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Charlie’s beginning to enjoy school because he gets to hang out with Patrick and Sam’s group of friends, including the pretty, smart Mary Elizabeth. Patrick tells Charlie how he and Brad met: they started fooling around as juniors, but Brad would get high and drunk and use that as his excuse for pretending not to remember what he did with Patrick. Brad’s parents sent him to rehab because they didn’t want him not to get a football scholarship, and when Brad returned, he only saw Patrick in secret.
Bill gives Charlie his first B on an essay, which makes Charlie excited, since it means he’s improving. (Charlie gets A’s on his report card grades. These lower grades are just for the extra essays.) Charlie starts working for a fanzine called Punk Rocky, about punk rock and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Mary Elizabeth is in charge of the fanzine, and in charge of local showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where Patrick plays Frank ‘N Furter and Sam plays Janet. Sam is going out with a man named Craig, who’s in his twenties and a male model. Charlie’s in love with Sam, and he’s hurt and jealous.
Charlie discusses a science experiment that showed that rats would put up with a lot more pain for intense pleasure than for food. Charlie’s brother doesn’t call home very much from college, and when he does, he tells funny stories about how dumb the other guys on the football team are. Charlie likes to think that his brother is having a glamorous college experience. Charlie thinks about his dad’s glory days, especially a triumphant state championship high school baseball game. Charlie hope he’ll have old photographs that show his own happy memories.
Charlie’s brother bails on coming home for Thanksgiving because he’s too behind on his schoolwork, which makes Charlie’s mom deply upset. She takes Charlie shopping for clothes. She suggests that Sam and Patrick come over for dinner after the holidays, which makes Charlie excited, since the last friend he’d had over to dinner was Michael. Charlie remembers that he and Michael used to watch other people through their windows.
The holidays are a difficult time for Charlie’s family, because it reminds them all of Aunt Helen, and they each deal with the stress and sadness in their own ways. Charlie’s grandfather typically gets drunk and makes boisterous, racist comments. Charlie’s dad gets quietly very drunk and withdrawn. This Thanksgiving, they watch a tape of Charlie’s brother’s football game, and Charlie says that he’s thankful that his brother played football and that no one fought.
Charlie draws Patrick’s name in a Secret Santa, and he makes him a very thoughtful mix tape, which Patrick loves. His first Secret Santa gift is socks. He then starts to get all the components of a suit, one by one. Charlie gets Patrick a biography of Harvey Milk, the gay rights activist. At the Secret Santa party, Charlie reads Patrick a poem. Patrick gives Charlie the suit jacket, telling him that all great writers used to wear suits. Charlie gives all his friends thoughtful gifts, not just Patrick and Sam. For instance, he gives Mary Elizabeth money to print a color copy of her zine, Punk Rocky. Charlie gives Sam a record that Aunt Helen had given him, and Sam whispers to Charlie that she loves him. She gives Charlie a typewriter, and she gives Charlie his first kiss. As it turns out, Sam had been sexually abused, and she wants Charlie to have a loving first kiss, not an abusive one.
Charlie isn’t the only repressed character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. As it turns out, lots of people in the novel have repressed desires that express themselves in various ways. One other character who’s repressed is Patrick. Patrick trusts Charlie enough to tell Charlie all about his closeted sexuality, and about his hidden, complicated relationship with Brad. Charlie is very tolerant of his friends. To Charlie it doesn’t matter that Brad and Patrick are gay in terms of how he treats them as friends. On the contrary, he wants them to be able to be happy and to accept who they are. Charlie’s acceptance and embrace of difference is contrasted against people like his grandfather, who is an outspoken racist and doesn’t tolerate anyone who isn’t like him. Charlie’s tolerance is also contrasted against people like Brad, who are too uncomfortable with themselves to express their true emotions. Even though Charlie has a lot of social anxiety and has trouble speaking up for himself, he is always honest with himself.
Read more about the perks of being inclusive as a theme.
Charlie’s family life gets slowly revealed through the activites he mentions in his letters, especially when the holidays start to approach. Although Charlie doesn’t tell us too much about his parents, he gives the sense through his letters that they’re worried about him and try to be as supportive as possible. Charlie’s parents continue to arrange for him to visit psychiatrists and try to heal from his childhood trauma. And Charlie’s parents are coping with their own trauma and grief in the aftermath of Aunt Helen’s death. Aunt Helen was a troubled figure who had a lot of issues with alcoholism and drug abuse
Charlie’s brother is upheld in the household as the hero of the family. Charlie idolizes his brother, and the brother is also living out his dad’s dreams. Charlie’s brother is the figure in the family they can all gather around and celebrate. Watching Charlie’s brother play football on television gives Charlie’s family an occasion to bond and a topic of conversation that is unquestionably and unobjectionably successful. But Charlie feels increasingly distant from his brother. The family watches him on television, rather than traveling to see his games in person. Charlie’s brother doesn’t come home for Thanksgiving, blaming work, but really to carve out his own, separate life.
As Charlie is growing apart from his brother, and as his brother is becoming a symbol to the family rather than an active participant in family affairs, Charlie is simultaneously growing closer to his friends. Patrick, Sam, and their crowd are becoming Charlie’s crowd, too. Initially, he was the wallflower in all the group’s interactions because he was the new, younger kid, tagging along but not yet part of the group. Now, as the holidays approach, Charlie is one of the gang. Not only does he get a fantastically thoughtful set of Secret Santa presents for Patrick, he finds gifts for the rest of his friends as well. And even though at first it seems like his Secret Santa might be playing a prank on Charlie, it turns out that Patrick has ben getting Charlie a beautifully thoughtful present as well. Patrick and Sam truly love Charlie, and Charlie loves them. “Love,” here, doesn’t necessarily mean sexual love. Regardless of any romantic feelings one way or the other, Patrick and Sam care about Charlie in an almost familial way. This sort of affection and these tight relationships allow Charlie to come out of his shell. He doesn’t always have something to prove, and he doesn’t need to hide all the time. Charlie can be himself around his friends, and because he accepts them for who they are, they accept him for who he is.
Read more about the symbolism behind the mix tape that Charlie gives to Patrick.
The relationship between Sam and Charlie is complicated. Charlie has a huge crush on Sam, but he also isn’t ready to act on his feelings yet. After all, he’s only a freshman in high school. Besides, he’s still trying to process the trauma of having two figures whom he trusted tremendously die. Charlie isn’t emotionally solid enough in himself to be able to enter into a full relationship with Sam yet. There’s definitely some attraction between the two, but neither one of them is ready to act on it yet. Sam knows that Charlie has a crush on her, which she thinks is sweet, but from Sam’s perspective, Charlie is a freshman whom she sees as kind of a little brother figure, and she’s a senior. Sam does not kiss Charlie as a romantic gesture. She instead kisses him more of a friendly gesture of gratitude, or a gift. She wants to give him his first kiss because she cares about him and wants that experience to be as wonderful for him as possible. This might seem a little heartless, but Sam is trying to protect and watch out for Charlie. Sam’s sexual abuse in her childhood also foreshadows the sexual abuse that Charlie does not yet know he is repressing.
Read more about the theme of participating in life.