LEARNING GUIDE TO:
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
Age: 14+; MPAA Rating -- PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight - all involving teens; Drama; 2012; 103 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.Note to Teachers: While this film contains several important life lessons for teens and is overall a positive experience, it also shows risky teen behavior, in particular premarital sex, under-age drinking, standing in the back of a pick-up truck going 40 - 60 mph, and taking marijuana and LSD. Teachers are advised to obtain parental and administrative permission before showing this movie. See TWM's Movie Permission Slip.SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.;
Description: In Middle School, Charlie's best friend committed suicide. Shortly thereafter Charlie had a breakdown and spent time in a mental institution. As the movie begins, it is Charlie's first day of high school. He is that "weird kid who spent time in a mental hospital" and has no friends. Charlie sits alone in the lunchroom every day. His luck changes when he is befriended by a group of misfit seniors: Patrick is gay; Samantha ("Sam") was the freshman slut; and Mary Elizabeth is a goth. Through the school year Charlie learns many things about acceptance, friendship and romantic relations. Eventually he is able to confront a dark secret that has been troubling him far more than the suicide of his friend.
The movie is based on the best selling novel of the same name and stays true to the themes of the book. The film does not follow the book exactly, but it has independent artistic significance. The author of the novel wrote and directed the movie.
Rationale for Using the Movie: This coming of age story hits several social emotional learning issues important to teens, including: courage in social situations, friendship, and romantic relationships. The story is a landmark in young adult literature for its sympathetic portrayal of a gay teenager whose life does not have a tragic outcome. The movie is one of the best films available for increasing acceptance of GBLTQ teens. It does the same for teens who suffer from an emotional disorder, in this case PTSD from childhood sexual abuse.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Students will absorb the life-lessons presented in the film, will gain tolerance for GBLTQ people and will gain insight into the effects of childhood sexual abuse. The emotions generated by the film will lead to spirited discussions and strong interest in completing assignments.
Possible Problems: Serious. See note at the beginning of the Guide. Also, there are no ethnic or racial minorities shown in this film.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Film Study Worksheet for Adaptations of Novels;
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
USING PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER IN THE CLASSROOM IN THE CLASSROOM
1. There are many life-lessons in this story. Describe one. Suggested Response: The lessons of the story include: (1) standing on the fringes of life leads nowhere; if you want something, go for it; if you don't you'll never get it; if you try, you will often succeed; (2) acceptance by others and acceptance of others is important to everyone; as the author/director said in the commentary "When we accept each other, we save each other every day"; (3) people accept the love they think they deserve; (4) at the end of the day it's your family and your friends who get you through life. [After one student has described a lesson from the story go to several other students in succession until all ideas have been exhausted. The docussion should at least cover the lessons described in the preceding sentences.]
[The following two questions should be asked together]2. Until the very end of the movie, Charlie thought his aunt Helen was one of his favorite persons in the world. Why would he feel something like that and why didn't he remember what she had done to him? Suggested Response: Victims of childhood sexual abuse are torn by the following conflicting and powerful emotions: 1) an important adult has chosen the child for a special relationship and special favors, which means that the child is special and favored; this is more than flattering; all children would like to think of themselves as special and favored; 2) there is often pleasure felt in the act because the adult often manipulates erogenous zones of the child's body; 3) the perpetrator will often try to convince the child that the child seduced the perpetrator or that somehow the child is responsible for the relationship; 4) the child knows at some level that his or her boundaries have been violated and that what is happening is wrong; 5) the child feels powerless; 6) often the perpetrators threaten the child or tell the child that terrible things will happen to a parent or to the perpetrator if "our little secret" is found out. Thus, children will not tell anyone about the abuse, they may even repress their memories of the abuse and all that is left in the conscious mind are feelings of closeness to the perpetrator, while full knowledge of what occurred is tearing the child apart in the subconscious. This is what was happening to Charlie. In addition, Charlie thought he was responsible for his Aunt's death because she was on her way to get his birthday present when she had the accident. When he had his sexual encounter with Sam the day before she left for college, the similarity between what they did as a loving couple and what was done to him by his Aunt Helen brought the memories close to the surface. They were too painful to face directly and Charlie suffered a crisis.
3. Aunt Helen tells Charlie that, "It's our little secret". This is often said by abusers to their victims. Why would this instruction resonate with a child? Suggested Response: It communicates the idea that the child shares a special bond with the perpetrator; they share a secret that no one else knows about. In addition, many children are fearful of being hurt by the abuser or of getting the abuser, whom the child cares about, into trouble. Children also fear that no one would believe him or her. Or, it may be a mixture of all of these emotions.
4. There is one night shown in this story that changed Charlie's life forever. Which night was it? Why did you pick this night as being the turning point? Suggested Response: There are many answers to this question. The justifications for the choice should refer to themes of the story. The author/director chose the night at the football game when Charlie went to sit near Patrick in the hopes of striking up a conversation. This night changed Charlie's life because he took a risk and reached out to another person.
5. Stephen Chbosky, the author/director, said that he wanted to present a story in which none of the characters was a bad person. Was he successful? Is this really a story without a bad person? Explain the reasons for your answer. Suggested Response: He was successful in terms of the students. Brad is not a bad person, he's just scared of his father and of being ridiculed as gay by the other students. He acted badly in the fight with Patrick, but regretted it. Remember when Brad thanked Charlie for stopping his friends from beating up Patrick? Mary Elizabeth isn't bad, she's just the wrong girl for Charlie. The girl who sits next to Charlie in English class is pretty mean, but she is tangential to the story. Brad's friends, who beat up Patrick, are typical high school jocks. While their behaviour was not exemplary, they are also not important characters in the story. They are more a part of the background in which the major characters operate. The one character who could be said to be a bad person was Charlie's Aunt Helen. This isn't immediately apparent because we see her through the eyes of Charlie, who loved her, and because she, too, was injured by others. However, there is never an excuse for an adult to abuse a child, either sexually, physically or emotionally. That is a line that simply should not be crossed. Sexual child abuse is extremely damaging to a child, sometimes for the child's entire life. There is a reason why child-abuse is classified as a major felony. In that way, Aunt Helen was a pretty bad person.
6. Why do really great people sometimes let themselves be treated badly? Suggested Response: The response of this story is that we accept the love we think we deserve. In other words, low self-esteem.
7. Flashback is a device that is usually used to fill in a backstory, that is, to tell the audience what has happened before the story told by the book or movie begins. Flashback is used in The Perks of Being a Wallflower for that purpose but also for an additional purpose which relates to the description of Charlie's character. What was that? Suggested Response: At the beginning of the film Charlie recalls the past in disconnected fragments – he can't put the past together. He has no cohesive view of the past. The snippets of memory from the past, the flashbacks, come to Charlie as he remembers more and more about what happened with his Aunt Helen. The way the book and the movie is structured Charlie and the audience discover these memories together.
For 18 additional Discussion Questions, see the Supplemental Materials for this Guide.
Assignments and Assessments:
Any of the discussion questions set out above or in the Supplemental Materials for this Guide can serve as essay prompts.
1. Write a narrative memoir about any one of the following incidents in your life or in the life of a fictional character:
2. Sam asked Charlie to "write about us." Pretend that you are Charlie. Charlie had stopped writing to his friend when the book/movie ended. It's now five years later. For some reason (a reason you are to create) Charlie has decided to write another letter to his friend describing what had happened to Sam, Patrick and Charlie over the past five years. Use your imagination. If you wish, you can introduce new characters. You do not need to keep Sam or Patrick in Charlie's life after they left for college.
3. Research and write a report on one of the following topics:
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!
The author/writer's favorite movies include: The Breakfast Club, Dead Poets Society, The Graduate, Harold and Maude, Rebel Without a Cause.
Watch and enjoy the film with your child. After the movie, ifnecessary, give the cautions described in the Warning at the beginning of this Guide. Later, after the passage of some time, when a situation arises in which one of the lessons of this story will be helpful to your child, use the story as a point of reference.
Become a TWM Fan on
For suggested assignments 1 and 2 tell students to try to use at least one metaphor or simile and one ironic situation or reference. Also tell them to show rather than tell by describing action (including dialogue), revealing thoughts (including internal monologues), describing observations by the characters, using descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and comparing one thing to another. Consider giving students, as prepartion for these assignments, TWM's Exercise in "Showing Rather than Telling" When Writing a Narrative. Also check out the Narrative Writing Lesson Plan.