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.
Believe it or not, I am still exploring the first letter Charlie writes to “Dear friend” in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. To blow minds even further, the first letter is roughly five pages, and I’m only on page two. I’m mad dedicated to this close-reading venture, and even more, the novel has already offered so many tangents of interesting research. Bring on the tangents, I say!
Here is what Charlie says next to his letter receiver:
“I don’t really remember much of what happened after that except that my older brother came to Mr. Vaughn’s office in my middle school and told me to stop crying. Then, he put his arm on my shoulder and told me to get it out of my system before Dad came home. We then went to eat french fries at McDonald’s and he taught me how to play pinball. He even made a joke that because of me he got to skip an afternoon of school and asked me if I wanted to help him work on his Camaro. I guess I was pretty messy because he never let me work on his Camaro before.”
To me, there are at least four different opportunities for exploration in this one paragraph alone. The first vital piece of information being that Charlie doesn’t “really remember much of what happened.” This isn’t entirely a surprise considering he has just found out about a friend’s suicide in a less-than-desirable manner, but at the same time, it is key to recognize that Charlie has undergone a memory lapse in a specific event.
Another vital element to this paragraph is that Charlie’s brother tells him to “stop crying” and to “get it out of his system” before Dad arrives. We know little about Charlie’s family at this point, as we haven’t escaped from the first letter. However, when I first read this novel, I imagine I wondered about Charlie’s Dad, and why it is not okay for him to see Charlie crying. There are several potential reasons: Charlie’s Dad is emotionally and/or physically abusive, with crying being one of his triggers; the sight of Charlie crying causes his Dad concern; Charlie’s Dad is highly emotional himself, which means Charlie’s older brother may just be attempting to avoid a family emotional breakdown; Charlie has a past history that makes the whole family walk on eggshells around him, so a simple bout of crying becomes a huge event.
What’s super interesting is that I can posit all day long that these were the likely scenarios I envisioned when I first read the novel, but I can’t be sure. If I haven’t already said something along these lines, let me be clear—the act of the reading the novel prior to this places an extreme influence on my reading, which means I will never be able to remain entirely objective about emotional reactions or potential scenarios. Even further, since I have read the book over a dozen times, my viewpoint is even more skewed. This is still fun, though.
The third vital element to this paragraph in Charlie’s letter is the reaction of his brother to Charlie’s crying over his friend’s suicide. We can assume from his ability to drive that Charlie’s brother is at least two to three years older than Charlie. Now, I am putting this out there as an only child with no real sibling experience to lean on, but I think it is common for many older siblings to mostly avoid “hanging out” with younger siblings, unless Mom and Dad are making them do so. It seems important that Charlie’s brother would go to such great lengths to make Charlie feel better, from simple tokens such as french fries to the offer to let Charlie “work on his Camaro.”
As I read it, the vital piece of information that sticks out most in this paragraph is also the last piece of information we receive:
“I guess I was pretty messy because he never let me work on his Camaro before.”
Charlie is recognizing not only his initial reaction to his friend’s suicide, but he is recognizing his brother’s reaction to that reaction, and then—stay with me—he is having a reaction to his brother’s reaction to his initial reaction, which causes him to assume he is “messy.”
Again, I don’t think there is evidence somewhere that says all adolescents are self-absorbed (if there is, let me know), but I do know that as an adolescent, I was self-absorbed. I feel like that is fairly normal, too. It seems telling to me that Charlie is so in tune with what is going around him that he is noting his own reactions, others’ reactions, and his own reactions to others’ reactions. It makes me wonder about his motivations, or at the least, his personality.
Why is this boy so aware of everything going on around him? Even more, why is a boy who is so aware of everything going on around him having memory lapses of any kind? It is obvious Charlie can pay close attention and hang onto physical and emotional details, but he can’t hang onto the minutes after finding out his friend killed himself?
There is something here, and as a previous reader, I know that better than anyone. However, even someone picking up the novel for the first time, if they are paying attention to these four pieces of information, can see something deeper is going on.
My only source was the source:
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.