The Perks of Being a Wallflower Themes

The main themes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are friendship, sexuality, and mental illness.

  • Friendship: Socially awkward narrator Charlie befriends fellow misfits Patrick and Sam, who help him overcome his social misgivings and begin healing from his traumas.
  • Sexuality: Adolescence is presented as a time for sexual exploration. Though adolescent relationships are oftentimes messy and awkward, they also allow characters to learn more about themselves and their sexuality.
  • Mental Illness: Charlie has a therapist who helps him with his issues, but his recovery is not linear, and he suffers a breakdown near the end of the novel.

Themes

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Last Updated on March 27, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 931

Friendship

The Perks of Being a Wallflower focuses on the friendship between Charlie, Patrick, and Sam. At its best, this friendship is a lifeline for Charlie, a much-needed source of emotional support for his difficult first year of high school. When Charlie meets Patrick and Sam, he's still reeling from the suicide of his best friend, Michael. Charlie's new friends introduce him to a world of parties, drugs, and sex, inviting him to hang out with the seniors and taking him to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Charlie becomes deeply invested in these friendships, gradually falling in love with Sam, with whom he has a complicated relationship. Early on, Sam gives him a kiss, believing that his first kiss should come from somebody who loves him. Of course, she only loves him as a friend. Charlie's frustrated desire for Sam briefly ruins their relationship, causing a major fallout between the three friends. Friendship then becomes a source of stress and confusion for Charlie, exacerbating his emotional problems. He makes several attempts to reconcile with his estranged friends. After he succeeds, however, he must contend with the fact that Patrick and Sam will be graduating soon. Their friendship will never quite be the same. Overall, though, it is a positive experience. Patrick and Sam help the socially awkward, emotionally fragile Charlie find his place in the world, teaching him how to be more outgoing.

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Sexuality

Chobsky acknowledges that high school is a time for sexual exploration. His main character, Charlie, is a virgin at the beginning of the novel, unlike his older and more experienced friends, who are already seniors in high school. There are many sexual relationships in the novel, including those between Brad and Patrick, Sam and Craig, Sam and Charlie, and Charlie and Mary Elizabeth. All of these relationships come with complications, and Chobsky faithfully represents how difficult it can be to navigate the world of sex as an adolescent. He doesn't moralize, however, and never criticizes his characters for experimenting. He writes about heterosexual and homosexual characters with the same level of sensitivity. Patrick's relationship with Brad is especially well-written. Through it, the author is able to explore themes of love, homophobia, violence, and secrets. Patrick's physical fight with Brad serves as a turning point in the novel, reuniting Charlie with his estranged friend. Charlie in turn has his own complicated sexual experiences. He falls in love with Sam soon after they meet, but she treats him like a friend for most of the novel. Helpless in the face of Sam's relationship with Craig, Charlie starts dating Mary Elizabeth, with whom he quickly grows bored. One night, tired of pretending to love Mary Elizabeth, Charlie kisses Sam when Patrick dares him to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. This one kiss ends his relationship with Mary Elizabeth and temporarily ruins his friendship with Patrick and Sam. At the end of the novel, after Charlie reconciles with Sam, the two have an aborted sexual encounter that triggers traumatic memories for Charlie. Years after the fact, Charlie finally...

(The entire section contains 931 words.)

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