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

book, books, novel, novels, Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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.

Today, I begin my continuation of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower by beginning with this passage in the first letter:

“One thing I do know is that it makes me wonder if I have ‘problems at home’ but it seems to me that a lot of other people have it a lot worse. Like when my sister’s boyfriend started going around with another girl and my sister cried for the whole weekend.

My dad said, ‘There are other people who have it a lot worse.’”

I am beginning to wonder about the disconnection between Charlie and his parents at this point. Only four pages into the novel, as well as before the competition of the first letter, I can see that Charlie has needed “rescuing” from emotional situations twice, and both times he was rescued by his brother rather than a parent. To add to this disconnection between his parental authorities and himself, there has been reference to Charlie’s dad being shielded from the knowledge of Charlie’s tears. Also, I am now reading that his response to one of his daughter’s breakups is to brush it off by indicating to her “other people…have it a lot worse.” I didn’t do much dating in high school, but as I recall, breakups seemed earth-shattering to my friends at that delicate time in our emotional/hormonal lives.

In my mind, it is already well-established within four pages that Charlie is a highly emotional, sensitive personality with a compulsive need to be protected, or at least feel protected. How strange is it that so far he receives none of this protection from his parents, but rather from his brother? How well-equipped can an older brother, still an inexperienced young adult himself, be to offer the right type of protection to a sensitive adolescent?

Charlie moves on from this moment with his sister as seemingly quickly as the rest of the family moves on from the breakup event:

“And my mom was quiet. And that was that. A month later, my sister met another boy and started playing happy records again. And my dad kept working. And my mom kept sweeping. And my brother kept fixing his Camaro. That is, until he left for college at the beginning of the summer. He’s playing football for Penn State but he needed the summer to get his grades right to play football.”

No sooner than I begin to place some serious concern on the apparent but unexplained disconnect between Charlie and his parents, Charlie reveals the one person who has been providing him some type of protection has left for college. While it is not a surprise to Charlie this event is coming, it must be a surprise to the receiver of the letter, who is following Charlie’s thoughts as they tumble onto the page. It seems to me this news would have appeared “out of the blue” to me during the original read. I doubt I would have recognized the importance of this moment for Charlie’s emotional security in the original read, though, as I was a teenager who had spent far less time picking apart novels.

Since I am an only child, it occurred to me that the effects on Charlie due to his brother leaving home are important, but I’ve no real emotional basis for understanding the situation. I did a little digging to find out if any research has been conducted on the effects of an older sibling leaving a younger sibling behind when that older sibling leaves home. While I did come across an abstract presented by Emily Rosen, Lynn Ackerman, and Diane Zosky, it wasn’t as helpful to revealing the mindset of Charlie’s character in light of his brother heading off to college as I hoped it might be. While the three do place importance on the bond between siblings, the abstract seemed much more concerned with the effects on the last remaining sibling at home rather than any sibling who may be dealing with new separation from another sibling. Charlie does still have his sister at home, so the information seems less applicable in this light.

Much in the way that is already becoming typical of Charlie after only four pages, he shifts to another, loosely related, alternate topic in the next paragraph:

“I don’t think there is a favorite kid in our family. There are three of us and I am the youngest. My brother is the oldest. He is a very good football player and likes his car. My sister is very pretty and mean to boys and she is in the middle. I get straight A’s now like my sister and that is why they leave me alone.”

There is quite a bit to wonder on in this description of the three siblings. One, there are three siblings, and three is one of those numbers that tends to stick out and call for attention. I have a tendency to look for threes, which is why I think it equally interesting that Charlie names three positive qualities, one for each sibling, including himself. Three may easily be a good number to lean on when author’s are constructing a chapter, paragraph, or description.

Charlie’s recognition that there is not a favorite in the family could be indicative of several possibilities in the family dynamics. One, it could mean Charlie is purposely shielding himself from the idea that the affection of his parent’s for one sibling is greater than the affection they have for the others. Two, it could mean Charlie is not well enough in-tune with his parents to recognize the affection they have for one sibling over the others. It is entirely different to recognize a situation and block it out than to simply be unaware. Three, there could legitimately be no particular favorite in the family because the disconnect I see between Charlie and his parents could exist between the other siblings and the parents as well.

It is interesting that the positive quality Charlie offers about himself is connected with being left alone by his parents. It isn’t that he gets “straight A’s” because he is intelligent or because it makes him feel good about himself. He gets these grades and as a result, his parents “leave [him] alone.” How telling is this revelation? Just a few sentences back I was feeling some pity for Charlie because his parents never seem to come to his rescue despite his need for protection along with his highly emotional personality. While the disconnect between Charlie and his parents is still obvious this early on, it now appears that Charlie is comfortable with this disconnect. In fact, he may favor the disconnection over being intimately involved in some type of emotional interaction with his parents.

While the description of the siblings is interesting enough on its own, Charlie continues this description of the family by offering some insight into his parents:

“My mom cries a lot during TV programs. My dad works a lot and is an honest man. My Aunt Helen used to say that my dad was going to be too proud to have a midlife crisis. It took me until around now to understand what she meant by that because he just turned forty and nothing has changed.”

What strikes me is the wealth of information I receive about Charlie’s dad compared to the one line nugget of information I receive about his mom. All I know about Charlie’s mom from this paragraph is that she cries a lot at shows, so she is likely highly emotional and sensitive much in the way Charlie seems to be. However, Charlie mentions that his dad is “hardworking” and “honest.” He also manages to relay a detail about his dad he can’t quite put into proper words by giving a detail provided by his Aunt Helen. By mentioning his dad would be “too proud to have a midlife crisis,” I get the sense Charlie’s dad is not keen on being the average man. He may not want to be special or better than any other man he knows, but he wants to be different in some capacity. I don’t think it’s just the midlife crisis Charlie’s dad is “too proud” to have, but I believe he is “too proud” to be normal.

Since Charlie is about to begin discussing his extended family, namely his Aunt Helen, I will wrap it up here for now.

Sources:

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Rosen, Emily, Lynn Ackermen, and Diane Zosky. “The Sibling Empty Nest Syndrome: The Experience Of Saddness As Sibling Leave The Family Home.” Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment 6.1 (2002): 65. Humanities Source. Web. 19 July 2015.

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