How Pop Culture Influenced Chbosky Writing “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

In today’s America, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has become a sensation among teenagers. Charlie, the central character in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a 15-year-old high schooler in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. In the form of letters to an unnamed “friend,” he narrates the story. Charlie’s experience has given hope to the young people who have read his letters for over 20 years. The author has included various references to the pop-culture, which made the novel even more relatable to the teenagers reading it. There is an undeniable influence of pop culture that influenced the story’s creation, which must be explored.

In his book, Chbosky tries to capture the thoughts, feelings, and writing style of a teenager. Including To Kill a Mockingbird to The Catcher in the Rye, some classic books with characters close to Charlie’s are clear influences on The Perks of Being a Wallflower. They indeed have a significant impact on the creation of the protagonist; in many aspects, Chbosky’s Charlie takes after some of the main characters from these books. One may draw a robust comparison of Chbosky’s novel to The Catcher in the Rye, but despite having similar textures and taste profiles, they are fundamentally different in their narration and central themes.

Bill, Charlie’s English teacher, acknowledges his student’s intelligence and passion for the written word, giving extra assignments to keep him interested and foster his learning interest. During his freshman year, Charlie reads Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. At first, Charlie’s analysis skills are lacking: “[To Kill a Mockingbird] is now my favorite book of all time, but then again, I still think that before I read another book,” he says (Chbosky 12). Charlie is still discovering that comments like that need a reason. With Bill’s help, eventually, Charlie begins to think critically about the novels he’s been given and the characters inside them: “Try to be a filter, not a sponge,” Bill suggests (Chbosky 87).

Music plays a significant role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, where readers may reminisce and find out many classics from several decades. When it comes to music, Charlie prefers the classics. His letters are replete with allusions to music from the 1960s to the early 1990s. In the interview with Vanity Fair Chbosky shares, that music had become a crucial part of the writing process (Handy par. 7). The author specifically wrote scenes to exact records as these songs’ longing reminded him of his enthusiasm at the time. He gives instances, telling Chbosky wrote the tunnel scene to Stars’ 2005 song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” and the first kiss scene to Regina Spektor’s 2006 song “Samson.”

Charlie goes through not just the social changes of puberty but also the lifestyle stages, expressing his creativity through the music he and his friends listen to on FM radio and cassette. When one of their favorite singers is humiliated, they are offended. For example, one night in the Big Boy, Charlie overhears a heated discussion among his friends about Kurt Cobain’s depiction in the media (Chbosky). As a result, music plays a pivotal role in the story, voicing numerous characters’ facets through various genres.

Chbosky’s novel also mentions many movie classics in the story, and the reminiscences of other high-school drams may be followed when reading The Perks of Becoming a Wallflower. The 1973 American coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti, which is all about perspective, reflecting, and appreciating the high-school experience while also poking fun at teenage blindness, has a clear connection with the book. However, one feature of Chbosky’s book that stands out is that it gives the reader a sense of looking both inside and outside the high-school experience.

In one of the interviews, Chbosky shared the movies, which became influential on the plot and the novel’s characters. He mentions such movies as Rebel Without a Cause, The Graduate, Harold and Maude, Stand By Me, Dead Poets Society, and The Breakfast Club. Altogether, these movies left a crucial impact on the writer and his novel (Osenlund). Influenced by such classics of cinematography, the book offers characters, which have now become iconic.

Charlie and his friends love watching and participating in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this atmosphere helps them let loose and be themselves without fear of being judged. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a classic cult film from the 1970s, and gathering for viewing parties has become a regular thing ever since its release. People sing along, respond to the screen, dress up as their favorite characters, and participate in the “Time Warp” group dance. Characters in The Perks of Becoming a Wallflower were not an exception, having an ability to express themselves in a way they can’t in everyday life thanks to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Thus, the show influenced the creation of the book and its plot in a crucial way.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a contemporary classic novel with many references to other mass culture classics. Chbosky made the novel semi-autobiographical by combining both fictitious concepts and personal experiences. When we’re young, books, songs, and movies are more than just entertainment. They assist us in finding out who we are, what we believe, and what we want our lives to be. As a result, the book includes several cultural references from a variety of mediums, including literature, music, and film.

Works Cited

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Brantford, Ontario, W. Ross Macdonald School Resource Services Library, 2017.

Handy, Bruce. “Q&A: Perks of Being a Wallflower’s Stephen Chbosky on Emma Watson’s Casting, High School Yearning, and ‘Heroes.'” Vanity Fair, 2012, Web.

Osenlund, R. Kurt. “Writer/Director Stephen Chbosky on the Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Filmmaker Magazine, 2012, Web.

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StudyStroll. 2023. "How Pop Culture Influenced Chbosky Writing “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”." January 18, 2023.


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