This post is a continuation of an ongoing subject. If you’re just tuning in, you should start at the first blog post on this subject, which you can read here.
“I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand… Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that… I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason.”
The primary character of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, opens the novel with the above first thoughts in the first paragraph of his first letter. The letter-writer craves anonymity.
You know what’s frustrating about dictionaries? They do things like this—the Oxford English Dictionary defines anonymity as “the state of being anonymous.” Gee thanks, OED. The more pertinent definition becomes anonymous, which means “nameless, having no name; of unknown name.” Unfortunately, this is not entirely accurate to the letter-writer in this novel, as we know by the end of the first letter [*spoiler alert*] that he signs each letter Charlie. However, by Charlie’s own admission, he calls “people by different names or generic names,” which means he still achieves a slightly altered version of anonymity.
Others have taken time to explore anonymity in a little more depth than the Oxford English Dictionary. Julie Ponesse, for instance, writes the following in the Southern Journal of Philosophy:
“I explore a more precise way of articulating anonymity…which frames anonymity as the result of a specific exercise of control in which true pieces of information about a person are concealed from others with an effect of dissociability…[which shows] how anonymity is characteristically…and deeply connected to issues of personal identity.”
As I begin the task of re-reading a personal favorite in-depth, it is important for me to realize that the mere action of Charlie staking himself in anonymity is “deeply connected to issues of personal identity.” The journey is one I must take cognizant of the fact that everything following this stake in anonymity is intertwined with Charlie’s identity. To forget this would be to rob myself of a deeper understanding as I read the novel.
Charlie, after staking his claim of anonymity, goes onto to write the following: “I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.” To me, it is clear Charlie is simply trying to say that he needs to know decent people exist. It is not enough for Charlie to write a letter. It is not enough for Charlie to write an anonymous letter. Charlie needs to write an anonymous letter to a decent person.
Part of my journey through this novel that I love so deeply is to explore why it means so much to me, why I connect to it on such an emotional level, and why I can’t seem to pull it from my shelves in the face of a growing attachment to minimalism.
Charlie’s need to write a letter to a decent person paints a picture of a boy who needs, or maybe even craves a certain level of protection from a supporter. A supporter such as the person on the receiving end of the letter. Is this any different from my own personality, a personality which basks in the coddling efforts of a wife who brings home orange Gatorade and touches the back of her hand to my forehead when I’m sick? I seek that same supportive warmth of protection from the people I trust emotionally in my life.
Only two paragraphs in and I’ve found a second emotional connection to Charlie.
The next two lines that poke their head out and grab me roughly do so because they are two lines that drew me into Charlie’s story right off the bat all those years ago when I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time.
“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.”
Looking back, it is much easier to acknowledge what my particular interest in these lines may have been. As a person who has struggled with bouts of depression and/or anxiety on and off from the time I was—realistically—about ten, these two lines were likely the nearest sentiments to describing my own internal struggle before I had words, power, or knowledge to describe that struggle.
You know, the Oxford English Dictionary offers roughly seven varying definitions of depression, but the one I find most interesting is the one offered in reference to Algebra. This is funny considering my life-long hatred of Algebra. However, the OED defines depression in Algebra as “the reduction to a lower degree of power.” Wow. The stripping away of power as a definition for depression.
Charlie, as an individual who at this point may or may not suffer from depression (the new reader wouldn’t know either way), a boy who craves anonymity even in the throes of trying to gain protection from a decent person, struggles with being “both happy and sad,” which, if this sentiment does point to Charlie struggling with depression, means Charlie may be “both happy and sad” because of a “reduction to a lower degree of power.” However, it is he, himself, who is contributing to some of his loss of power because he insists on remaining anonymous.
How is that to muddle up your brain but rock your world once the lightbulb turns on?
Sources, guys. Sources:
“anonymity, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 19 June 2015.
“anonymous, adj.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 19 June 2015.
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.
“depression, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 19 June 2015.
Ponesse, Julie. “Navigating The Unknown: Towards A Positive Conception Of Anonymity.” Southern Journal Of Philosophy 51.3 (2013): 320-344. Academic Search Complete. Web. 19 June 2015.