Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Smoking, Drinking, and Drugs

Throughout The Perks of Being a Wallflower, people use various substances to try and escape from their own pain and suffering, but the drug use only sinks them further into their own depression. Smoking, drug use, and underage drinking form a large part of the high school world of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. At the homecoming party that Charlie attends with Patrick and Sam, Charlie is still somewhat in awe of his older friends, and the fact that there are drugs at the party seems cool to him at the time. Charlie eats a pot brownie without realizing what he is doing, and everybody laughs when he gets the munchies, but the teasing helps Charlie feel like he is part of the group. Charlie drinks and does pot with his friends to try and participate in life and to fit in with the crowd.

Read more about escapism via drinking in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

However, drug use is ultimately an escape that does not work in the long term. Charlie starts smoking as a more outward form of rebellion, and as a way to calm his nerves, but his nerves are not calmed. When Charlie kisses Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth, causing his whole friend group to ostracize him for a period of time in solidarity with Mary Elizabeth, Charlie turns to pot to try and numb himself. The pot helps dull him, but it doesn’t provide bliss, and Charlie is still depressed. When Brad stops going out with Patrick and after Brad lets the football team beat up Patrick right in front of him, Patrick starts self-medicating to make himself numb.

Mix Tape

The mix tape is usually a sign of the giver’s affection for the recipient, and it typically marks a momentous occasion or celebrates a deep friendship. If someone goes to the trouble to compile a group of particular songs together in a particular order, this action usually signifies that the maker of the mix tape cares a lot about the taste of the person who is going to receive it. Charlie makes a very thoughtful mix tape for Patrick when he Patrick is his Secret Santa. Many months later, when Patrick is depressed over losing Brad, Charlie notices that Patrick is playing the mix tape in his car. Making the mix tape lets Charlie show how much he cares for Patrick, and playing the mix tape lets Patrick show how deeply he trusts and relies on Charlie.

Charlie sometimes organizes the elements of his life as though they were the songs on a mix tape. When he, Patrick, and Sam drive through the tunnel, Charlie suddenly stops hearing the wind and notices that “Landside,” the Fleetwood Mac song, is playing on the tape player. “Landslide” becomes indelibly associated for him with the beautiful image of Sam standing in the wind as they drive. However, mix tapes can mask sinister intents. Charlie’s sister’s boyfriend makes Charlie’s sister mix tapes, but Charlie’s sister does not like the music. Charlie’s sister’s boyfriend uses the seemingly sweet mechanism of making a mix tape and twists it for manipulative, controlling purposes.

The Tunnel

The tunnel symbolizes liberation from pain and fear. When Charlie is in the tunnel, he feels joy, freedom, and human connection with an intensity he’s never experienced. In the tunnel, he can let go of the grief that weighs down his everyday life, his social anxieties, and the confusion of his adolescence. Instead, he relishes the greatness of the universe and the feeling of infinity. The tunnel exhibits that there is hope for Charlie to be liberated from his debilitating traumas and truly enjoy life as an active participant. The tunnel also represents the journey of life itself. When Charlie stands in the tunnel, feeling the wind on his face, surrounded by beautiful music, it shows that Charlie is beginning to understand how to find joy in the simple act of existence. The experience of the tunnel is also not complete without the presence of his best friends Patrick and Sam, suggesting that one of the most important facets of the journey of life is companionship.