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Discuss the form of the book. Why does Charlie address his letters to an unnamed “friend”?
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel, which means that it is written in the form of letters. The narration is entirely one-sided throughout the book, since the novel only consists of letters that Charlie writes, not that Charlie receives. The letters act more like a diary than a true back-and-forth correspondence. In this way, the letters also make the novel resemble The Diary of Anne Frank in its form, because Anne addresses her diary entries to a fictional friend whom she calls “Kitty.” Charlie is supposedly writing these letters to a trusted outside source, but really, he’s writing them to himself and to the reader. The format of Charlie writing a series of letters also makes the reader feel as though he or she could be in the position of the recipient, and the reader can imagine how he or she might reply.
Charlie addresses his letters to an anonymous “friend” to give himself an outlet to open up and talk about his life. The “friend” is the perfect listener, since this person is someone Charlie trusts enough to receive all his secrets without a filter, yet this person does not judge Charlie or try to intervene in his life. If Charlie is a wallflower throughout the book, meaning that he waits on the sidelines and observes rather than stepping in to participate in events, Charlie’s “friend” acts as the wallflower figure to Charlie. Charlie’s life and world become the activity, and the “friend” observes and soaks everything in, but does not join either the action or the narration. Charlie uses his ability to confess in his trusted “friend” as a way to gain confidence and talk to the people whom he cares about in his daily life and who care about him.
Analyze the scene in which Charlie’s sister gets an abortion. How does Charlie react to this event?
Charlie uses the empathy he has through being a wallflower to become a trusted confidant for his sister. However, to provide his sister the help she needs, Charlie has to step out from the sidelines and participate in events by driving her to and from the clinic. Charlie realizes that something is wrong between his sister and her boyfriend when he is being a wallflower at the Sadie Hawkins dance and sees them having a fight. Charlie does not talk with his sister about the decision-making process, and his sister does not ask him to deliberate whether or not she should get an abortion. Instead, she informs him what she is doing and that she needs his help. Charlie does not question her choices, and he does not try to argue or debate with her. He gives physical and emotional support without judgment.
Even though Charlie accepts his sister’s decision, he is deeply emotionally affected by the incident. Charlie’s sister was the person who first told him about sex when they were children, and when Charlie begins to remember about their childhood, he starts to cry. Memories of Aunt Helen start to emerge, which do not appear sinister in the moment, since Charlie is still repressing his childhood molestation, but these memories add to Charlie’s complex feelings about sex and children. However, Charlie displays his own personal strength and love for his sister, since he has the presence of mind to wait in the car for her. The car is the place where Charlie often bonds with people throughout the novel, since Charlie bonds with Patrick and Sam by driving through tunnels. Also, being able to drive symbolically represents growing up, and Charlie is forced to gain composure when he is in control and has to take the wheel through his own life.
Discuss the significance of mix tapes in the novel.
The act of making a mix tape for a certain occasion or a certain person demonstrates a special level of attention and care. A mix tape can serve as a memory or a time capsule to harness a special moment or mood. Mix tapes can also be a way to show love for another person, because they demonstrate that the person who made the tape has carefully crafted something with the recipient always in mind. Yet mix tapes can sometimes be didactic, serving as a way for the giver to attempt to control the recipient’s musical tastes.
Usually, giving or receiving a mix tape is a positive action. Charlie makes himself a mix tape to commemorate the first time he drives alone, because this action represents an enormous milestone in his life, and he wants to be able to create a certain mood during the event and to recreate this specific feeling afterwards. Charlie creates a mix tape for Patrick during the Secret Santa exchange because he wants to create something personal and meaningful for his friend. In contrast, Mary Elizabeth does not give Charlie a mix tape. Instead, she gives him a Billie Holiday record. Mary Elizabeth wants to force her own musical tastes onto Charlie, and instead of thinking about the special arrangement of songs that Charlie might like, she imposes a single voice on him. However, sometimes mix tapes can be a little more sinister. Charlie’s sister’s boyfriend gives Charlie’s sister a mix tape, which seems to be a loving gesture, but in reality, this apparent kindness masks his abusive nature.