What are the themes of the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Stephen Chbosky's epistolary novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes the reader in a journey through adolescent life through the eyes of main character Charlie. A lonely freshman in high school, Charlie is about to encounter in the lives of others a cathartic manifestation of who he is, in relationship to the world that surrounds him.

As a novel whose characters are adolescents in high school, it is no wonder that the themes that anchor the narrative are dramatic, some are chaotic, and all, in the end, are insightful and life-changing. This is because the novel touches on topics such as:

  • the challenges of self-discovery- the characters in the novel seem to be in a quest, whether voluntary or involuntary, to find themselves. Even Charlie, as we will find out, discovers that he is no wallflower after all, nor has he ever been one to be exact.
  • teenage-related decisions- with adolescence come the challenge of making important choices even when there is not enough schema to back them up. Examples of this theme are teenage pregnancy, teenage battery in relationships, name-calling, bullying, angst, misunderstanding with parents, and first loves.
  • sexual issues- we find many characters discovery their sexuality as a result of peer pressure, social expectations, and their natural development. The novel includes homosexual sex, child molestation, early sexual encounters, abortion, sexual wants, and homosexual denial.
  • the need for parental guidance- none of the characters in the novel seem to have an anchor. High School, the teachers, and the social peerage constitutes the guiding light of many adolescents who cannot find at home the love and support that they desperately need. As a result, school becomes both a home and a battleground of human emotion.
  • deceit- as it comes naturally, adolescents will discover throughout their journey that things are not always what they seem. Charlie finds out that the aunt he loved so much was actually his abuser. Sam finds out that the boy she loves is not the prince charming that she supposes. Everyone discovers something.

This is the beauty of young adult literature; it takes you into the chaotic world of teenage years and it reminds you how strong you have to be to come out of it unscathed.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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