Sunday, October 17, 2010

the perks of being a wallflower

the perks of being a wallflower (lack of capitalization intentional) by Stephen Chbosky is an unusual look at what happens to a person who observes life rather than participates in it. The story is told through a series of letters from the main character to an unnamed person he calls "Friend." "Charlie" (the presumably fake name the protagonist gives himself) does not directly know this person, but states that "I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have" (2).
Charlie is writing letters as a way of showing someone his life. He is about to start high school, and his best friend recently killed himself. As a result, he is even more isolated than he usually is because of his often standoffish and awkward personality. However, due to a chance encounter at a football game, he soon becomes friends with two seniors, whom he refers to as Patrick and Sam. As he grows closer to them, Charlie is introduced to a new social scene filled with drugs, sex, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Though he dabbles in some drugs, Charlie never develops a problem from this rather counterculture scene, in keeping with his status and observer rather than participant in his life.
His letters often detail the activities and problems of his friends, whom he cares for deeply, even developing a crush on Sam. Patrick, as a gay man living in a largely homophobic community, struggles with the need to keep his relationship with his boyfriend a secret. Sam, purportedly due to low self-esteem, dates an older college student who cheats on her. Charlie shows a deep concern for his friends, but does not often focus on his own goals or desires.
Eventually, Sam attempts to help Charlie change this about himself, inadvertently causing him to uncover a repressed memory that shakes his world and causes him to suffer a mental breakdown. The strong support and love he feels from his family and friends as he tries to recover prompts Charlie to take charge of his own life. He writes in his last letter that “I’m not sure if I will have time to write any more letters because I might be too busy trying to ‘participate’” (213).

One of the most prevalent themes in this story is the necessity of being proactive throughout life. What do you feel are some benefits or consequences of the alternative- being an “observer,” such as Charlie initially is?

Due to its audience of young adults, this epistolary has been considered controversial for its portrayal of homosexuality, drugs, alcohol, suicide, et cetera. Do you believe that books should be censored for the safety of readers, or that the work should remain as realistic as the author intended it?

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