How Experiences Affect Behavior

Embarrassing moments are expected in life. From these cringe-worthy memories, lessons are learned. Likewise, people can also learn from other’s embarrassing mistakes. In novels, as well, there are many lessons embedded within the story through the plot and the character’s actions. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the protagonist, Charlie, is a freshman just starting high school. Charlie was very naive in the beginning of the novel, and as time progresses and he completes his freshman year in high school, his character and personality changes. The experiences people endure end up having a profound effect on the development of their character, as displayed in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Events which Charlie experienced when he was younger had the most profound impact on Charlie’s character. When Charlie was very young, a very important figure in his life, his Aunt Helen was in an accident and passed away. Later, Michael, a close friend of Charlie’s committed suicide which also affected Charlie deeply. From these tragedies, Charlie developed a deep rooted fear of abandonment. As Charlie grew up, he was very afraid of people in his life leaving him. In some instances, even if he did not enjoy the relationships he was in, he would still continue these relationships. For example, in the start of the novel, Charlie met two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who he became very close friends to. Sam and Patrick then introduced him to their friends, one of which being Mary Elizabeth. Charlie and Mary Elizabeth started dating, and Charlie discovered Mary Elizabeth was very different than how she appeared to be when he first met her. As their relationship continued, he eventually started to dislike her and did not want to be in a relationship anymore. Charlie found he ¨just [didn’t] want to be another thing Mary Elizabeth is in charge of” ( Chbosky 131), but he still remained with her. Since he was scared Mary Elizabeth would leave him if he was honest with his feelings, he kept his true thoughts to himself, which proved to be very detrimental later. Since people very close to him before had passed away, he did not want any more people to leave. Eventually, the truth was revealed while Charlie and his friends were playing a game. When dared to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, Charlie kissed Sam instead of Mary Elizabeth, and consequently, Charlie and Mary Elizabeth broke up. After this occurred, his friends distanced themselves from Charlie and advised him to stay away for a while. Charlie did not want to be alone, so “after a week of not talking to anyone, I finally called Bob” (Chbosky 139), who sold drugs to Charlie. Charlieś fear of being abandoned ended up happening for a little while and since Charlie did not want to be alone, he resorted to buying drugs and spending time with a drug dealer.

Along with a fear of abandonment, Charlie also was very passive and complacent in the beginning of his freshman year. In fact, when Patrick broke up with his boyfriend later in the book, Charlie believed the only way to comfort Patrick and help Patrick through his emotional distress was to just be there for him. Patrick would bring Charlie to places Charlie did not necessarily want to go, or even kissed Charlie. Charlie would just ¨let him. Because that’s what friends are for” (Chbosky 161) although Charlie was really just letting Patrick hurt himself. Instead of setting boundaries and helping Patrick heal by talking to him, Charlie would just listen without encouraging Patrick not to self destruct. After Charlie learned his behavior was problematic, Charlie began to change. Charlie and Sam had a discussion before she left for college where Sam told him “‘you can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love’” (Chbosky 200), and this impacted Charlie and his thinking. Charlie began thinking sometimes it is best to take some action and to try and be more proactive. Because of Sam and what she told him, Charlie changed and he became a better person.

Similarly, the different situations a person is in can change the behavior of the person. Charlie’s sister acted completely different throughout different times in the novel because of the experiences she was undergoing in her situation. In the beginning of the novel, Charlie’s sister would manipulate and treat boys harshly, since in her first relationship, her boyfriend cheated on her. Charlie’s sister then began dating a boy who was incredibly devoted to her, but his feelings were not reciprocated. Charlie witnessed her boyfriend finally taking action to stop Charlie’s sister’s bullying. After her boyfriend abused her, Charlie’s sister had become submissive to him and believed that her boyfriend was her ¨whole world¨ (Chbosky 25). First through her first experiences with the opposite gender, Charlie’s sister developed a very negative opinion of boys. These negative thoughts carried over in her treatment of the boyfriends she had after her first boyfriend. As she entered an abusive relationship, her behavior changed as she adapted to this new situation, she became docile and dependent on her new boyfriend. As the relationship progressed, she learned she was pregnant, and her boyfriend broke up with her and left her alone to find a solution to her problems. Once Charlie’s sister acquired the knowledge of which her boyfriend was not going to support her like she was expected, she discerned that her boyfriend was not someone she absolutely needed in her life. Charlie’s sister eventually had an abortion and “She told her ex-boyfriend that the pregnancy was a false alarm, and he wanted to get back together, and she said no” (Chbosky 130), showing how the experiences she had to endure alone made her stronger and more independent.

Overall, the environment a person is in and the events which they experience can be very influential in their development, although no person is just simply a product of their environment. People cannot be identified as good or completely evil, but the actions people take always have a reason behind them. These actions can sometimes be explained through the past experiences a person has. Perspective is key to understanding people’s behavior. As people gain knowledge, they mature and lose their innocence. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is simply an example of character development and how actions will have consequences. When evaluating a person’s character, it is important to also learn about their past experiences. Perspective can change someone’s whole outlook.


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