Friendship and Intimacy in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

the_perks_of_being_a_wallflower_book_cover_drawing_by_pigwigeon-d5j78elStephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” centers on a group of teens and their early sexual experiences. We see characters form friendships that ripen into intimate sexual relationships. We learn about various formations, their depths, secrecies, tensions, dramas, and denouements, and finally how the characters cope with the ends of these relationships.
Charlie, the narrator, is the eponymous wallflower, and though he is decidedly passive at times, he is not what I would consider a wallflower, a shy person who doesn’t get involved. He definitely participates, particularly in his role as a friend. He is a keen observer of his scene, though Chbosky at times gives him a naivete for comic relief, but this naive stance doesn’t always ring true to my ears because of his obvious talents as a chronicler of his friends.
The main characters find themselves in emotional turmoil when their sexual relationships fail.
Charlie’s two relationships both turn out badly. The first with Mary Elizabeth ends on a passive aggressive note when he kisses his true love Samantha (Sam) instead of Mary E. during a Truth or Dare game at a party.
An interesting element of the novel is how friends ripen into lovers, break up, and find themselves integrating back into friendships, as if the friendship was the more important relationship and the sexual one simply an experiment.
Charlie’s 2nd “sexual” relationship ends before coitus despite Sam finally giving assent to him.
Why wasn’t Charlie able to go through with the act even though Sam had been his dream lover almost from the moment he met her? The issue isn’t fully explored though prior to the seduction, Sam criticizes Charlie for being passive. She said she didn’t want to date someone who had a “crush” on her, but someone who could have a reciprocal relationship. Charlie was also unable to be reciprocal with Mary E. She did all the talking and moves.But it’s understandable that he might feel intimidated by older women, particularly if they were first friends whom he admired. It wasn’t “wrong” in other words that he couldn’t go through with the sexual act with Sam. The reality of sex was too overwhelming. What he was afraid of is inferred, but not explicitly explored, and this might be a good place to ask students why he turned down a chance to sleep with the girl of his dreams.
Homosexuality, not surprisingly, is explored in this novel. Gay sex is treated with no more emphasis than straight sex, though the gay characters have the added burden of homophobia and gay bashing once their relationship ends.
How might this novel be the anchor for a generative unit?
The unit could be on friendship and intimacy or if I wanted to be more provocative, Friendship and Sex, but intimacy is a better term because it encompasses sex as well as the emotional closeness we experience in love relationships as well as friendships during these formative years. The teen years are when most people begin to actively explore their sexuality and this novel goes there without blinking.
The story is written as a epistolary novel, letters written to an unknown recipient. I anticipated that this unknown character would eventually be exposed or introduced, but he never is. It was a little disappointing, and I would question why the novel took this form. It could easily have been a diary.
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