where Patrick describes Charlie to be a 'wallflower'. He goes on to say, "You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand." The statement, "He's a wallflower.", makes use of a metaphor. The word 'wallflower' itself is informal, but in essence, it is, in a way, a perfect description of Charlie, because he is shy, reserved, and does not say much, but is a good listener and friend.PersonificationPersonification is the attribution of human traits or qualities to an inanimate object, or something which is not human in nature. There is a point where Charlie claims, “And my mind played hopscotch.” This is a form of personification which also makes use of a metaphor. It is significant at this juncture, as he states it to describe the emotional turmoil which surfaces as he recalls the stressful events which had taken place prior. It effectively describes what occurs in his mind when he loses control of his thoughts. He is hit by various memories and feelings, which may not necessarily be in sequence, or related to be considered as connecting events. This is similar to if one were to play hopscotch.

The mind is likened to the person who would jump from one square to another, which are not side by side, and he may even have to skip a space. This sudden thought process causes him to pass out, and it signifies the gravity of his condition- that it is not to be regarded lightly and that it could cause potential harm to him. Symbolism Symbolism is the use of symbolic imagery to convey a specific idea; a symbol is used to represent something more than just its original meaning.The most obvious form of symbolism in the book would be the fact that the entire story Charlie narrates is in the form of letters. This is crucial to understanding Charlie in depth. The letters serve as an outlet of expression for him. It is a means for him to figure out himself and translate his thought-spiral into words. He is not simply telling a story in vain. The letters are not hastily written pieces of scrap, but well-thought-out representations of his constant introspection; writing them is a way for him sort his thoughts out. He has a purpose, which is to share his days' events with the recipient. The anonymity of him to the recipient of the letters allows him to be open about what he writes. This allows us to gain a first-hand view into his life, and as such, comprehend his character. Every letter begins with "Dear Friend" and ends off with "Love always, Charlie". This coaxes us into making comparisons with a typical diary and view this compilation of letters as such, in which we gain insight into the character's innermost thoughts, desires, fears and insecurities. Hyperbole Hyperboles are exaggerated statements or claims, which are not meant to be taken literally. Use of a hyperbole can be seen when Charlie's sister defends her abusive boyfriend. She says, "He's my whole world." This is undoubtedly said in the heat of the moment, but it shows how dependent she has become on the relationship up to that point, that she considers herself to have nothing if not for him. Representation of reality The novel may be a work of fiction, but it is, in fact, based on the author's personal life experiences. The line 'We accept the love we think we deserve.", mentioned by Bill in the book, was actually the author's answer to his own question as to why people of good hearts allow themselves to be treated poorly. He started writing the book when he was in college, and it ended up being a compilation of his personal memories from when he used to live in Pittsburgh, alternate versions of people he used to know, and his own struggles as he pulled himself through a breakup. The character Sam was based on girls who opened their heart to him, and Patrick was based on every gay teenager he knew of who was grappling with his or her self-identity. As a result, it is a book with which many of teenagers can relate to based on their own lives' events. World-view The story is one which allows us to relive our teenage years and relate to it on a personal level. Not everyone can be popular. There are always going to be the misfits, be it at highschool or the workforce. The story allows us to see things from a unique perspective, one which perhaps, many of us can, in fact, relate to, because at some point in our lives, we were all wallflowers. There have been times when we have watched from the sidelines, without any intention of participating ourselves. This book makes us realise how important it is that we make a conscious effort to avoid doing so. It makes us realise that our actions matter, and if things do not go right, what matters is that we tried. Charlie's passiveness, while initially seeming to be just a part of his character, over time becomes something which he needs to work on. It becomes apparent that his 'doormat-nature' is not something to be embraced, but to be considered as a shortcoming, because it prevents him from living life to the fullest. As such, we, as readers are forced to relook our own characters and ponder over our personal character flaws which hold us back from reaching our fullest potential.

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The value of acceptance, or rather, at times, the lack of it, is woven strongly throughout the novel. Firstly, acceptance towards self. Charlie visibly battles the demons of his past throughout the story, and the only way he managed to overcome them was to get help and confront them head-on. Only then was he able to break free from chains of his traumatic past to focus on the present. It shows how in order to move on, one must accept themselves for who they are, including their flaws and ugly experiences, because every single one moulds us into the person we eventually turn out to be. As for Brad, he was unable to openly accept himself as a gay teenager, and chose to conceal his sexuality. Given the presence of his abusive father, this is not to be pinpointed at. However, he is, in fact, living a lie, because essentially, he is a stranger is his own skin. This is where acceptance of others comes into play. It is immensely important that we let go of preconceived prejudices to adopt an open mindset, because hate and denial are not feelings which we should advocate or harbour in such a day and age as we all strive for a more inclusive society as a whole. Although the novel was written and published in the 90s, it still remains ever so relevant to date.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Review. (2019, August 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 28, 2023, from
“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower Review.” GradesFixer, 27 Aug. 2019,
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