Charlie is the main character and protagonist of the novel. He directs the progression of the novel through the letters he writes to an unnamed "friend"; these letters describe Charlie's experiences in high school and at home. Charlie is constantly trying to gain a better understanding of the people around him and why they do what they do - particularly how they present themselves in public. He struggles with his obsession with observation, and is urged by many people - such as Bill, Sam, and Patrick - to participate more and truly engage his acquaintances and companions. Charlie loves to read and often uses the framework of a classic novel to think and reflect upon his own life; he even hopes to become a writer at some point. His teacher Bill encourages him to develop these skills and repeatedly assigns Charlie extra books to read and additional writing exercises. Charlie begins to become more comfortable after he meets Sam, Patrick, and their group of friends, and with their addition to his life he is able to better process past events and experiences.
Charlie struggles with apparent mental illness throughout his letters, but he never explicitly addresses this problem - rather, it lurks in the background of many of his accounts. At the conclusion of the novel, it is revealed that Charlie was sexually abused by his Aunt Helen when he was a child, but that he had internalized and concealed the abuse out of his love for her and as a result of his empathy for Aunt Helen's own problems as a child.
Sam is a beautiful brown-haired, green-eyed girl who wins Charlie's affection from the first days of their friendship. She is the step-sister of Patrick and a close friend of Charlie's, and her conversations with Charlie both reveal information about Charlie's background and help Charlie to process and reflect upon his concerns. Sam assists Charlie in becoming more comfortable in his own skin, bringing him into her group of misfit and outcast friends, as well as encouraging him to participate more in society; for instance, Charlie fills in for a missing actor in the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Sam's urging. Despite Charlie's fervent love for Sam, she is not interested in him at first: she believes she is too old for him, and she is also dating Craig, a young man who is beyond high school age. Yet Charlie has important insights on Sam and Craig's relationship, which falls apart when Craig is discovered cheating: "We accept the love we think we deserve." Throughout Charlie's contact with Sam, the young woman enables him to grow and reflect in positive ways.
Patrick, at first introduced as "Nothing" from shop class, becomes one of Charlie's best friends. He is the flamboyant and extravagant step-brother of Sam, Charlie's love interest in the novel. Patrick welcomes Charlie into his larger group of friends, which includes Mary Elizabeth and Bob. Patrick also helps Charlie feel more comfortable in high school and is always listening to him and giving him advice, whether regarding his family, the loss of his friend Michael, or the process of courting girls. Early in their relationship, Patrick and Charlie become closer friends when Patrick asks Charlie to keep a secret: Patrick is in a romantic relationship with Brad, the quarterback of the high school football team. Shortly after he shares this secret, Patrick makes a toast to Charlie and calls him a wallflower because "he sees things, and he understands." Just as Patrick is the magnet that brings Charlie into a new group of friends at the beginning of the narrative, Patrick also brings the group back together after Charlie, in an impulsive moment, alienates Sam and Mary Elizabeth. Eventually, Patrick and Brad have a violent fight at school, and Charlie comes to Patrick's defense, winning back the respect and admiration of his friends. Despite all of these tensions and conflicts, Patrick helps Charlie and ultimately impacts his life in a positive way.
Charlie addresses each of his letters: "Dear friend." The only thing that is revealed about the friend is that he or she didn't sleep with someone at a party, even though he or she could have, and Charlie respects the "friend" for that. Because the friend figure is so ambiguous, this figure allows the readers of the novel to place themselves in the position of the friend. Thus, the reader becomes the one who connects directly with Charlie's letters and hopes that the young man is okay. Chbosky intended for the novel to strike this strong note of fellow-feeling, and by the end of the novel the reader very much feels as though Charlie has addressed all of these letters to him or her.
Aunt Helen was Charlie's favorite person during his early years. In the process of recovering from childhood experiences of sexual abuse, Helen struggled with alcohol, drugs, and abusive men in her adult life. She moved in with Charlie's family in an attempt to recover, and she spent a lot of time with Charlie and his siblings when his parents were out of the house. Many of Charlie's best memories from childhood relate to time he spent with Aunt Helen, and Christmastime - which Aunt Helen made memorable - gives the teenage Charlie great sadness: Aunt Helen died while on a trip to buy Charlie, whose birthday falls around Christmas, a birthday present. In high school, Charlie continues to struggle with her death, particularly because he believes that he is at fault. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that Aunt Helen had sexually abused Charlie, but that he concealed this transgression out of love for her and empathy for what she went through as a child.
Bill is Charlie's teacher for advanced English. From the beginning of the novel, Bill mentors Charlie. He notices Charlie's enthusiasm and dedication to writing and literature, and he seeks to foster the young man's talents. As a result, Bill begins assigning Charlie extra texts, as well as additional papers. Bill challenges Charlie by marking his extra papers with Cs and Bs and urges him to improve, but he gives him A marks on his official report cards. As the relationship grows and the two characters talk about the texts outside of class, Charlie begins to tell Bill more about his own life. Charlie values Bill because Bill doesn't try to see everything based merely on his own experiences or attempt to tell Charlie what to do; instead, he offers thoughtful advice that Charlie is able to reflect upon at will. Bill's most famous line in the novel, "We accept the love we think we deserve," is just one of many sound pieces of advice that he gives to Charlie.
Mary Elizabeth is a member of Patrick and Sam's group of friends, which Charlie joins at the beginning of the novel. She runs a fanzine dedicated to the Rocky Horror Picture Show and also acts in the show itself. Mary Elizabeth asks Charlie to the Sadie Hawkins dance, and the two of them subsequently begin to date. Yet the relationship does not fully please Charlie; Mary Elizabeth often dominates the conversations, trying to take a superior stance by constantly "introducing" Charlie to books or music that he already knows well. When Charlie can no longer stand dating her, he struggles with being honest. Unfortunately, all his efforts culminate during a truth or dare session when Patrick dares Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, and he kisses Sam. His romantic relationship with Mary Elizabeth rapidly falls apart and his friendships with the others are left in disarray. Later, however, Charlie and Mary Elizabeth agree to stay friends. Although Mary Elizabeth is constantly talking, her behavior prompts reflection from Charlie and forces him to consider the value of honesty and self-awareness.
In his letters, Charlie leaves his family unnamed in order to preserve his identity. His immediate family consists of his mother, father, older brother, and older sister. Throughout his accounts, Charlie seeks to understand his family and learn more about what motivates their actions and emotions. The family is not very intimate, and they often fight or shield their feelings, only presenting specific versions of themselves to one another. Secrets and lapses, more than anything else, tie his family together; however, Charlie and his relatives do support each other during trying times and take pride in family achievements. The behavior of Charlie's family mirrors the behavior that Charlie sees at school, which causes him additional distress as he tries to become a participant rather than a detached observer.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.