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 extremely close read of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I want to acknowledge that I realize I haven’t given much discussion to the idea of a “wallflower” in general. This is because it is not until this next point in the first letter, despite all of the issues we have already covered with Charlie, that the real isolation of disconnect in Charlie’s life begins to exist.
You know I’m going to do it, right? The Oxford English Dictionary gives us this slightly antiquated but appropriate central definition of a wallflower: “A lady who keeps her seat at the side of a room during dancing, whether because she cannot find a partner or by her own choice.” Charlie is not a lady. He is not “keeping his seat” at a dance. We do not know what will become of his relationships now that Michael is dead, so we can’t identify whether his isolation is a lack of ability or by “choice.” However, this general idea of a person who sits off to the side and merely observes the happenings around them without actually connecting with anyone—that’s the idea we should have in our minds as we read the novel.
There is such a big difference between being the type of person that is isolated while still making an effort to go into the world, and a person who is simply isolated entirely.
The reason I bring all of this up now is because Charlie is about to close the chapter on Michael’s life—his only friend. Let’s look at what he says next in his letter to “Dear Friend:”
“For the rest of the school year, the teachers treated me different and gave me better grades even though I didn’t get any smarter. To tell you the truth, I think I made them all nervous. Michael’s funeral was strange because his father didn’t cry. And three months later he left Michael’s mom. At least according to Dave at lunchtime. I think about it sometimes. I wonder what went on in Michael’s house around dinner and TV shows. Michael never left a note or at least his parents didn’t let anyone see it. Maybe it was “problems at home.” I wish I knew. It might make me miss him more clearly. It might have made sad sense.”
Yes, Michael has killed himself. Michael is gone and Charlie has attended his funeral. Michael’s family has broken up after his death, which (*warning, warning*: minor side tangent ahead) according to Interpersona, has its roots in a number of factors:
“As negative changes in their relationship following the death of their child, parents reported the following: problems caused by failing mental health, problems due to changes in identity, increased difficulty of emotional communication, and decreased sexual intimacy. In addition, decreased sense of togetherness, behavior that damages the relationship, everyday life straining the relationship, and emotions straining the relationship…The changes [of losing a child] manifest as problems in the parents’ interaction, their behavior, and their emotional life.”
Marriage struggles are typical after the loss of a child, and it’s important to recognize the triggers pulled by grief (*side tangent wrapping, now*).
Now that all of these events have unfolded and reached some type of resolution, Charlie is at the point where the death of Michael has concluded in the physical sense, leaving only the emotional remnants behind. Charlie is officially isolated into “wallflower” status as his only friend is now gone in every physical way. It is at this point, before we even reach the conclusion of Charlie’s first letter, we begin to shift into an expectation that we will begin to learn exactly what the “perks” are of being a “wallflower.” We’ve got an incredible journey ahead of us still.
There are two lines in this part of the letter that stick out to me. One, they touch my heart at a level I can’t fully describe. Two, they seem to hold some level of emotional insight that matters. Three, they’re written with an incredible level of honesty I wish I could see in the world each and every day. The first line:
“It might make me miss him more clearly.”
Wow. Charlie could have said what everyone else says: less. It might make him miss Michael “less.” He didn’t say less, though, opting for the word “clearly.” I’m going to have to whip out some more Oxford for this, for sure. I can’t help myself. Cleary is defined in this way: “Of mental vision: With undimmed perception, with full and complete understanding; distinctly.” This is a a more meaningful selection of word choice than “less,” which simply means “Of smaller quantity or amount; not so much.”
How important is it that Charlie has no end goal of missing Michael “not so much” and simply wants to miss him “with full and complete understanding?” It seems to me it’s one of Charlie’s most important personality traits so far. Charlie has the emotional capacity to recognize that he will never really miss Michael less, but as his understanding of Michael’s death grows, then the loss will become more clear, and as a result, bearable. Charlie strikes me as an intensely, emotionally vulnerable character at this point in the novel, and I can guarantee that is one reason I have such an enduring connection with the book. I’ve always felt emotionally vulnerable to a high degree personally, as well.
Obviously, my connection with the line is why it touches my heart so much. The emotional capacity and insight is brilliant and well-defined in this simple statement. Finally, Charlie’s capacity for honesty really shines through because he doesn’t defer to the common statement, talking about missing Michael “less,” but instead chooses the word that expresses his real feelings, “clearly.”
How about the second line? The one that sticks out as much as this one? Here it is, incidentally, following the first line:
“It might have made sad sense.”
It may seem such a small addition, but saying “sad sense” instead of just saying “sense” speaks volumes to me in this line. We’ve all said some version of this before. It may have made sense. That makes sense. I wish it made more sense. However, by adding the word “sad,” Charlie is telling us that once it gets to a place of understanding, a place where it makes sense, it is going to be a sad understanding.
Of course, seeing how deeply connected Charlie must have felt to Michael is going to pull at your heart. He knows the situation is sad, yes. That is easy—death is sad. However, he also seems to realize that if he ever comes to understand the situation in full capacity, it will be an understanding coupled with new sadness. We tend to feel a sense of pity for anyone going through any sort of loss, even if it is just a twinge at the back of our soul. For the most part as humans, we care for the feelings of others and react in this way naturally.
We often barrel through the world with little thought on cause and effect. It becomes more akin to human nature as times passes, as far as I can observe. Charlie has the emotional insight to consider the effect of his own actions, though. He has admitted he would like to know why Michael killed himself, which we covered in an earlier discussion of this first letter. Here he goes even farther to say that if he does understand why Michael did it, it is going to have a whole new landslide of effects on him as a person. Most of us don’t take the time or don’t have the emotional capacity to step back and have that kind of thought process about our internal workings. Charlie has it down.
Charlie has such incredible capacity for honesty about his sadness. How honest are we about our feelings of sadness? For instance, when you are sad, do you even tell anyone? If you do tell someone, do you come up with a blanket statement or generalization to offer up as a reason for your sadness? When it comes to sadness about the big things, like loss of a loved one, are you able to articulate your sadness at the level Charlie, a middle-school boy (at this time), does? Charlie just lays it out there—if it ever makes sense, it’s just going to make him sad again.
Still over a page to go before the conclusion of the first letter, it is clear Charlie is an emotional being. This is a part of his personality that I can identify likely attracted me to the novel when I first read it. I’m guessing it has much to do with why the novel still rests on my shelf all these years later, too. I haven’t changed much emotionally over these years, and well…Charlie hasn’t changed at all.
Sources, my friends. Sources:
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.
“clearly, adv.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 5 July 2015.
“less, adv.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 5 July 2015.
Salakari, Anneli, Marja Kaunonen, and Anna Liisa Aho. “Negative Changes In A Couple’s Relationship After A Child’s Death.” Interpersona 8.2 (2014): 193. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 5 July 2015.
“wallflower, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2015. Web. 5 July 2015.