Stephen Chbosky
Coming of Age Motif in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
(June 2014) In this literary criticism, L.S. analyzes Charlie’s acceptance of his sexual assault and how the traumatic experience contributes to the character’s overall development and the coming of age motif in Stephen Chbosky’s novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Throughout the course of the novel, the main character and narrator, Charlie, has trouble interacting in social situations. He is specifically unsure about how to act during situations that involve any type of sexual activity. It becomes clear as to why Charlie is uncomfortable with becoming sexually involved with his love, Sam, when a horrifying dream reveals the heart wrenching truth about his beloved aunt Helen and the heinous ways she would violate him when he was young. This dream that turns ever so real causes Charlie to go into a coma-like state and his parents are forced to enter him into the mental institute where he had to go after his aunt passed away.

The dream that Charlie had contributes to his acceptance of the sexual assault and the motif of coming of age because the dream is initiated when he and Sam are about to engage in sexual intercourse. The dream awakens Charlie to a new and disturbing view about the nights he spent watching TV with his aunt:
“When I fell asleep, I had this dream. My brother and my sister and I were watching television with my Aunt Helen. Everything was in slow motion. The sound was thick. And she was doing what Sam was doing. That’s when I woke up. And I didn’t know what the hell was going on.” (Chbosky 204)
Charlie’s initial reaction to the dream is a coma-like state because the thought of this being true is too over whelming for him to bear because he loved his aunt very much. Charlie’s shocked state of mind is the start of his acceptance of the traumatic experience.
“I’ve been at the hospital for the past two months. They just released me yesterday. The doctor told me that my mother and father found me sitting on the couch in the family room. I was completely naked, just watching the television, which wasn’t on. I wouldn’t speak or snap out of it, they said. My father even slapped me to wake me up, and like I told you, he never hits. But it didn’t work. So, they brought me to the hospital where I stayed at when I was seven after my aunt Helen died.” (Chbosky 208)
This traumatic experience not only impacted Charlie but they impacted other members of his family was well. “The hardest part was sitting in the doctor’s office when the doctor told my mom and dad what had happened. I have never seen my mother cry so much. Or my father look so angry. Because they didn’t know it was happening when it was.” (Chbosky 209) This scene exemplifies Charlie’s coming to terms with his aunt Helen. By recognizing his family’s pain in the situation Charlie is able to express his own emotions that allow him to overcome the awful memory.

Charlie being able to work through the psychological and physical confusion and pain of the memory he is able to carry on. “But the doctor had helped me work out a lot of things since then. About my aunt Helen. And about my family. And friends. And me. There are a lot of stages to these kinds of things, and she was really great through all of them.” (Chbosky 209) Charlie’s character reaches his full development when he begins to ponder different scenarios in his head about his mother’s life and his aunt Helen’s life and the cycle of abuse:
“I guess there could always be someone to blame. Maybe if my grandfather didn’t hit her, my mom wouldn’t be so quiet. And maybe she wouldn’t have married my dad because he doesn’t hit. And maybe I would never have been born. But I’m very glad to be born, so I don’t know what to say about it all especially since my mom seems happy with her life, and I don’t know what else there is to want.

It’s like if I blamed my aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him. And God for not stopping all this and things that are much worse. And I did do that for a while, but then I just couldn’t anymore. Because it wasn’t going anywhere. Because it wasn’t the point.” (Chbosky 211)
The coming of age motif is resembled when Charlie realizes that blaming other people for their horrendous actions will not make them disappear. He accepts that Aunt Helen molested him and comes to terms with it. This scene signifies his growth as a character and the transition from adolescence into adulthood. “So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” (Chbosky 211)

The coming of age motif is finalized when Charlie accepts his identity as a person, but also as a victim of sexual assault. Charlie concludes his story by acknowledging the importance of the situation but also not allowing it to hold him back. The assault is what he had to overcome in order to mature into adulthood, without acceptance he could not move forward.

(L.S. 2014)



Self-Discovery Theme in Perks of Being a Wallflower
In this literary criticism, M.D analyzes a very common yet important theme explored in this book, something that is also very prevalent when connecting such works to life in general. Perks of Being a Wallflower discusses the discovering and acceptance of oneself, and realizing the significance of the privilege of simply being alive.
The first page of this book reveals the complicated and complex mind of Charlie. “So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be,” (Chbosky 2). A complicated mind such as Charlie’s can only lead to complicated everything, from relationships to emotions to family life, and so on. It is evident more and more as the book continues how special Charlie’s mind is; he over analyzes almost every aspect of life, he carefully studies the simplest details of those around him, and his emotions spiral from high to low constantly. Such a complex mind eventually leads to Charlie’s struggle with understanding who he is and his overall purpose in life.
Charlie’s early school experiences allow him to meet some very crucial people, people who notice his complex but special ways and also accept him. Entering high school for the first time, Charlie’s awkwardness made it difficult for him to find out where he belongs. Charlie’s English teacher, Bill, immediately recognizes his inquisitive mind. Bill supplied Charlie with more books to read and analyze to keep his curious mind occupied. By the end of the book, Bill even points out his motive for doing this was because Charlie was one of the most gifted people he has ever met, not just student wise but in general (181). Additionally, Charlie was able to find his place in school by discovering Patrick and Sam, two people who grew to be not only his best friends but two of the most important people in Charlie’s life. Patrick and Sam’s early recognition of Charlie’s special mind slowly contribute to Charlie accepting himself. As early as Charlie’s first party with his two friends, Patrick points out how Charlie is “a wallflower” and how he “see’s things, keeps quiet about them, and understands,” (37). Charlie’s relationships with Sam and Patrick allow his true caringness and love for his friends to show; he analyzes the simplest details of his friends as if they are the most special things in existence. He acquires sentimental gifts for his friends and will do anything necessary for their well being. These once positive traits of Charlie will later contribute to his downfall as all Charlie does is think of others and ponder their emotions and actions instead of worrying about what he wants and discovering his emotions. Overall, while Bill is able to bring out Charlie’s inquisitive mind, the relationships with Sam and Patrick allow Charlie’s social and emotional relationships to flourish.
Romantic relationships are often connected to the theme of discovering oneself; one cannot truly be with someone else if they do not know who they are. Charlie’s close bond with his best friend Sam causes his true love for her to grow. Charlie’s complex mind allows him to think deeply about every detail of Sam, from her hair to her favorite music to how free she looks when she stands in the back of Patrick’s truck as they pass through the tunnel at night. Charlie is able to comprehend those details, but when it comes to the social aspect of a relationship, such as communication and balancing out each other’s wants, Charlie lacks greatly throughout the book. Charlie’s first somewhat of a girlfriend, Mary Elizabeth, is a self absorbed girl who truly meant well but needed someone to challenge her outspoken ways. Charlie never did what he wanted in that relationship, causing him to mess up many things as a result. When Patrick’s complicated and secret relationship with a student named Brad took a turn for the worse, Charlie did anything for Patrick to help him cope, even if it meant allowing Patrick to harmlessly kiss him. Although extremely thoughtful and selfless, Charlie did not discover till the end that in order to find himself, he needed to take control of his relationships with people and focus on his wants as well as the wants of others. At the end of the book, Sam allows Charlie to realize the true importance of this: “‘It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody's lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things,’” (200). Ultimately, when it comes to discovering oneself, the relationships one has with others plays a huge role. Charlie’s submissive behavior when it came to his emotions and relationships made it increasingly difficult for him to find his true self.
Charlie’s journey of self-discovery truly comes down to his special mind. Charlie always would question “why”, and never could accept plain and simple things as they were. The final thoughts of Charlie involved him sitting in the back of Patrick’s truck, driving through the tunnel. At that very moment Charlie was able to accept the simple fact that he was there, he was alive, and that is all that mattered. “And I was really there. And that was enough to make me feel infinite,” (213). This final connection Charlie is able to make at the end emphasizes a crucial, and arguably one of the most important themes in the book which is self discovery and the significance of being alive. This, as well as developed theme, is able to contribute to Chbosky’s overall meaning of this work which is the acceptance of special minds like Charlie’s and how important it is that everyone is able to find themselves in this world and not always search for a deeper meaning for every aspect of life.
One can simply read Perks of Being a Wallflower and find it be a cliché novel about a teenager struggling to fit in with the high school status quo. A deeper analyzation of this work reveals a much more powerful theme that unravels the meaning of the work as a whole while also connecting to real world struggles. This piece develops the inquisitive, special boy named Charlie and his long journey through self-discovery. By describing Charlie’s free-flowing yet complex mind, his relationships with those around him, and his rapid change in emotions, Chbosky is able to bring to light the significance of accepting oneself while also making prominent the importance of simply being alive.

(M.D 2016)