This quotation occurs near the beginning of Part 1, when Bill and Charlie are having their first serious conversation. Throughout the novel, Bill serves as a mentor to Charlie. Bill sees potential in Charlie, but he also recognizes that Charlie is deeply troubled, and he wants to help Charlie overcome his inner demons. Bill serves as a steady, guiding adult figure in Charlie’s life. Throughout the course of the novel, the people that Charlie looks up to and trusts as his role models prove that they’re not necessarily as stable and benevolent as they might initially appear to be. Charlie idolizes his Aunt Helen, but she sexually abused him as a child. Charlie’s parents also had traumatic childhoods, which they are trying to work through, and Charlie’s mother is still coping with the death of her sister. Charlie’s brother withdraws from the family, and Charlie has to become the responsible figure in his sister’s life when she becomes pregnant. Bill, on the other hand, remains reliable as Charlie’s rock throughout the novel, providing Charlie with books to read, just as Charlie provides mix tapes for his friends.
Much of the advice that Bill gives Charlie throughout the novel also serves as advice that Bill is giving himself. Bill dreamed of going to New York City to become a playwright, but by the end of the novel, he decides to stay in Pittsburgh and teach high-school English. Bill realizes that he can make an impact on his students’ lives and help them live out their dreams. Bill is not necessarily running away from his own life by becoming a mentor, but rather, he is allowing himself to accept his role in others’ lives as a positive for his own life. By helping Charlie, Bill is also helping himself.
Patrick then said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“He’s a wallflower.”
And Bob really nodded his head. And the whole room nodded their head. And I started to feel nervous in the Bob way, but Patrick didn’t let me get too nervous. He sat down next to me.
“You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”
This quotation, which occurs just before the end of Part 1, is the first time that Charlie is referred to as a “wallflower” in the novel. Patrick does not use the word as an insult or a derogatory nickname. Instead, he calls Charlie a wallflower as a term of endearment. Patrick calls Charlie a wallflower during the party that Patrick, Sam, and Charlie go to after the homecoming game. This party is the first party with drinking and drugs that Charlie has attended, although it is certainly not the first high school party he has seen. Charlie tells Patrick and Sam about a party that his brother’s friends had held, and he realizes that he had witnessed a date rape. At the time, Charlie did not know what to do about it, so he merely watched silently and did not tell anyone about it. However, now, Patrick sees Charlie’s wallflower-like qualities as strengths, not weaknesses. Ironically, by calling attention to Charlie’s capacity to stay in the background and observe, Patrick puts Charlie into the spotlight. The others at the party recognize Charlie and acknowledge him as one of the group, rather than either pretending not to notice him or deliberately ignoring him.
Part of Charlie’s identity growing up has been observing, taking things in, and remaining in the background. As the youngest sibling, Charlie frequently let his brother and sister take center stage. Charlie’s brother, the football star, is in the spotlight for his achievements. Charlie’s sister makes herself the center of family drama by her relationships with questionable boyfriends. When Charlie was a child, his Aunt Helen singled him out and lavished her attention on him, but even though Charlie misses this special treatment, Aunt Helen, it turns out, treated him very inappropriately, and this repressed memory is perhaps part of what makes Charlie very good at receding into the background. Being a wallflower might seem like a way for Charlie to escape facing his feelings. But Patrick and his friends make Charlie feel welcomed for who he is. By being celebrated as a “wallflower,” Charlie might start to blossom into his fullest self.
When we got out of the tunnel, Sam screamed this really fun scream, and there it was. Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything that makes you wonder. Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing.
And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.
This quotation, which ends the final letter in Part 1, demonstrates the deep bonds of friendship and love that have formed among Charlie, Patrick, and Sam. Driving through the tunnel feels like a magical experience for Charlie. In just a few short months, Charlie has transformed from a shy loner who does not connect with anyone to a person with friends who care enormously about him. Charlie feels “infinite” in this moment because he feels free, rather than constrained by the constant pressures and trauma of his past and his repressed memories. The laughter expresses giddiness and joy that are new emotions for Charlie. Throughout the novel to this point, Charlie has been so burdened with the weight of the past that it can be difficult to realize that happy emotions can also exist in the world. The image of emerging from a tunnel into light is deeply symbolic, since this physical journey reflects the emotional journey that Charlie undergoes throughout the novel. Even though Charlie might feel helpless, there is a light for him at the end of the tunnel, if he can persevere through the darkness to get to the other side.
We didn’t do anything other than kiss. And we didn’t even do that for very long. After a while, his eyes lost the glazey numb look from the wine or the coffee or the fact that he had stayed up the night before. Then, he started crying. Then, he started talking about Brad.
And I just let him. Because that’s what friends are for.
This quotation occurs in Part 4, after Brad has been sent to rehab and is no longer seeing Patrick. Brad’s football friends beat up Patrick when Patrick tries to confront Brad in the cafeteria, and Charlie jumps in the middle of the fight to defend Patrick. Patrick starts spending a great deal of time with Charlie, and Charlie uses his skills as a listener and observer to provide Patrick acceptance and emotional support. But sometimes, Charlie’s skills as a wallflower prevent him from speaking up, even when it might be better for both parties if he could stand up for himself. Rather than pulling away from Patrick’s advances, Charlie passively lets Patrick kiss him, even though he knows that the kiss is just because Patrick is missing Brad. Patrick leans on Charlie for sympathy, and Charlie recognizes that Patrick is a confused teenager.
However, Charlie does not recognize that he does not have to remain a passive wallflower in every situation in order to maintain his capacities for understanding and empathy. Charlie thinks that being a good friend means sacrificing his own emotions and desires. Patrick does not try to rape Charlie, and he does not go beyond a kiss. Indeed, Patrick is the one who eventually pulls away. When Patrick is lonely, he leans on Charlie and relies on him for support. But this support is not solely one-sided. In the beginning of the novel, Patrick allowed Charlie to integrate into his friend group, which provided Charlie with people he could trust and a space in which he felt like he could be himself. Even though Patrick takes some advantage of Charlie’s passivity when Patrick is lonely, Patrick never physically or sexually abuses Charlie, and Patrick is also careful to make Charlie feel special without making him feel coerced.
When I fell asleep, I had this dream. My brother and my sister and I were watching television with my Aunt Helen. Everything was in slow motion. The sound was thick. And she was doing what Sam was doing. That’s when I woke up. I didn’t know what the hell was going on.
This quotation, which occurs at the end of Part 4, is in the last letter of the book before the Epilogue. For the first time in the novel, Charlie’s repressed memory of his Aunt Helen’s sexual abuse has come into the forefront of his conscious mind. Initially, Charlie thinks that he is having a dream, but he realizes that the dream is an actual memory. As soon as Charlie discovers this memory, many of Charlie’s inexplicable emotions in the novel suddenly make sense. Charlie cares deeply about Sam, and when they begin to become more intimate with each other for the first time, he recalls the last time he was in this sort of sexual situation, which was with Aunt Helen. Charlie has suppressed this memory out of trauma, grief, and guilt, but now that it has come to the surface, he can no longer ignore it. The pain of recognition is, at first, too overwhelming for Charlie to handle, and his body goes into a state of shock. However, after spending two months in the hospital, he is able to recover. Charlie must undergo the horrible pain of going through the worst truth in order to heal.