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Charlie is the eponymous “wallflower” of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He is the narrator of this novel, and the book is entirely told through Charlie’s perspective. The reader only knows exactly as much as Charlie knows about any given situation. When Charlie’s repressed memories of his childhood molestation are revealed at the end of the novel, the reader is just as surprised as Charlie. In retrospect, Chbosky leaves several hints throughout the book that indicate something is not quite right in the relationship between Aunt Helen and Charlie.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel, and Charlie matures emotionally, physically, and sexually over the course of the year. Halfway through the novel, Charlie turns sixteen and gets his driver’s license, and these external markers of maturity also represent Charlie’s internal growth. As Charlie changes, the term “wallflower” comes to have much deeper and more nuanced meaning over the course of the novel. At first, Charlie is a wallflower because he has no friends and does not try to connect with people. At dances, he is literally a wallflower because he stands off to the side instead of joining in. When Charlie witnesses disturbing things, like the date rape at his brother’s party, he generally tends to watch passively rather than speak up. However, as the novel progresses, Charlie learns how to be a wallflower but not a doormat. Confessing everything in his life to his anonymous “friend” enables Charlie to gain the confidence he needs to participate more fully in his actual life. As Charlie continues to push himself to be part of life rather than using the coping mechanism of letting things wash by him, he discovers his own talents. Charlie realizes that he can become an artist such as a writer or a deejay in order to take advantage of his capacity for looking in from the outside while simultaneously being involved in the action from within.