The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Stephen Chbosky

Born in Pennsylvania, Stephen Chbosky grew up in a Catholic household in the Pittsburgh suburbs until he left to study film writing at University of Southern California. In his early college years, Chbosky met the well-known screenwriter Stewart Stern, who became a lifelong friend and mentor. After graduating from college, Chbosky wrote several screenplays and also directed and acted in The Four Corners of Nowhere, which was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival in 1995. Chbosky’s best known work, the semi-autobiographical The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was published in 1999, and he later wrote and directed the film adaptation in 2012. Chbosky currently lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife Liz and continues working as a screenwriter, producer, and director.
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Historical Context of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This story is set in the early 1990s, a time of revived interest in punk and alternative rock. Music like that of the Smiths and Smashing Pumpkins became a popular counter-culture movement in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s. Charlie and his friends are a collection of misfits, and the music they listen to reflects their eclectic individual styles and tastes. They have a nostalgia for older music and film like The Beatles and Rocky Horror Picture Show, perhaps because of the freedom and creative expression that those cultural pieces represent in contrast with the cultural conservatism of the 1980s and early 1990s. The rising AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s bolstered American homophobia, the effects of which can be seen in Charlie’s dad and brother’s behavior, as well as in Brad’s dad’s violent reaction after finding him together with Patrick. Additionally, multiple characters in the novel discuss the “democratic candidates,” which makes reference to the presidential election of 1992 in which Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent president George W. Bush.

Other Books Related to The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Thanks to Charlie’s bookishness, The Perks of Being a Wallflower discusses many classic works of literature, including On the Road, Hamlet, This Side of Paradise, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Catcher in the Rye. All of these books are included regularly in junior high and high school curricula because of their literary merit and because they chronicle coming-of-age stories like Charlie’s. These coming-of-age novels, also called bildungsroman, often feature themes of nostalgia, the growing pains of adolescence, coming to terms with adult realities, developing one’s identity, and exploring relationships. Chbosky has referenced The Catcher in the Rye as a particularly influential work for him, and one literary reviewer criticized Chbosky for drawing too strong a parallel between Charlie and The Catcher in the Rye’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield (though other critics argue that their voices and characters are distinct). The Perks of Being a Wallflower also harkens back, perhaps unintentionally, to one of the first works of young adult literature called Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. Also written as an epistolary novel, Seventeenth Summer tells the story of a young woman who, like Charlie, navigates her first romantic relationship while developing her identity as a young adult. The Perks of Being a Wallflower also shares themes and content with Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult novel Speak, which is (like Perks) the story of a high school freshman coming to terms with her experience of sexual assault.
Key Facts about The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Full Title: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • When Written: 1996-1998
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: 1999
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult fiction, epistolary
  • Setting: Pittsburgh suburbs
  • Climax: Charlie experiences a mental health crisis during which he realizes that his favorite aunt molested him as a child.
  • Antagonist: Childhood trauma
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Muse. Chbosky has directed films starring Emma Watson twice: once for the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2012 and for the most recent Beauty and the Beast adaptation in 2017.

Mentors. Chbosky based the character of Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, on Stewart Stern, who was the screenwriter for Rebel Without a Cause and Chbosky’s friend and mentor.