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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Driving represents independence and maturity, and the ability to drive both alone and with other people is an important marker of actively participating in one’s own life. Charlie first bonds with Patrick and Sam when they drive through the tunnel together. As they pass through the tunnel to emerge on the other side together physically, they also undergo a deep emotional bond by traveling together through this space. On Charlie’s sixteenth birthday, he gets his driver’s license, meaning that he can drive independently, and this capacity is a marker of Charlie’s growth into adulthood. When Charlie’s siblings fight in the car on Christmas day, Charlie’s dad tells Charlie to drive the family the rest of the way to Ohio, which gives Charlie an enormous responsibility. Charlie becomes the glue who keeps the family together and helps them get where they need to go. Charlie’s driving also provides mutual distraction for the family, since they can focus on his driving and helping him grow into a capable adult instead of wallowing in their drama.
Read more about driving in another coming-of-age novel, John Green’s Paper Towns.
But driving also has a troubling undertone. Aunt Helen died in a car crash, and her death caused Charlie extensive emotional trauma. Charlie has also repressed the memory of Aunt Helen molesting him as a child. One of the first places Charlie drives on his own is to visit Aunt Helen’s grave, which he does in search of solace and comfort. Visiting Aunt Helen’s grave is a family ritual, but Charlie wants to make this journey by himself so that that he can confront the past on his own terms. Although driving might seem to be an action that brings the horrors of the past to the surface, driving allows Charlie to work through these difficulties. As he moves forward physically, he can move on emotionally.
Charlie and his friends regularly watch and perform along with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this venue gives them the opportunity to let loose and be themselves without reservations and without judgment. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an iconic cult movie from the 1970s, and ever since its release, audiences have been gathering for regular viewing parties. People sing along, talk back to the screen, dress up as their favorite characters, and dance the “Time Warp” group dance together. When Charlie gets to play Rocky one day, he gets excited for several reasons. First of all, Sam plays Janet, Rocky’s love interest, and Craig, Sam’s boyfriend, typically plays Rocky, so this offers Charlie an opportunity to get close to Sam without overstepping any boundaries. As Rocky, Charlie dances in a feather boa and wear a gold Speedo. This kind of flamboyant exposure might seem like a wallflower’s worst nightmare, but since Charlie is acting as Rocky, not himself, he gets to immerse himself in the role of another person, which is liberating. Charlie gets positive sexual attention for putting himself out there as Rocky, since Mary Elizabeth asks him to the dance after seeing him on stage. Being Rocky, Charlie can embody a more sexual version of himself, since he can temporarily leave behind his emotional baggage.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show offers other characters in The Perks of Being a Wallflower the opportunity to express themselves in a way that they cannot do in ordinary life. Patrick regularly plays the role of Frank ‘N Furter, the transvestite in the film. Even though Patrick keeps his homosexuality closeted in his daily life, and he cannot make his relationship with Brad public, he becomes liberated on stage. Charlie knows that Patrick is truly depressed when he no longer shows up for Rocky Horror, and he recognizes that Patrick is doing better when Patrick appears for the show again. The Rocky Horror Picture Show also acts as a comforting routine, an anchoring ritual in the constant turmoil and drama of high school life. No matter what else happens, Rocky Horror is still there.