The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Themes and Colors
Trauma, Abuse, and Mental Health Theme Icon
Relationships and Intimacy Theme Icon
Masculinity and Violence Theme Icon
Healing and Self-discovery through Literature and Writing Theme Icon
Adolescence and Transformation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Relationships and Intimacy Theme Icon

Charlie’s experiences throughout his first year of high school re-shape his understanding of relationships and intimacy, transforming him from an emotionally numb and isolated boy to an affectionate young man with several healthy, intimate relationships. Charlie’s initial difficulty with intimacy springs from growing up in a household in which expressing affection was taboo, as well as from his childhood molestation at the hands of his beloved Aunt Helen. Because of this, Charlie has to relearn the boundaries between intimacy and abuse, figuring out what kinds of relationships are good for him and which are harmful. Furthermore, since Charlie hasn’t seen many healthy relationships, he believes at first that passivity and putting others before himself are the surest ways to demonstrate his care for his friends. Through his friendships, however, Charlie discovers that loving and respecting himself is a prerequisite for having healthy relationships with others, and that love is an essential resource for cultivating happiness and coping with hardship.

For most of Charlie’s life, the examples he had for loving relationships either lacked outward affection or were abuse masked as care. Several times throughout the novel, Charlie comments on how his family doesn't hug or say “I love you” often. His father treats his emotions like carefully guarded secrets, and his mother, who will cry publicly, doesn’t speak very often, much less say how she feels. Charlie’s older siblings also refrain to openly showing care for one another, and regularly hurl insults at each other. Charlie’s grandfather, like many men, was taught that anger is the only appropriate emotion for men to express. Therefore, when Charlie kisses his grandfather’s cheek, his grandfather wipes the kiss away, showing disdain for open affection, especially between men. In a family reluctant to show affection, Aunt Helen was the only one who hugged Charlie. But because he was sexually abused by the only family member who regularly showed him warmth and affection, his perception of intimacy is warped, as it has become conflated with abuse. Adding to the trauma of his abuse, his cold family environment discouraged him from talking about his emotions and experiences, so he carried his trauma in silence, making him feel all the more alone.

While Charlie’s family is generally cold, his new friends and mentors at school love him and want to be close with him, which helps Charlie come to a better understanding of how to build healthy relationships. After Charlie tells Bill, his English teacher, that his sister’s boyfriend hit her, Bill says, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve,” which is illuminating to Charlie. He had never considered before that, in order to have good relationships with other people, one must fist have a good relationship with oneself.

The freedom of adolescence and his supportive peer group provide spaces in which Charlie can explore intimacy as well as sexuality. He shares his first kiss with Sam, and from there, he progresses to his first consensual sexual experience with Mary Elizabeth. These experiences are gentle and without the predatory power dynamic in which Charlie’s aunt Helen placed him. Because of this, Charlie is able to rediscover intimacy with young women his age. Still, despite Charlie’s tremendous progress in building healthy relationships with others, he struggles in the situations in which intimacy is most complex. For example, though Charlie begins engaging in consensual intimacy, he still doesn’t know how to reject unwanted advances. When Patrick kisses him, Charlie just lets it happen, thinking that’s what friends do, but Sam later explains to him that participating in relationships requires honesty and action. She says, “You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love…You have to do things.” This is perhaps the first time that someone else has called out Charlie’s flawed view of relationships and taken the time to help him fix it.

Though Charlie has learned about the importance of honesty in relationships, he can’t bring himself to be honest and break up with Mary Elizabeth for fear of hurting her. Instead, he lets his resentment of her gradually build until he chooses to be “honest” at precisely the wrong moment by kissing Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth during truth or dare. Charlie also struggles with applying his newfound relationship wisdom to his cold and silent family, and when he takes action to safeguard his sister—by confessing to Bill that her boyfriend hit her—she tells him that she hates him and stops speaking to him for a while. At times, Charlie’s efforts to love his family only make him feel more ostracized. Eventually, however, when Charlie’s sister becomes pregnant and decides to get an abortion, Charlie takes care of her and drives her to the clinic. This moment of working through difficulty together brings them closer, and afterwards the chilly family atmosphere dissipates a little—they even say “I love you” to each other more often.

Charlie’s traumatic childhood experiences skewed his understanding of intimacy from an early age, and his family’s aloof dynamic only deepened his inability to reciprocate affection. However, once he enters adolescence and finds a new friend group, he has increased freedom to relearn relationship dynamics and explore healthy forms of intimacy. In his relationships with his friends, Charlie learns that he is deserving of love and capable of reciprocating it, even when that proves more complicated (as it often does) than passively placing their desires in front of his own.

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Relationships and Intimacy Quotes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Below you will find the important quotes in The Perks of Being a Wallflower related to the theme of Relationships and Intimacy.
Part 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker)
Page Number: 2
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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.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker)
Page Number: 8
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I walked into the kitchen, and I saw my dad making a sandwich…and crying. He was crying harder than even my mom. And I couldn’t believe it. When he finished making his sandwich, he put away the things in the refrigerator and stopped crying and wiped his eyes and saw me. Then, he walked up, patted my shoulder, and said, “This is our little secret, okay, champ?”

“Okay,” I said.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Charlie’s Dad
Page Number: 17
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Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.

Related Characters: Bill (speaker), Charlie, Charlie’s Sister
Page Number: 24
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I feel infinite.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Sam, Patrick
Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 33
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“He’s something, isn’t he?”

Bob nodded his head. Patrick then said something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

“He’s a wallflower.”

And Bob really nodded his head. And the whole room nodded their head. And I started to feel nervous in the Bob way, but Patrick didn’t let me get too nervous. He sat down next to me.

“You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Patrick (speaker)
Page Number: 37
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Part 2  Quotes

I have decided that maybe I want to write when I grow up. I just don’t know what I would write.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Bill
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 46
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Sometimes, I look at my parents now and wonder what happened to make them the way they are. And I wonder what will happen to my sister when her boyfriend graduates from law school. And what my brother’s face will look like on a football card, or what it will look like if it is never on a football card. My dad played college baseball for two years, but he had to stop when Mom got pregnant with my brother. That’s when he started working at the office.

Page Number: 52
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When we were all getting ready to leave, I walked up to my grandfather and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He wiped my lip print off with his palm and gave me a look. He doesn’t like the boys in the family to touch him. But I’m very glad that I did it anyway in case he dies. I never got to do that with my Aunt Helen.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Aunt Helen, Charlie’s Grandfather
Page Number: 60
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I had an amazing feeling when I finally held the tape in my hand. I just thought to myself that in the palm of my hand, there was this one tape that had all of these memories and feelings and great joy and sadness. Right there in the palm of my hand. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Patrick
Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 62
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It was an old 45 record that had the Beatles’ song “Something.” I used to listen to it all the time when I was little and thinking about grown-up things. I would go to my bedroom window and stare at my reflection in the glass and the trees behind it and just listen to the song for hours. I decided then that when I met someone I thought was as beautiful as the song, I should give it to that person. And I didn’t mean beautiful on the outside. I meant beautiful in all ways. So, I was giving it to Sam.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Aunt Helen, Sam
Related Symbols: Music
Page Number: 68-69
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“I want to make sure that the first person you kiss loves you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Sam (speaker)
Page Number: 70
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Part 3 Quotes

I feel like a big faker because I’ve been putting my life back together, and nobody knows.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker)
Page Number: 100
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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.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth
Related Symbols: Books
Page Number: 105-106
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I won't go into detail about the whole show, but I had the best time I ever had in my whole life. I'm not kidding. I got to pretend that I was singing, and I got to dance around, and I got to wear a “feather boa” in the grande finale, which I wouldn't have thought anything of because it's part of the show, but Patrick couldn't stop talking about it.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Patrick
Page Number: 110
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Just before she fell asleep, she said, "Well, if you're going to smoke, crack the window at least." Which made me start laughing again.

"Charlie, smoking. I can't believe it."

Which made me laugh harder, and I said, "I love you." And my sister said, "I love you, too. Just stop it with the laughing already."

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Charlie’s Sister
Page Number: 119-120
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I could say that it was the wine or the beer that I chugged. I could also say that I had forgotten the time Mary Elizabeth asked me if I thought she was pretty. But I would be lying. The truth is that when Patrick dared me, I knew that if I kissed Mary Elizabeth, I would be lying to everyone. Including Sam. Including Patrick. Including Mary Elizabeth. And I just couldn't do it anymore. Even if it was part of a game.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Sam, Patrick, Mary Elizabeth
Page Number: 135
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Part 4 Quotes

“You ever think, Charlie, that our group is the same as any other group like the football team? And the only real difference between us is what we wear and why we wear it?”

“Yeah?” And there was this pause.

“Well, I think it's all bullshit.”

And he meant it. It was hard to see him mean it that much.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Patrick (speaker)
Page Number: 155
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So, he said “thanks” and hugged me again. And moved in to kiss me again. And I just let him. I don't know why. We stayed in his car for a long time.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Patrick
Page Number: 160
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“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.”

Related Characters: Bill (speaker), Charlie
Page Number: 181
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“Charlie, don't you get it? I can't feel that. It's sweet and everything, but it's like you're not even there sometimes. It's great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn't need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can't just sit there and put everybody's lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can't. You have to do things.”

Related Characters: Sam (speaker), Charlie
Page Number: 200
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“I can't do that anymore. I'm sorry,” I said.

“It's okay, Charlie. Just go to sleep,” Sam said.

But I wasn't talking to Sam anymore. I was talking to someone else. When I fell asleep, I had this dream. My brother and my sister and I were watching television with my Aunt Helen. Everything was in slow motion. The sound was thick. And she was doing what Sam was doing. That's when I woke up. And I didn't know what the hell was going on.

Related Characters: Charlie (speaker), Sam (speaker), Aunt Helen
Page Number: 203-204
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