The Musings of a Wallflower: Writing to Read, Part VII

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.

As I continue my close-reading of Stephen Chbosky‘s The Perks of Being a WallflowerCharlie is still sitting in on the school-sponsored counseling session that was formed after his friend Michael committed suicide. One particular counselor addresses the entire group before finally landing on Charlie, and he asks him the following question:

“What do you think, Charlie?”

At first, Charlie is just surprised a man he has never met before knows his name even though no one in the group is wearing identification of any kind. He tells the counselor this:

“Well, I think that Michael was a nice guy and I don’t understand why he did it. As much as I feel sad, I think that not knowing is what really bothers me.”

As Charlie recounts his response to the counselor, he mentions that it doesn’t sound like something he would say. Even looking back on his own recollection of the session, he feels a distance from himself and his feelings. This seems like another important detail to note about Charlie’s personality.

The counselor, who likely has no knowledge of Michael’s life, responds by noting Michael probably had issues with his home life and felt too alone to seek help from anyone. Even I, with little counseling experience or education, think this isn’t the best way to respond to an adolescent that is grieving and feels at a loss for why his friend would kill himself. It is no surprise to me, even the first time I read it, that Charlie reacts the way he does:

“Then, I started screaming at the guidance counselor that Michael could have talked to me. And I started crying even harder. He tried to calm me down by saying that he meant an adult or a guidance counselor. But it didn’t work and eventually my brother came by the middle school in his Camaro to pick me up.”

Two observations are born from Charlie’s reaction to the guidance counselor—one is a literary observation and the other is a personal observation.

At the literary level, I am already hyper-aware of the repetition we are seeing only four pages into the novel. This is the second time in just the first letter that Charlie’s brother comes to “rescue” him in his Camaro. The fact that his mother or father never arrive in times of crisis is intriguing enough, but add the repetition of his brother arriving in his cool-older-brother-type-car, and I’m all over that. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more repetition with Charlie’s brother.

Of course, the repetition may be unintended, as is often the case in an author’s work. We read much more into novels and short stories than is actually planned, and a whole race of English and/or Literature students would be crestfallen if they could not spend hours interpreting what an author meant by making the socks blue instead of red. It could just be that Charlie is grieving, found himself in need of a ride home twice, and his brother happened to pick him up twice. However, there is still something notable about a family system that removes the older brother from school to pick up the younger brother from school rather than having the mother or father pick the younger brother up, meaning only one child is missing school. What do I know, though? I’m an only child.

The personal observation that strikes me in Charlie’s reaction is how little we think about what we say. Even in a novel, a fiction piece crafted from thin air, a person is making a flippant comment without fully considering the implications of his or her speech. This guidance counselor has unwittingly (we’d hope) made Charlie feel like he was such a poor friend his best friend could not even seek him out for help rather than committing suicide.

I catch myself in this act all the time—making comments only to realize after I’ve let them slip from my lips that it came out so wrong on so many levels. At that point, all I can hope is no one took what I said negatively, or picked up on the connotations I meant but had not fully realized before verbalizing. Yes, if we spent the time necessary to consider every possible angle of every sentence we ever spoke we’d be mute or look a bit slow, at best. However, it sure couldn’t hurt for people to take just five to ten extra seconds to respond to others. If we just started by practicing this pause in arguments, the results would be amazing. Imagine the results if we practiced it in every verbal interaction we ever took part in.

Though it is not a direct observation of this passage, we should also consider the Camaro as a budding symbol of some sort. For those not versed in literary speak, a symbol is really just any object that an author uses to convey an idea or feeling. We haven’t even completed the first letter, yet, but as an off-the-wall example, the Camaro could show up throughout the book to symbolize Charlie’s fear of his brother. At this point, there is no evidence at all to support that sort of assumption—this is merely an example. Right now, the Camaro is just a Camaro. It bears considering further, though.

As I consider this small passage today at the emotional level—referring to the reason I started this close-reading project—it makes me wonder if this isn’t one of my favorite books because I was an only child. Even as an introvert who generally avoids voluntary social interaction, I had to have had some longing for a brother or sister growing up. At least for a moment, even if it was a short one. Maybe I was attracted to the relationship of Charlie and his brother in the novel. Or maybe that has nothing to do with anything at all. I do think I probably identified with Charlie’s tendency to distance himself from his own emotions, though. That seems very me, even now that I am an adult and have owned this book for years.

It’s amazing to have a reason for still owning this book in the face of moving toward minimalism. This project has inspired me to consider undertaking a close-reading of other favorite books…if I ever finish this one. Another thought struck me, also. If I put every single blog post together at the end of this project, what would I have? If I read over all my thoughts in one swoop, what would I see?

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