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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel which tells a story about self-discovery. As given in Britannica, “Epistolary novel, a novel told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters.” Epistolary novel is a type of novel written in a form of letters through one of the characters.

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According to a post on eNotes:

A genre of fiction which first gained popularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the epistolary novel is a form in which most or all of the plot is advanced by the letters or journal entries of one or more of its characters, and which marked the beginning of the novel as a literary form.

Epistolary novel first got famous in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a genre of fiction in which novel is written in a form of letters or journal by one of the characters. Charlie, the protagonist of The Perks of being a Wallflower writes a series of letters to narrate his story.

It is stated on essaytown:

Even if presenting the reader with fictional letters, the epistolary novels of seventeenth and eighteenth century already suggested that letter writing had a therapy like effect on their fictional authors. The letter writing would act like a catharsis…

Charlie is called a wallflower by his friends. Merriam-Webster defines wallflower as, “a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity.” People are considered to be ‘wallflower’ when they are shy, reserved and unpopular. When they stay quiet and avoid talking to anyone.

These people are usually introvert and have no friends. They isolate themselves for different reasons such as fears or lack of confidence. They do not participate in social activities and try to remain hidden as if they are invisible. Charlie is an introvert, a shy teenager who does not have friends and does not participate in life.

The idea of self-discovery according to Encyclopedia entails “the process of acquiring insight into one’s own character.” People themselves are sometimes not aware of their true nature and their desires. Self-discovery happens when they truly find themselves, who they really are and what they want. Pam M.S. Nugent describes self-discovery as a procedure through which a person finds out their true character and qualities. Charlie, as the novel proceeds, discovers hidden truths about himself, his likes, dislikes, his wants, and what kind of a person he truly is by going through a process of self-discovery.

A process of looking for your own identity. To discover what a one individual has in his personality and what things are there to which a person is likely to be more inclined is called self-discovery.

As per PsychologyDictionary self-discovery is a method through which a person becomes aware of his true desires and wants. Just as Charlie discovers the truth about his different behavior, his true likes and dislikes.

Background of Study

I would read this novel in the light of the idea of defense mechanisms as presented by Sigmund Freud in the classical psychoanalysis.

A post on Chegg Study states:

According to Sigmund Freud, who developed the concept in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, defense mechanisms are a major component of personality. Freud believed that personality consists of the ego, the id, and the superego. The id is the source of instincts and natural desires; when these clash with social norms, tension arises as the superego disapproves and the ego mediates between them. Defense mechanisms respond by shifting such desires, feelings, and associated thoughts to the unconscious.

The post states that Sigmund Freud considers the defense mechanisms as important part of personality. According to Freud, personality is made of id, ego and superego. Defense mechanisms according Freud respond by changing desires, feelings and thoughts into unconscious.

Other than authors, psychoanalytic theory applies on characters. The theory can be used to understand the protagonist of the novel, Charlie, and his behavior better in the light of Freud’s classical psychoanalysis. After Charlie’s unconscious mind reveals some past memories to him, they cause some psychological disturbances. The research will focus on Charlie’s characteristics, his traumas, what defense mechanisms he use against them and his journey towards self-discovery.

Regarding unconscious, Freud states:

Everything that is repressed must remain unconscious; but let us state at the very outset that the repressed does not cover everything that is unconscious. The unconscious has the wider compass: the repressed is a part of the unconscious.

Freud argues that everything a person represses must stay in unconscious mind, but unconscious mind is not only filled with repressed memories, it has other things in it too. Charlie has repressed his memories in his unconscious mind which are later revealed.

Calvin S. Hall defines defense mechanism as a way of dealing with different threats and dangers. It is a way to lessen the anxiety by using different defenses such as denial, projection, repression, regression and displacement which are discussed in detail in chapter.