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Charlie writes to his “friend” that after he mailed the letter on January 1, he started vomiting, and he laid down in the snow, which is the last thing he remembers before the police found him and took him to the emergency room, which his parents later drove him home from. As a kid, Charlie used to wander off and fall asleep in strange places a lot. Charlie also discovers that he’s hacked off a lot of his hair with scissors while on LSD.
Charlie gets scared when he starts doing research on long-term effects of LSD. Patrick and Sam reassure him that he’ll be okay. Bill praises Charlie’s Catcher in the Rye paper. Charlie’s mood begins to perk up tremendously from the lows of the Christmas holidays, which might have something to do with his new psychiatrist. Charlie, Sam, Patrick, and their friends discuss Kurt Cobain, and Charlie’s thrilled to be having what feel like big, important, philosophical conversations.
Charlie and Bill discuss the latest book Bill has assigned: On the Road – but actually, Bill really wants to check in with Charlie and discuss life. Bill gives Charlie Naked Lunch, a book about a heroin addict. Mary Elizabeth invites Charlie to the Sadie Hawkins dance, which is a dance where the girl invites the boy. Charlie explains how it happened: first, Mary Elizabeth was really pleased with the latest issue of Punk Rocky, in color thanks to Charlie’s Secret Santa gift. Then, at a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Craig was supposed to play Rocky but didn’t show up, so Charlie steps in instead. When Mary Elizabeth invites Charlie, he gets an erection. He admits that he wants Sam to be jealous, but Sam doesn’t get jealous—instead, she gives Charlie tips how to act around Mary Elizabeth.
At the dance, Charlie lets Mary Elizabeth talk about herself the whole time. He’s not ready to kiss her goodnight. Craig is too busy to go to the dance, and Sam is sad, which makes Charlie wish he could comfort her. Charlie’s sister has a huge fight with her boyfriend on the dance floor. After Charlie gets home, his sister tells him that she’s pregnant. Charlie agrees to drive her to the abortion clinic.
When Charlie is waiting for his sister in the abortion clinic, he remembers that she’s the one who taught him where babies come from. Charlie waits in the car and smokes. When his sister comes out, she says she’ll tell their parents about Charlie’s smoking, but Charlie reminds her that she won’t tell, and they laugh. When they get home, their parents ask them about where they’ve been all day, and Charlie’s sister covers up convincingly.
Mary Elizabeth goes on another date with Charlie, and again, she talks the whole time. They see a foreign film, then drink brandy, listen to a Billie Holiday record, and make out from the waist up. In the next letter to his “friend,” a few weeks after that second date, Charlie discusses how much Mary Elizabeth talks. One time, he puts the phone down and walks away, and she doesn’t even notice. Charlie’s mother asks Charlie to invite Sam and Patrick over, but as soon as he does, Mary Elizabeth barges in and invites herself over for the dinner, too. Mary Elizabeth completely monopolizes the dinner conversation, which makes Charlie very upset, since the night was supposed to be just about Sam and Patrick. Even though his sister and his psychiatrist advise Charlie to be honest, he doesn’t tell Mary Elizabeth how upset he is.
Mary Elizabeth gives Charlies a book of e.e.cummings poems because she likes the book, and she makes Charlie parade his gratitude towards her. Charlie gets so annoyed that he returns the book to the bookstore, but he immediately feels so guilty that he buys the book back. He buys Mary Elizabeth a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, but she dismisses it patronizingly. A few days later, Charlie and his friends play Truth or Dare. Patrick dares Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, and Charlie kisses Sam. Mary Elizabeth stalks out of the room, and Sam follows, saying to Charlie, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Charlie starts to cry. Patrick drives Charlie home, and Charlie tells him everything. When Charlie gets home, he lays on his bed, reads the e.e. cummings book, and listens to the Billie Holiday record.
None of Charlie’s friends are talking to him after the Truth or Dare debacle. He spends spring break reading Hamlet, the latest book Bill has given him. Charlie tries to apologize to Mary Elizabeth, but she tells him that it’s too late. Patrick tells Charlie he should stay away from them for a while. Charlie wants to figure out how to make this all go away, but he can’t. Instead, he smokes pot.
After the holidays, Charlie becomes much more cheery almost immediately. His tone in the letters in January is a bubbly, almost forced happiness that feels very deliberate and very artificial in contrast to the raw, depressed Charlie who ended the last letters in December. Charlie blames a lot of his problems on taking LSD at a New Year’s Eve party. Even though some of this might be true, Charlie is also not quite facing all of his problems just yet. The uptick in mood from his depressed state at the end of the year is a good thing, but it doesn’t yet feel permanent. Charlie is still hiding from his pain rather than confronting it head-on.
Read more about smoking, drinking, and drugs as symbols.
Charlie is a literal wallflower at the Sadie Hawkins dance. On the one hand, he does get invited to the dance, which means that a girl has picked him out of the crowd and singled him out as special. On the other hand, Charlie doesn’t yet feel comfortable enough in his own skin to dance, instead preferring to hang back and observe.
Charlie’s relationship with his sister becomes much stronger and deeper when she trusts him to help her with her abortion. One of Charlie’s greatest strengths as a symbolic wallflower is his capacity for tolerance and for his ability to be there for others in their moments of crisis. Even though Charlie’s sister was very angry with him when he told Bill about her abusive boyfriend, she now realizes that he has her best interests at heart and that she can rely on him. Charlie tells his “friend” about his sister’s abortion in a curious way. Instead of leading with this event in the very beginning of a letter and letting himself express all his existential and emotional concerns regarding this topic, Charlie brings up the abortion in the middle of a longer letter, after describing all the rest of the events at the homecoming dance. But just because Charlie doesn’t bring up a topic first doesn’t mean that it’s not important to him. Since Charlie tends to repress the most important aspects of his life, he rarely brings the most important things the most immediately to the surface.
Read more about the scene in which Charlie’s sister gets an abortion.
Many different relationships ravel and unravel simultaneously throughout The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Just as Charlie’s sister and her boyfriend break up as a result of her pregnancy, Charlie finds himself getting deeper into a relationship with Mary Elizabeth. At first, Charlie’s relationship with Mary Elizabeth seems like an exciting step forward in his process of growing up. When he first started high school, he didn’t speak to anyone; now, a beautiful senior has asked him to a dance and wants to have a relationship with him. Mary Elizabeth first notices Charlie when he dances on stage as Rocky in the routine staging of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ironically, Charlie is standing in for Sam’s boyfriend, Craig, in the role, but instead of letting his acting give him the confidence to act on his love for Sam, Charlie gets seen as someone other than himself.
Read more about The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a motif.
Mary Elizabeth quickly considers Charlie to be her boyfriend. But even at the beginning of the relationship, there are problems. Mary Elizabeth seems to use Charlie more as a sounding board than as a sparring partner. She doesn’t pay any attention to what he wants. Instead, Mary Elizabeth likes Charlie because Charlie is such a good listener, and because he can act as a foil to reflect her brilliance. In some ways, the relationship is good for Charlie, since it provides him with comfort and stability. However, ultimately, the relationship pushes Charlie into the bad parts of being a wallflower. He’s not a person in the relationship, but rather, he’s Mary Elizabeth’s prop and puppet. Mary Elizabeth doesn’t physically abuse him, the way that Charlie’s sister’s boyfriend does, but she emotionally uses him. Mary Elizabeth isn’t a bad person, and she doesn’t treat Charlie horribly, but she also doesn’t let him be himself.
Charlie himself isn’t entirely blameless in the relationship, however. He becomes too comfortable in being a wallflower and doesn’t stand up for himself. But when he and his friends play Truth or Dare, Charlie’s inability to tell a white lie causes him to self-sabotage the relationship. However, in the long term, honesty is the best policy. Even though Charlie could have been kinder to Mary Elizabeth in the moment, he would not have been able to live with the lie. Charlie’s and Mary Elizabeth’s relationship would have persisted and perhaps even deepened if he had kissed Mary Elizabeth rather than Sam, but Charlie would have been denying himself his true feelings. Even though choosing Sam as the prettiest girl was the wrong choice from the standpoint of trying to maintain a functional relationship, Charlie’s honesty serves him very well in the long term. He is deeply sad and depressed when his friends won’t hang out with him anymore, but the blunt truth allows both himself and Mary Elizabeth to move forward with their lives. Lies and repression might help as band-aids in the moment, but in the long run, they will only cause more pain.