The Perks of Being A Wallflower is about a teenage boy, Charlie, experiencing high school. Although Charlie experiences a lot of “typical” teenage experiences throughout the book, Charlie is not the typical teenager. Throughout Stephen Chbosky’s Young Adult novel, Charlie shows signs of being on the autistic spectrum. Specifically, he shows a lot of signs of having Asperger’s. Asperger’s according to Medical News Today is “a developmental disorder that impacts on the individual’s ability to communicate and socialize, among other things.”
According to myAsperger’schild.com, teenagers “may be uncomfortably blunt.” We see this with Charlie, when, Within a week of meeting a high school senior, Sam, Charlie writes to his unknown friend: “I told Sam that I dreamt that she and I were naked on the sofa, and I started crying because I felt bad, and do you know what she said? She laughed (21 -2).”
To say he’s blunt is an understatement. To say he lacks finesse isn’t quite right either. He has the social understanding of a seven-year-old, blurting out anything that comes to mind, appropriate to mention or not. This also matches up with what myAsperger’schild.com says: teenagers with Asperger’s “may be immature for their age and be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.”
Charlie also demonstrates a lack of control and understanding of his own emotions. He cries at the drop of the hat for seemingly no reason. One example of this is when he’s at a party with Patrick and Sam.
I was sitting on the floor of a basement of my first real party between Sam and Patrick, and I remembered that Sam introduced me as her friend to Bob. And I remembered that Patrick had done the same for Brad. And I started to cry. And nobody in that room looked at me weird for doing it. And then I really started to cry (38).
Again this is another Asperger’s trait. As, according to Asperger Syndrome Behavior, “Individuals with Asperger syndrome have trouble recognizing their own emotions and especially expressing them in a proper way.”
Despite his social and emotional skills being that of a seven-year-old, Charlie proves to be quite intelligent. We see this whenever he mentions his Advance English Class.
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 a great skill at reading and understanding language, and he wanted me to write an essay about To Kill A Mockingbird.
I mentioned this to my mom, and she asked why Bill didn’t recommend that I just take a sophomore or junior English class. And I told her that Bill said that these were basically the same classes with more complicated books, and that it wouldn’t help me. (9-10)
“Bill” continually gives Charlie books and essays to write outside of normal class assignments to challenge him, proving that Charlie may be too advanced for even the advance class when it comes to literature. But this is not necessarily unusual in children with Asperger’s.
According to myAsperger’schild.com , autistic “adolescents may be extremely smart in specific areas, such as writing, math, or some form of the arts.”
A lot of Charlie’s behaviors and “symptoms” can be very off-putting to the reader, especially the frequency of how much he cries. But to discover there is a reason for these eccentricitieswould make these annoying quirks forgivable to most readers. However, Chbosky never reveals the reason behind these idiosyncrasies. He lets readers know Charlie was molested as a child. And boys who were molested are not likely, according to what I could find on boys who are molested, to behave the way Charlie does in The Perks of Being A Wallflower, leaving readers to wonder if Charlie has Asperger’s and was molested…or if something entirely different is going on with him.
In the movie, Charlie doesn’t have these oddities in his behavior. He doesn’t cry at a drop of a hat. He’s smart. He makes jokes. He isn’t blunt. He has the awareness of a neurotypical person his age. The only real oddity in him is the one or two times he blacks out in the movie. And that fits better with Charlie having been molested, as he could have easily been in a fugue state at the time.
Chbosky had a great opportunity and did a great job setting up a story about a character who is on the Autistic spectrum but undiagnosed. Unfortunately, he fumbles it by not following through, or perhaps, simply deciding to go with the ‘shock value’ of a molestation.
“Asperger Syndrome Behavior.” Asperger Syndrome Behavior. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2013.
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery, 1999. Print.
Hutten, Mark. “My Aspergers Child: Problems Experienced by Teens with Aspergers.” My Aspergers Child: Problems Experienced by Teens with Aspergers. Mark Hutten, n.d. Web. 20 July 2013.
Nordqvist, Christian. “What Is Asperger’s Syndrome?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 09 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 July 2013.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Dir. STEPHEN CHBOSKY and JOHN MALKOVICH. Prod. LIANNE HALFON and Russell SMITH. Perf. Emma Watson,, Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller. Roadshow, 2013. DVD.