Discrepancies Between Narrative and Reality
When somebody is telling a story, whether it be about a past event or experience, how much of it do you know is true? Human perception, as well as memory, is incredibly susceptible, meaning all stories are biased. Factors like a storyteller’s self-image, desires, emotions, mental state and level of knowledge will affect the tale they are telling. The novels The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger are no exception. In both books, the protagonists write about their struggles with mental health in recollection. Since all stories are subject to the narrator’s perspective, reality often differs from the stories people tell.
The narrators are influenced by a variety of different factors in each of the respective books. Both protagonists suffered from traumatic events in their childhood, which still affect them immensely as they grow older. Charlie, the main character of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was molested by his aunt when he was very young, compared to Holden Caulfield, the main character of The Catcher in the Rye, whose little brother Allie passed away when Holden was only thirteen. In fact, Holden is in a mental institution when he recounts the time he spent in the city of New York the previous Christmas when he was sixteen. Holden is revisiting the very events which led to his arrival at a mental institution, which is obviously very emotional. Similarly, nearing the end of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie spends two months at a hospital recovering from a mental breakdown. Evidently, Charlie’s mental health was poor throughout the novel, affecting what he wrote. Additionally, the main characters’ perceptions of what happened in the stories may not be what actually happened. Perception is someone’s interpretation of the world around them. Everyone’s perception is different, and no one’s interpretation of something will be the same as another person’s, or reality. Overall, the narrator has complete creative control on how a story is told. Their ideas and opinions of someone or something will change how they write regarding that specific topic.
Particularly in The Catcher in the Rye, many exaggerations and opinions are evident. Throughout the novel, whenever any of the characters do something that distresses Holden, Holden will automatically insult them. For example, early in the novel, Holden’s roommate, Stradlater goes on a date with the girl Holden likes and doesn’t respect her. Holden then instigates a fight by calling Stradlater “a moron” (Salinger 44) since he was upset Stradlater didn’t treat her well. The reader’s opinion of Stradlater, or any of the other characters, may be negatively influenced by Holden’s descriptions, which may not always be correct. Likewise, in embarrassing or difficult moments in the book, Holden will often downplay the details and explain himself. This is also exemplified in the scene where Holden is involved in an altercation with Stradlater. Holden swings at Stradlater and misses, which prompts him to mention “it probably would’ve hurt him a lot, but I did it with my right hand, and I can’t make a good fist with that hand” (Salinger 43). Holden blames his mistake on the account of an injury he had suffered previously, which made his hand incapable of forming a fist. Holden also blurs the truth later on in the book, when he orders a prostitute. When the prostitute comes to his hotel room, Holden starts “feeling peculiar” (Salinger 95) and eventually dismisses her before they get intimate. In this passage, Holden seems uncomfortable and not ready to lose his virginity, but instead of admitting he was scared, Holden just says he was feeling strange.
In contrast, Charlie details his experiences from his freshman year in high school through a series of letters addressed to an anonymous person. Holden tells his entire story from start to finish in one session, while Charlie is writing letters to his “friend” (Chbosky 2) over a longer period of time. This showcases Charlie’s growth and development as the novel progresses. The epistolary format Charlie writes in also shows how his point of view changes over time as well as how other characters influence his philosophy. In the very beginning of his first year in high school, Charlie becomes fast friends with two seniors, named Sam and Patrick. Patrick dates the school’s quarterback, Brad, but they separate later in the story. Patrick is devastated from the end of his relationship, and Charlie feels he “can’t do anything except ‘be there’” for Patrick (Chbosky 161). During this period of time, Charlie accompanies Patrick as he self-destructs and avoids coming to terms with his heartbreak. Eventually, Patrick recovers and finds closure. However, before Sam leaves for college, she brings Charlie’s misgivings to his attention. Charlie genuinely believed he was doing the right thing for Patrick, but Sam says “‘at those times, you weren’t being [Patrick’s] friend at all. Because you weren’t honest with him’” (Chbosky 201). Charlie held, and led the reader to have, the belief that he was doing the right thing, when in actuality, Charlie might have been a detriment to Patrick at those times. Lastly, human memory is never foolproof. Events and details are often times changed or omitted when retold. These variations prevent a complete depiction of the truth to be shown. For instance, when Patrick was called a slur by his ex-boyfriend, Charlie steps in and helps Patrick fight Brad and his friends. Charlie “didn’t go into detail about [the fight]” but he mentions how he “didn’t want to be too bad” during the fight (Chbosky 151). By not elaborating on what happened during the exchange, the reader only receives one biased aspect of what happened. Charlie is held in a positive light, when nonetheless, Charlie was being hurtful and violent. Moreover, due to trauma, Charlie had spent a majority of his life in The Perks of being a Wallflower, under the false perception that his Aunt Helen was completely good. At the start, Charlie establishes his Aunt Helen as his “favorite person in the whole world” before she passed away (Chbosky 5). Charlie remembered her as someone who was intelligent and cared for him immensely. Charlie’s description of his Aunt Helen misleads the reader, since really, his aunt had molested him at a very young age.
Bias can be observed in numerous different sources. Clearly, in both The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Catcher in the Rye, the narrators were not always accurate or truthful. But, is bias always harmful? In many ways, the differences between the narrative and reality helped create character and provided insight on how the narrator views themselves and the people around them. Prejudice is not only seen inside these two books. All stories have a degree of bias. All people perceive things differently, and therefore are biased. Essentially, reality does not exist, since what people recognize to be the truth, or complete objectivity, cannot be achieved.
Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery, 2012. Print.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Bantam, 1984. Print.
It would be very nice to have a friend again
I don’t know how much longer I can keep going without a friend
Sam and Patrick looked at me
I looked at them
And I think they knew
I just remember walking between them
Feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere
I swear we were infinite