Friday, October 30, 2020

By the Books: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ ages with next generation

By Mahpharah Khan

“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that.”

Yes Charlie, every teen has felt like that many times.

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, a freshman in high school. He writes to us, the reader, staying anonymous while also being deeply personal about his life and how it has affected him. He is kind, diffident and a bit socially awkward but when he meets seniors Patrick and Sam, they take an interest in him. They befriend Charlie and make him feel seen and loved for the first time since he was a young boy.

Chbosky’s novel resonates among young audiences because of its honesty and relatability; it is an ultimate reflection of life’s realities. While the novel does carry heavy emotions, it is essential for teens to read because of its candid discussions around trauma, new experiences and dealing with friendships, love and heartbreak.

This novel is especially conscious of toxic familial patterns and the difficulties that are involved with one’s mental health. Problems with masculinity arise not even 10 pages into the book. The men in Charlie’s family are not allowed to show emotion; if they do show emotion, it is in private — meaning that vulnerability is a secret.

“I walked to the kitchen, and I saw my dad making a sandwich… and crying. He was crying harder than even my mom,” Charlie states. “And I couldn’t believe it. Then, he walked up, patted my shoulder, and said, ‘This is our little secret, okay, champ?’”

Throughout the novel, Charlie is evidently emotional and is not afraid to show it. This is a great example for young boys now, because it conveys to them that emotion is not a weakness. Charlie’s sadness stems from his trauma that we learn about later in the story, but he shows that he is able to make friends and have fun without pretending to be a “manly man”–– in other words, a man with little to no emotion.

“I walked to the kitchen, and I saw my dad making a sandwich… and crying. He was crying harder than even my mom,” Charlie states. “And I couldn’t believe it. Then, he walked up, patted my shoulder, and said, ‘This is our little secret, okay, champ?’”

Throughout the novel, Charlie is evidently emotional and is not afraid to show it. This is a great example for young boys now, because it conveys to them that emotion is not a weakness. Charlie’s sadness stems from his trauma that we learn about later in the story, but he shows that he is able to make friends and have fun without pretending to be a “manly man”–– in other words, a man with little to no emotion.

Another pivotal lesson Chbosky teaches us is the kind of treatment we accept from others.

“Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.”

Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, says this to him when he expresses concern about his sister’s boyfriend.

“My sister goes crazy if you eat the wrong kind of tuna, but here was this guy hitting her, and she didn’t say anything. She just got soft and nice. And I could see my sister putting up with it.”

Chbosky reveals that Charlie’s family has a history of domestic abuse. His Aunt Helen has numerous boyfriends that hit her, and with Charlie’s dad, his parents hit him and his siblings when they were children. When one experiences this physical violence, they internalize it and subconsciously start to believe they deserve it. This is because by some, hitting or slapping is seen as a means to “correct bad behavior” from childhood.

Through Charlie’s family, Chbosky emphasizes the danger in being unaware of toxic familial patterns, as well as how easy it is to fall into it. It’s crucial to be aware of the patterns one can easily repeat because it will save them years, or perhaps decades of pain.

Although The Perks of Being a Wallflower does talk about heavy subject matters, there are funny, loving and lighthearted moments. Charlie is learning how to navigate high school while trying to cope with his own demons, and with Sam and Patrick’s friendship, he is able to cope with the troubling parts of his life. It can be especially hard to adapt to new experiences when one is thrown into an environment where they don’t know anything about anybody or their surroundings.

This is not only relatable to teens; it is also relatable to young adults entering college for the first time. The lack of a high school structure and entering a new place, meeting new people can be intimidating for many college freshmen.

Nina Serafini is an English Literature, Creative Writing and Language Arts major. She entered her freshman year fall 2019 and relates to feeling misplaced, much like Charlie did his freshman year of high school.

“I had zero friends basically. I hated being away from my house and my parents. I hated my roommate. The only thing I liked were my classes,” Serafini said. “Honestly, the whole reason why I’m so into getting my work done the best I can is because that was what I put myself into freshman year because I had nothing else to do.”

Serafini explains that the best way one can confront their nervousness about new experiences is to try everything:

“I hate to say this but I think the best way to handle this is to just get yourself out there. So I think being around other people will get you comfortable enough,” Serafini said.

Throwing oneself into a new social crowd can be daunting, but it can also hold us back from forming genuine connections with each other. The Perks of Being a Wallflower demonstrates this nervousness through Charlie; the novel is an ultimate reflection of life’s difficulties and how we are able to overcome them.

In the end, Charlie conveys that life cannot be purely happy and magical at all times –– the good times are what makes us appreciate our existence, and for the time spent in those good moments, it is enough for the time being.

“So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough. And I will believe the same about you.”

 

 

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