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.