By composing the novel as a series of letters written by Charlie, Chbosky emphasizes Charlie’s reliance on language to make sense of the world. Writing things down in letters to a stranger seems to give Charlie the ability to better examine and process his experiences. Charlie’s English teacher Bill recognizes his strong writing skills and encourages his love of reading and writing with extra assignments. As Charlie reads and reflects on the books Bill gives him, he identifies with the various protagonists, and these stories influence his growth throughout the year. Furthermore, Charlie’s letters give him a sense of control and a space to work out the things he has been unable to say out loud to another person. In this way, reading about others and writing about himself helps Charlie to discover his voice and identity, which gives him strength as he figures out how to navigate the escalating complexity of his adolescence.
Charlie writes letters to an anonymous addressee as a means of cathartically processing his emotions and controlling his own narrative, both of which are particularly important to him in the wake of his history of sexual abuse. Writing gives Charlie control over the narrative of his life in the sense that the reader sees Charlie’s life events through his eyes, and Charlie decides which things to write about and which to omit. Even the things he’s ashamed about, like hurting Mary Elizabeth, he gets to tell the reader about on his own terms. Given his anonymity, writing also allows him to be more forthcoming with his thoughts and feelings than he might otherwise be in person. In this way, writing grants him a certain freedom of expression, which is particularly important as he thinks through difficult events. Charlie’s writing is also a way of discovering things about himself he didn’t already know, as he writes that sometimes he spends two days thinking about what he “figured out” in his letters. Furthermore, even though Charlie is essentially writing to himself (since his correspondent doesn’t know his address or identity), developing the confidence to speak anonymously about himself is a step towards speaking to someone else in person about his traumatic past.
Just as writing letters helps Charlie discover and affirm his own identity, the extra reading and writing assignments he does for Bill shape his sense of self and make him feel valuable for who he is. As Charlie reads Hamlet, he feels a strong connection to the young protagonist, writing that “it was helpful to know that someone else has been through it.” Charlie learns a lot about himself while reading about the lives of other young men, and seeing his experiences reflected in theirs helps him to put his messy everyday life into the context of a collective coming-of-age narrative that so many young men have experienced. Furthermore, Charlie’s reading informs him about the world, which helps shape the views and opinions that help define his personality. During a conversation with his friends, for instance, Charlie uses an idea he learned while reading This Side of Paradise to stake a unique claim about celebrities and heroes. Most importantly, Charlie goes beyond identifying with the protagonists of the literature he reads and comes to identify with the authors, helping him shape his sense of himself as a writer and his goals for the future. His friends acknowledge his budding identity as a writer, giving him gifts to encourage it: a typewriter and a suit. Significantly, reading and writing also make Charlie feel valuable. Based on his extra assignments, Bill tells Charlie that he is “one of the most gifted people [he’s] ever known,” and this praise is important to Charlie’s healing process because Bill is the only adult who makes him feel special (that is, besides Charlie’s Aunt Helen, who abused him). Through reading and writing, Charlie forges a healthy relationship with an authority figure and mentor who makes him feel like he has something valuable to say.
While reading and writing are often solitary pleasures, one of the most important aspects of Charlie’s relationship to literature is that his passion for books connects him to others. During secret Santa, for instance, Charlie reads aloud to the group the poem he has given Patrick as a gift. After he finishes reading, he describes the poem as “something that made everyone look around at each other and know that they were there.” Furthermore, Charlie discovers that—since books are so closely tied with his identity—giving and receiving books is an intimate way to show affection. For his birthday, Charlie’s mom gives him some books that she liked when she was a teenager, which shows that she notices his passions and gives them something in common. Charlie then gives Sam and Patrick his books at the end of the school year, effectively giving them pieces of himself just as Bill and Charlie’s mom gave to him. In this way, reading and writing help Charlie to discover and affirm his identity in the safety of solitude, and then give him a means to connect to others and confidently express who he is to the world.
Healing and Self-discovery through Literature and Writing ThemeTracker
Healing and Self-discovery through Literature and Writing Quotes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.
Some kids look at me strange in the hallways because I don’t decorate my locker, and I’m the one who beat up Sean and couldn’t stop crying after he did it. I guess I’m pretty emotional.
My advanced English teacher asked me to call him “Bill” when we’re not in class, and he gave me another book to read. He says that I have great skill at reading and understanding language, and he wanted me to write an essay about To Kill a Mockingbird.
I have decided that maybe I want to write when I grow up. I just don’t know what I would write.
I feel like a big faker because I’ve been putting my life back together, and nobody knows.
I don't know what it was, and I know we didn't really accomplish
anything, but it felt great to sit there and talk about our place in things. It was like when Bill told me to “participate.” I went to the homecoming dance like I told you before, but this was much more fun. It was especially fun to think that people all over the world were having similar conversations in their equivalent of the Big Boy.
“Charlie. Please don't take this the wrong way. I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable. I just want you to know that you're very special . . . and the only reason I'm telling you is that I don't know if anyone else ever has.”