Outcasts In Perks Of Being A Wallflower English Literature Essay
Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in The Rye and Charlie of The Perks of Being a Wallflower are two teenagers both suffering from the angst and ambivalence of their teenage years. Holden Caulfield is a member of the 1950s, exhausted with life in the world of post-WWII America. Whereas Charlie is a Child of the 90s; growing up in a rapidly developing and fast moving society with major revolutions taking place in communication. Both works of literature, however, present us with a very similar general attitude. The main character in each of the books display the same ‘symptoms’ of introversion, defeated idealism, disillusionment and a desire for isolation and intimacy, creating a strong connection across the two eras. Perplexed by the vagueness of the transition from childhood, to adulthood they are unable to order their chaotic experiences; preventing them from becoming participants in their respective societies. Trying to simultaneously live life and escape from their growing responsibilities, both characters find it difficult to fulfil their craving for intimacy as they are left withdrawn and estranged from their societies and forced to endure as outcasts.
Throughout their struggle both Holden and Charlie become caught in between trying to live their lives and running from it. Holden tries to progress with his life and tries to gain experience as demonstrated by his encounter with a prostitute, where he wants to have sex with her to cross the boundary of innocence but he is unable to so makes an excuse saying he is recovering from a serious operation. He is unable to perform. Despite his brave attempt Holden is reluctant and eventually unable to part with what could be considered the final element of his innocence. He is unable to face up to his growing responsibilities which causes him to run away to New York; escaping from his normal life for a while, avoiding immediate confrontation with his parents about his expulsion from school. Charlie, like Holden, is caught in between trying to live his life and running from it. He attempts to understand the world around him and participate but is left rejected and dislocated causing him to regress socially and escape through the use of drugs and alcohol. Like Holden, Charlie does not confront his fears; this is reflected through Charlie’s thought. He is a profound thinker and is incredibly inquisitive and curious and prefers to ponder the concept of participation: “I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and then make the choice to share it with other people. Maybe that is what makes people ‘participate.’” but does this through fear of participation.
Holden and Charlie are clearly alienated and isolated from their respective societies. Despite this similarity in their situations, the circumstances of their exclusion are contradictory. Holden is more accusing of society and adults for his corruption and exclusion. He blames the hypocrisy of adults and the corruption of society for his loss of innocence. Chbosky however gives Charlie a more self conflicting attitude towards his isolation. Charlie is more concerned with his own flaws and regularly questions his own character and almost blames himself for his exclusion. Even though Charlie is not utterly innocent, as the youngest of three children he was too ‘pristine’ which maximised his vulnerability. Through the novel the reader is able to deduce events to reach the startling conclusion that Charlie was in fact not loved ‘maternally’ by his Aunt Helen as first thought, but was sexually abused and molested by her as a child because of his vulnerability and purity. This shows how his impeccability made Charlie a victim of circumstance.
Both Salinger and Chbosky choose to portray outcasts almost as anti heroes as both Holden and Charlie possess anti heroic qualities. Holden is exposed as a weakling; easily beaten up by Stradlater and Maurice, who leave him bleeding and crying on the floor. He is pictured as a coward, too afraid to enter a club when he sees two “tough guys” coming out and is afraid to call Jane Gallagher, fearful of the consequences if her parents answer the phone. He is a friendless failure who flunks out of school. Throughout the novel, Salinger exposes Holden to be vulnerable and helpless time and time again as a teenager with no self-confidence and no direction who clings on to childhood simplicity unable to find a place for himself in the world. Charlie; like Holden is a weak character who does not think him self extremely capable. He uses thought to avoid participation. Charlie feels he is incompetent as he frequently questions his flaws and believes passionately he is ‘not normal’ “Something really is wrong with me. And I don't know what it is.” which stops him from participating. He is emotionally immature as he often responds to adversity through attempting to escape reality as demonstrated through his abuse of drink and drugs in response to his feelings of angst over the death of his best friend and the grief of losing his aunt, instead of confronting his difficulties. Charlie has the problem of being inconsiderate of other people’s feelings, which damages his relationships. Unable to devastate his girlfriend by telling her the truth about his feelings for Sam he instead chooses to continue a false relationship with Mary Elizabeth not communicating his true feelings. He kisses Sam in front of Mary Elizabeth during a game of spin the bottle finally facing up to his true feelings. Charlie does not address how he feels and does not communicate with Mary Elizabeth. By doing this he hurts Mary Elizabeth and himself, just through a simple lack of communication. Both Holden and Charlie are misunderstood by others in society because of the intricate combination of immaturity and innocence and their rejection of conformism.
Holden Caulfield is incessantly pestered by phonies. Surrounded by a world of conflicting attitudes he makes frustrated attempts to establish his own personality. He is portrayed by Salinger almost ‘prophet like’ through the way in which he passes judgement over everybody else. Perceived to have higher moral values than those around him, he is often extremely judgemental. In contrast Charlie differs extremely as he is more of a thinker than one who makes judgements. Being a wallflower, he observes the traits of high school society, noticing what many other average teens tend to miss as he strives to decipher the complexities of his environment.
Despite their intelligence both Holden and Charlie have difficulties organising their experiences. Each protagonist has some form or another of experience, they are not entirely innocent. However due to their lack of maturity they are unable to make judgements on their experiences and learn from them, thus preventing them from joining society and leaving them dislocated and as outcasts in society. William Wiegand suggests interestingly that “These major protagonists have a spiritual illness, "banana fever", which renders them incapable of distinguishing between significant and insignificant experiences - incapable of mature judgment, in other words”  . In Holden’s case “banana fever” is seen through his grief over the death of his brother Allie. Unable to recover and find other significance in his life, other than innocence he is against many aspects of American culture and ultimately against the corrupt society he lives in. As he clings on to his dream of preventing the loss of innocence in others he becomes less able to make mature judgements, his rejection of maturity and responsibility make him an outcast. Charlie also suffers similarly to Holden as he is unable to order chaotic experiences in his life. His inability is reflected and tested during the novel, especially when he is kissed by Patrick and is left questioning his sexuality. He is unable to distinguish whether it is a significant enough experience to define his sexuality.
Charlie and Holden suffer from the ambiguity of their teenage years as they struggle to make the transition from childhood innocence to maturity searching for belonging in society. Charlie, unlike Holden, seems keen to gain a greater understanding of the world around him. He often questions why things are the way they are and is usually left dissatisfied with the responses he receives, as seen on the occasion when he repeatedly asks the question “Why?” to his algebra teacher. Charlie’s persistence does not pay off as his teacher eventually becomes irritated by his query and he is advised to just accept what he is told, without question or doubt. By doing this he achieves a high grade in his test but feels he has not learnt anything. A moment of realisation for Charlie takes place when he is told by his mother “We accept the love we think we deserve” a lot becomes clearer to Charlie as he is able to order his experiences and learn from them after that moment. Holden however is more reluctant to understand his surroundings. He is regretful and instead does not wish to possess the knowledge he does. Holden does not want to understand the world around him because understanding the world would mean interpreting it and eventually accepting it, this forms the basis of Holden’s resistance as he is instead in pursuit of a more ‘meaningful’ goal: “That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all." as he attempts to prevent the loss of innocence and the further corruption of society through protecting children.
It is remarked by Warren French, that the misfit protagonist is often portrayed as imaginatively gifted but physically handicapped, which suggests why these people are driven in upon themselves  . French’s remark describes Chbosky’s and Salinger’s portrayal of misfits thoroughly. Both Holden and Charlie are imaginatively gifted, and are capable of profound thoughts and desires however when it comes to putting them into practice they are less successful. Both idealists and optimists in their own respects they make earnest efforts to extend themselves into society and to improve society but are often awarded with rejection yet valiantly continue with their search for intimacy.
Both Holden and Charlie suffer from being outcasts in society. However their alienation isn’t necessarily completely negative. In Charlie’s case it is more detrimental, it can also be argued that Holden suffers to an equal or greater extent. However, there is more evidence to suggest Holden is stronger and more resilient as a result of alienation, whereas Charlie is initially fragile due to the death of his friend Michael and becomes increasingly so as the novel progresses. Holden has a well developed sense of opinion which it seems arises as a result of his isolation. His strong sense of opinion helps Holden deal with adversity, whereas Charlie is more observant than opinionated. His isolation makes him reluctant and speculative, a total opposite to Holden almost. For both protagonists, their alienation is certainly a source of weaknesses and strengths, in Holden’s case the strengths outweighing weaknesses.
The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks… have both been subject to acclaim and criticism and are now viewed as fundamentals of classic American literature despite some controversy. One of the questions that Jonathan Yardley from the Washington Post asks is “Why is Holden Caulfield nearly universally seen as ‘a symbol of purity and sensitivity?’”  One of the reasons Holden is so appealing to the reader despite his many failings, is because he represents our yearning for what Freud would term "The Pleasure Principle." “The pleasure principle is a psychoanalytic concept, originated by Sigmund Freud. The pleasure principle states that people seek pleasure and avoid pain, i.e., people seek to satisfy biological and psychological needs.”  “An individual's id follows the pleasure principle and rules early life, but, as one matures, one learns the need to endure pain and defer gratification, because of the exigencies and obstacles of reality.”  Charlie is also appealing because of his ‘Holden-esque’ qualities. The Catcher in The Rye is stated as an influence by Chbosky. The Perks…is also dubbed by some critics as a ‘modern day Catcher in The Rye’
Where so many writers have failed Salinger and Chbosky are able to create accurate youth archetypes in the forms of Holden and Charlie. If the context of these characters is examined, the author’s own experiences are seen as extremely significant. Salinger draws on his own childhood and for this reason The Catcher in The Rye is almost an autobiographical piece as much as a bildungsroman due to the inspiration he was able to draw from his own troubled childhood and restless adolescence. The similarities between Salinger and Holden are clearly evident as both suffered significantly from cultural oppression and isolation. The view that Salinger himself is a sort of Holden Caulfield is understandable as Salinger’s success led him to disengage himself from society. Ironically the controversy that surrounded The Catcher in The Rye and his response to overwhelming success meant his own isolation amplified the mystery and allure of Holden Caulfield’s ‘adventure’. The Perks… was also influenced significantly by Salinger’s work and the character of Holden Caulfield, as Chbosky cites it as an inspiration to him. Chbosky’s novel, like Salinger’s, was subject to much controversy due to its explicit nature. However, despite it being banned from schools this led to more success for the author as more and more teens discovered the text, perhaps through rebellion, and it began to, and continues to define the youth of a generation.
With such wide appeal the two texts hold and the ways in which they capture youth it seems ironic to describe Holden and Charlie as outcasts. However they suffer as they are abandoned by childhood yet unprepared for adulthood. We see how both protagonists are suddenly pulled out of a world that they were comfortable in and thrust into a terrifying world where all the consistent elements they took comfort in no longer exist or are diminished; abruptly burdened with the obligation to, not only understand the workings of the new world unfolding but also to incorporate themselves into it, an issue that has been of profound concern to adolescents unanimously, regardless of the generation or age they live in.
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