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Charlie’s birthday is December 24, and he’s eager to get all the holidays over with, since they bring up so many emotions. Bill gave Charlie The Catcher in the Rye to read over the holidays—very appropriate, since Charlie’s definitely a modern-day Holden Caufield.
Charlie is in Ohio for Christmas, where Charlie’s dad’s family lives. On his birthday, Charlie and his sister and mom went Christmas shopping, and after a lot of stress, he finds a gift for his dad: a videocassette of the last episode of M*A*S*H. On Christmas morning, before driving to Ohio, they exchange gifts. Charlie’s brother brags about his girlfriend, Kelly, saying, “Kelly believes in women’s rights so much that she would never let a guy hit her.” Charlie’s brother and sister immediately start to fight, and Charlie’s dad breaks up the fight. Charlie’s dad tells Charlie that he has to drive the rest of the way to Ohio, and even though Charlie has just gotten his driver’s license the day before, he does it. That night, Charlie remembers that when his dad was growing up, his dad left his mother and sister at home with an abusive man, which has made his dad feel guilty ever since.
On the drive home the day after Christmas, Charlie and his family visit Aunt Helen’s grave. Aunt Helen was molested by a family friend, and she went into a downward spiral with drinking and drugs. On Charlie’s seventh birthday, Aunt Helen died in a car accident. The last thing that Aunt Helen had said to Charlie was that she was going to buy him his birthday present, so Charlie can’t help but blame himself for her death. Charlie thinks that if his Aunt Helen hadn’t loved him so much, she would still be alive.
After Charlie finishes The Catcher in the Rye, he reads it three more times in four days. He also spends much of the Christmas holidays driving by himself. The first thing he does is visit Aunt Helen’s grave. He’s been crying a lot, and he’s afraid that if this persists, he’ll have to see his psychiatrist again. At a New Years’ party, Charlie takes LSD, and the after-effects make him vacillate between being deeply philosophical and feeling like the whole world is spinning. He ends the letter with implicit thoughts of suicide.
The Catcher in the Rye is one of America’s most iconic coming-of-age novels. The books is told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, a rebellious, troubled teenager who’s experiencing some sexual awakenings but is also still very much a kid. The Catcher in the Rye is set at Christmastime, and many of Holden’s issues revolves around the trouble with going home for the holidays and feeling like he doesn’t really belong anywhere. Bill gives Charlie The Catcher in the Rye to read at a very symbolically important moment in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s Christmastime, which is a very tense time for Charlie’s family. Aunt Helen’s death and Charlie’s birthday are inextricably wrapped up together, since Aunt Helen died on Christmas Eve, which is Charlie’s birthday. Aunt Helen’s absence is even more prominent at Christmas. Charlie takes buying gifts for people very seriously, and it’s very important to him to get the right thing. Charlie enjoys making and purchasing gifts for his friends, and this process makes him excited rather than causing him existential angst. But getting a gift for his dad is much more difficult for Charlie. Charlie displaces his internal anxieties into the process of trying to get exactly the right present for his dad. In Charlie’s view, if he doesn’t get the present itself exactly right, he’ll feel like a failure.
Read more about the author as well as the background of the novel and its relationship to The Catcher in the Rye.
Even though Charlie’s still insecure and anxious, he’s beginning to grow up. On his sixteenth birthday, Charlie gets his driver’s license, which symbolically represents his becoming more of an adult. When Charlie’s brother comes home for Christmas, his presence makes family tensions erupt. Charlie’s brother is the star who is idealized from afar, but when he’s home, he acts very smug and patronizing. He criticizes Charlie’s sister for staying with her abusive boyfriend, rather than being sympathetic to her situation. When Charlie’s brother and sister fight, Charlie’s dad puts Charlie into the role of de facto peacemaker by making Charlie drive the whole family to Ohio. Even though Charlie has barely learned how to drive, he brings the whole family successfully into another state. Charlie physically takes charge of the situation, and he symbolically at the same time becomes the emotional glue that holds people together.
Read more about driving as a motif.
Charlie attempts to escape from his dark emotions by reading and re-reading The Catcher in the Rye. Charlie’s letters get increasingly anxious and increasingly depressed during the holidays. During the school year, Charlie can suppress his deep emotional trauma when he’s spending time with his friends, since they accept him and provide him with a supportive environment. The work that Charlie does with Bill also makes him feel special and helps him recognize himself as a person with talents and special skills. However, during the holidays, the only identity that Charlie can occupy is that of his troubled, traumatized self. Charlie feels the deep pressure of this role. He blames himself for his Aunt Helen’s death because the last thing that she told him before her car crash was that she was going to go look for his birthday present. Charlie is able to twist his memories to feed his inner guilt, even if this guilt is irrational. Charlie blames himself because Aunt Helen loved him too much, in his view. The nature of Charlie and Aunt Helen’s relationship isn’t totally clear at this point in the novel, because it’s not yet totally clear to Charlie. But there does seem to be something sort of sinister in this idea that Charlie blames himself for Aunt Helen’s death because she was too loving towards him. Charlie’s guilt and blame helps explain why he doesn’t yet feel comfortable approaching Sam and trying to go out with her. Charlie is subconsciously afraid that when he loves someone, and that when someone loves him back, somehow that process of loving him will take that person away.