Perks of Being a Wallflower (adaptation process)

Charlie = Chbosky evidence

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As a fan of the book, I have come to think of Charlie as a friend. To me he will always be that deeply troubled boy in high school that I had a crush on from time to time. So let me tell you a little bit more about my good friend Charlie. Charlie is the youngest child of three kids, gets along with his parents just fine, he’s smart and does well in school. Despite being pretty shy and introverted, he has the remarkable ability to observe and connect with others. Over the past few years he’s had it pretty rough.  I’d like to believe the letters he wrote me, were really to me, because he wanted to confide in me. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized Charlie is actually the voice of Stephen Chbosky, the author, and he was writing to and for himself. 

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In 1996 Stephen Chbosky began writing the novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower, that had been percolating in his mind for years. “I was going through a hard time, and I wanted to understand why good people let themselves get treated so badly,” Chbosky says. “I wanted to believe that there could still be such a thing as a pure soul, and I wanted to look at my upbringing in Pittsburgh and make some peace with it.” (Written By) Despite becoming a New York Times Best Seller, Chbosky didn’t consider himself a novelist and returned to screenwriting. He’d make Perks into a movie someday, but before that could happen he had to get some distance from the material. 

People had been interested in adapting the book since it came out in 1999, “I know how hard it is to get anything made. This was way too important to me to ever turn into a paycheck. So I thought, Write it 100 percent on spec, and package it 100 percent on spec.” (Written By)

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After working as a writer for hire, he both relished and dreaded going back to something that was entirely his. “It’s very personal to me, and it’s hard to be objective about something that’s so subjective.” During the adaptation process, he came to a surprising revelation. “Novels are infinitely easier to write than screenplays. The book took four months to write. The script? A year.” (Written By)

For Chbosky, directing the film was a necessary extension of writing the script. “I knew what those shots were. I wish that more directors would sit down with the writer for a few days and say, ‘How did you see it?’ Because that’s half of the storytelling.” (Written By)

Despite having become a first-time studio director, “No one challenged me. There was no moment on set when an actor would say, ‘My character wouldn’t do that.’ The respect I got as an author translated into directing.” (Written By)

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Before we go into how he adapted and directed it, let’s go back to how this story is really Chbosky’s own. Perks of Being a Wallflower is written using a unique literary structure. Charlie, the main character, writes a series of letters to an unknown and unnamed friend. By telling the story this way in the novel, the reader is supplied information solely through Charlie, meaning we are told what happens through his filtered eyes, making him an unreliable narrator.

Employing a character narrator provides the reader with access to multiple points of view, indirectly, and most importantly “creates doubt in the reliability of the narrator in order to achieve double-voiced discourse” often found in Young Adult literature. By implementing character narration “double-voicedness” occurs, showing “adolescent readers equal and multiple narrative viewpoints that equip them to identify the irony in the text.” (Cadden)

Mike Cadden. “The Irony of Narration in the Young Adult Novel.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 25.3 (2000): 146-154. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/&gt;.

As the story progresses, the reader comes to understand through Charlie’s own admission, “It’s like all I can do is keep writing this gibberish to keep from breaking apart.” (pg. 205)  The reader also learns that Charlie behaves and feels the way he does, because he has experienced two significant obstacles in his life, both of which are not completely worked out. Charlie deals with this suffering by pouring his emotions into his writing.

“People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth telling and secrecy.” (McGee)

Chris McGee. “Why Won’t Melinda Just Talk about What Happened? Speak and the Confessional Voice.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 34.2 (2009): 172-187. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/&gt;.

In addition, Kristeva speculated in “The Adolescent Novel, that the activity of writing adolescence permits ‘an actual inscription of unconscious contents within language’ (137) and that the novel of adolescence consequently may offer a ‘certain working-out” not unrelated to processes of transference and interpretation.” (Tannert-Smith)

Barbara Tannert-Smith. “”Like Falling Up into a Storybook”: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35.4 (2010): 395-414. Project MUSE. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

Rosen, Lisa. “The Perks Of Being A Novelist.” Written By: The Journal Of The Writers Guild Of America 16.5 (2012): 14-51. Film & Television Literature Index. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Chbosky, Stephen. The perks of being a wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.

Although, unsubstantiated by Chbosky, Charlie appears to be writing the letters to himself. Perhaps, as a means to work through the obstacles he has encountered in his life. If this is true, the only misleading information Charlie provides is that, he is writing the letters as his freshmen year of high school is happening. Instead I propose that Chbosky wrote the letters as a way of reflecting and working through his younger years. In turn, for Chbosky to write the novel, he would have weaved the letters together to form a narrative.

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Evidence that Charlie aka Chbosky is actually the intended recipient of the letters or the “friend,” can be found in both the beginning and the end of both the book and the film. 

 

Beginning the first letter from the book, Charlie says, “Dear friend, I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that…I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist. I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciate what that means. At least I hope you do because other people look to you for strength and friendship and it’s that simple. At least that’s what I’ve heard. 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.” (pg. 1)   

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The first indication we have about the identity of the “friend” is that Charlie was told by a female to write the letters, because this person would listen and understand. Of all the characters Charlie’s willingness to listen and understand supersedes all others in his known reality. 

Next: and possibly most critical piece of evidence is that the “friend” did not sleep with “that person at that party even though you could have.” Now, does Charlie mean the female who told him to write the recipient, or someone else? If it is the same female, that would make a lot of sense. Since Charlie has the opportunity to sleep with Sam, but doesn’t, at the goodbye party the night before she leaves for college. Also, she tells him to “Write about me sometime.” To which Charlie replies, “I will.” (pg. 69) On a typewriter she gave him. 

Charlie also writes, “I think you of all people would understand that because I think you of all people are alive and appreciate what that means.” Charlie’s story revolves around the guilt he has, thinking he is responsible for his aunt’s death. In addition to dealing with unresolved feelings he has about the suicide of my best friend, Michael, the summer before he begins high school. He treasures the fact that he is alive, appreciates everyday no matter what it brings. 

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The last portion, “At least I hope you do because other people look to you for strength and friendship and it’s that simple. At least that’s what I’ve heard. 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” expresses his deep doubts about his own fate, but at the same time reminds him of what others have told him about himself. While, the last sentence gives context to the emotional state of Charlie as he wrote this. Sad because he sees and has experienced so much pain, yet happy because he has survived. 

 

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