Passivity Vs. Passion
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is by no means a typical narrative. Taking the form of an epistolary novel presented as a series of letters from a boy who calls himself Charlie, but notes that he will change names and minor details so for the sake of his anonymity, the short novel tackles themes such as pedophilia, drug use, depression, abortion and many more complex issues. Stuck in the middle of the mix is a young boy who certainly is not the archetypal protagonist, the novel's wallflower. Subjected to witness the hardships of those around him, he rarely goes out on a limb to achieve much gratification for himself, remaining socially dormant instead. However, in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, author Stephen Chbosky uses the outside influence of art to inspire Charlie's transition from passivity to interaction.
Because he spends almost his entire life observing others rather than interacting with them, it is doubtful that Charlie realizes very much about himself. This is why he is able to have such incredible depth as a freshman in high school, pondering things such as the idea of property after having seen a girl wearing her boyfriend's letterman's jacket. He questions many things, such as mathematics, though his teacher eventually tells him to stop asking "why?" and to simply memorize the formulas--which he does, resulting in his earning an A in the class. But most of all, he is a great friend, the kind that would let his gay friend--scorn from a lost lover--kiss him goodnight, because "thats what friends are for"(161).
There are many characters in the book who introduce Charlie to new and different art forms. Most notable in the bunch is his English teacher, with whom he is on a first name basis. Bill asks to speak to him after class one day early in the school year and informs him that he will introduce to Charlie many more books than he will to the rest of the class. When Charlie finishes each book he is to write an essay for Bill, which will be graded for Charlie's sake, though these grades have no effect on Charlie's overall grade in the class, as he typically earns a C on many of the first essays he turns in to Bill, yet maintains an A in the class. Just how far ahead of the rest of the class Charlie is can be measured by the fact that when it comes time to take the second semester final in Bill's class, Charlie has a hard time remembering details about the book he is to write an in-class essay for--The Great Gatsby--because it was only the forth of twelve books that Bill gave him to read.
In addition to the twelve books Charlie speaks of in his letters, he is also given seven movies to watch, and listens to one song with Bill, which he plays for Charlie when the two join Bill's girlfriend dinner as they part for summer vacation. The similarity in the art that Bill turns Charlie on to is anything but inconspicuous; even Charlie mentions his noticing the common style after reading The Great Gatsby and A Separate Peace.
Having been educated at a university in the West which was completely pass/fail, there is little sense in wondering why so many of the pieces of literature and film that Bill lends Charlie have to do with education reform. Examples include the movie Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams' character--a teacher--deplores his students to enjoy the work they do in school rather than simply sliding by, as well as books such as The Fountainhead, where the eventually successful main character Howard Roark defies acquiescence to the norms and parameters of schooling as well as the architecture profession as a whole by becoming extremely successful without a college degree. The final example is the song Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, which satirizes the assembly-line-like approach of many schools. Such an influence leads to Charlie struggle in mathematics; however, when his teacher advises him to stop asking "why?" and to simply memorizes the...
Cited: Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999.
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