Banning books is something that seems antithetical to the American idea of freedom of speech, but many parents often argue that traumatic books should be banned from their children’s eyes. This sample essay argues that the famous novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower should not be banned, and that parents that want to protect their children from stories in books are idiots, because hiding young adults from the reality of the world by banning books is nothing more than an excuse for being a horrible parent.
The Perks of The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Why this book should never be banned
Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a novel that, while critically acclaimed and very successful, has met much opposition, most often by parents of young adult readers. The novel is told through a series of letters, written to an unknown individual, by the protagonist, Charlie. Charlie is beginning high school, and he is very nervous about this. Through his letters, the reader learns much about his life.
While many of the problems Charlie encounters are sensitive issues, the author handles them carefully. It is a well-written, thoughtful account of a year in the life of one fictional high school student’s life, and many readers will find comfort in their ability to relate to Charlie. The novel thoughtfully addresses issues that many young adults will face through their high school career, such as suicide, drug use, and rape, and it is important that novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower exist as a guide during what can be a tumultuous time.
Suicide as a theme in banned books
One of the many issues critics of The Perks of Being a Wallflower raise is that as the book opens, Charlie is dealing with the recent suicide of his best friend. Suicide is obviously tragic, but it is also a very real part of life, and banning a book that includes it will not stop adolescents from killing themselves. In fact, exposing young adults to issues like this in a fictional setting may allow them to explore their feelings about distressing events such as suicide without causing them the long-lasting effects being faced with these problems in the real world can.
Hopefully, no one will have to deal with the loss of someone to suicide, but if a young adult is ever so depressed they reach the level of consideration, at least they may be a little better prepared. Additionally, one important lesson regarding suicide can be learned from this scene. When a counselor claims that Michael must have had problems in his home life, and felt he had no one to talk to, Charlie becomes distraught over the fact that Michael did not come to him first.
The counselor explains,“he meant an adult like a teacher or a guidance counselor” (Chbosky 4).
This is a subtle way of telling young adults that teachers and guidance counselors are important resources that they can reach out to if they are troubled. Charlie’s distress at the suggestion that Michael felt he couldn’t talk to him may help the reader see that even if someone feels that no one is there to listen, there are definitely individuals who care. This is an important lesson, even for young adults who are not suicidal.
An additional issue that many opponents of the book find fault with, is the casual drug use that occurs throughout the novel. Charlie and his friends do smoke marijuana and in one scene, take LSD, but Chbosky does not glorify these habits. Charlie’s experience with LSD, specifically, is traumatic. He takes one dose at a holiday party and is discovered passed out in the snow after having cut off most of his hair.
The event earns him a trip to the hospital. His final account of the experience is a definite, “I decided to never take LSD again” (100). This does not read as an endorsement of drug use at all. Although it is true that Charlie does smoke marijuana, his increase in use coincides with his descent into depression, so it is not as though Chbosky hopes the readers will associate extensive use with positive experiences. Often, denouncing all drug use as a blanket statement can do more harm than good when a young adult is forming their opinions about it, so it is refreshing to have an author who treats the subject honestly, and treats the readers like the emerging adults they are.
Banning over a rape scene
There is one distressing rape scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower that is often cited as a reason for which the book should be banned. Charlie discusses it with his friend Sam. He is recounting his memory of a party his brother and sister had when he was very young. During the party, a couple enters Charlie’s room, and though the girl protests, the boyfriend forces her to engage in sexual behaviors.
This is not the most typical of rape scenes because in books and movies, rape is often depicted as a violent act committed against a person by a stranger. The two people in this scene are in a consensual relationship (even after this, when Charlie is telling the story, the two are still together), and the boy never physically assaults the girl. Instead, he tries to convince her by talking sweetly and telling her how much he loves her. It is important for a young girl reading this book to understand that this is still very much rape.
In fact, Chbosky helps to reinforce this point by having Charlie ask Sam, “He raped her, didn’t he” (32)? Sam’s agreement with this helps the reader understand that rape can occur between two people, even if they are in a relationship. Young adults just starting to learn about sexuality and beginning to understand their obligations to their partners do not always understand this. It seems unlikely that a parent who has read this scene closely would object to the crucial lesson it teaches.
Although most people would agree that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a worthwhile read for young adults, many others have tried to ban the book due to the issues it represents. When one considers the subject matter of the novel, and how it is handled, however, it becomes apparent that the book should never be banned. The book is successful because of its honest delivery about issues that do not always have a black-and-white answer.
Not every suicide can be prevented. Not everyone dies from drug use. Rape is not always an act of physical violence. These truths may seem obvious to an adult, but they are not necessarily to a young person. Chbosky addresses suicide, drug use, and rape, in such a way as to provide valuable information to young adults who may be facing these issues on their own for the first time. Banning the book would do nothing but keep these vital lessons from the people who need the most access to them.
Chbosky, Stephen. The perks of being a wallflower. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.