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The Development of Two Social Outcasts into Strong and Dependable Individuals in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Outsiders

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With the theme that life isn’t fair, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Outsiders narrate coming-of-age stories about how two individuals can make changes in the lives of others as well as their own and be successful if they are active participants as they make good choices. The protagonists of The Outsiders (Ponyboy) and Perks (Charlie) relate a story of the hardships of life and the necessity of partaking in the world around them despite what difficulties they need to overcome. Charlie and Ponyboy are academically intelligent, yet socially awkward and their stories represent the hardships of being social outcasts, having dysfunctional families, and being burdened with the deaths of friends and families but still mature into intelligent contributors to society.

The protagonists of Perks and Outsiders are social outcasts, and that defines who they are and is intricate in how they grow and develop as characters. Charlie is a ninth-grade student entering high school with no friends as he copes with the death of his only friend that has recently committed suicide. He is emotionally disturbed because he feels so disconnected from everyone around him. He represses memories of his Aunt Helen, the individual that made him feel special but who he feels he indirectly killed. This is due to a car accident where she went out to buy an extra present for his birthday because he was so special. These repressed memories are those of being sexually molested by her, directly affecting him emotionally and making him socially awkward. High school lets him enter into a new world where he has the ability to create a new identity. At first, he is withdrawn from individuals to the point of being bullied in school, but with the help of his new friends Sam and Patrick, he begins to become less introverted and less of a social outcast. He becomes a participant in his own life once he meets them and is included in their activities which consisting of going to dances, and parties and listening to music. However, Charlie relapses into being withdrawn socially once he is ousted from the group.

This is because Charlie does not fully realize that his actions (kissing Sam when he is dating her best friend Mary Elizabeth and he is dared to kiss the most attractive girl) will have reactions (tension between Sam, Mary Elizabeth, and himself. Eventually, Charlie redeems himself and is let back into his new friends’ inner circle, but this is only because he comes to the aid of his friend Patrick after Patrick is attacked by a group of football players. He is then elated with his social life until Sam goes off to college and he relapses into an emotional wreck and is hospitalized, hitting his peak of social outcast. Charlie comes to the realization that “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them” (Chobosky 211). Although Charlie has difficulties coping with his mental and emotional issues, he still is capable of overcoming his social outcast status and he realizes despite the past, it is up to him to be the best individual that he can be.

Ponyboy’s social outcast status is due to being incapable of fitting into any specific social group despite being in the gang that his family is affiliated with. Ponyboy is an orphan and raised by his eldest brother Darry, causing resentment towards his brother and the lack of discipline in Ponyboy. He is an outcast because of socioeconomic reasons though as well. His gang of friends is misfits that smoke, drink, steal, and are uneducated juvenile delinquents. Many of his associates have dropped out of high school including his brother Sodapop. He differs from them since he is book smart but lacks common sense and street smarts which the majority of his friends excel at. He doesn’t keep track of time and doesn’t think about how his actions (such as talking to the popular girl Cherry Valiance) will have reactions (Cherry’s boyfriend Bob wanting to beat him up). This even gets him in trouble in school where his actions label who he is. “One time in biology I had to dissect a worm, and the razor wouldn’t cut, so I used my switchblade. The minute I flicked it out I forgot what I was doing or I would never have done it— this girl right beside me kind of gasped, and said, “They are right. You are a hood” (Hinton 15). His friends and home life define who he is even if he doesn’t necessarily identify with them himself. Despite his intentions, Ponyboy’s interaction with Cherry results in added tension between the Socials and the Greasers which causes the death of Cherry’s boyfriend and eventually a massive brawl. Ponyboy is an excellent example of an individual that could excel with a different group within a different environment but is held back because of the unfairness of life’s events. He reflects upon the unfairness of life’s events but is thankful for the family he has that looks after him and the friends that have become his extended family. He does not like being a social outcast but is still optimistic.

Charlie and Ponyboy are both incredibly intelligent, especially in literature, which is a theme throughout both books. Despite having the common sense and social skills that are needed to be incorporated into most groups, both characters have book smarts. Although they are not traditional nerds or geeks, which would involve them into a different group of friends, they are smart and well-read, which they use within their telling of their narratives. This is also aided by their English teachers, Bill, and Mr. Syme. Bill is a more prevalent character that pushes Charlie throughout Perks to be a more literate individual whereas Mr. Syme only appears at the end of The Outsiders. However, it is Mr. Syme that assigns Ponyboy the literary theme that forces Ponyboy to narrate his tale, causing a cyclic ending where it connects the beginning to the end. Throughout both stories, however, literature is incredibly important and relates to the different aspects of the boys’ lives. Ponyboy identifies with Pip from Great Expectations as being an orphaned boy that is misunderstood.

“I had to read Great Expectations for English, and that kid Pip, he reminded me of us— the way he felt marked lousy because he wasn’t a gentleman or anything, and the way that girl kept looking down on him” (15). He reflects on the grandeur that occurs in Gone with the Wind and connects and educates Johnny on the aspects and concepts the book defines. Finally, Ponyboy and Johnny realize Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is all about youth and the opportunities that one has from being young. “I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything’s new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything that it’s day. Like the way, you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be” (178). It then becomes important that you take advantage of everything you can and become a participant in the life you lead because once you begin aging and becoming gold life can’t stay that way forever.

Bill is Charlie’s adult role model that pushes him to be the best individual he can be and he does this through books he has Charlie read as he wants to ensure that Charlie is involved in life. Bill is the reason that Charlie decides to “participate” in life. Although Sam pushes him, stating “You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours… You just can’t. You have to do things” (Chobosky 200). And Patrick is an instigator that creates activities for Charlie to be a part of, it is Bill that sets him aside and informs him that he is special. This is incredibly important as this was his connection to his Aunt Helen, however, she preyed on Charlie’s weakness. Bill does not exploit it, but instead recognizes it, stating “Charlie, you’re one of the most gifted people I’ve ever known. And I don’t mean in terms of my other students. I mean in terms of anyone I’ve ever met” (181). Bill utilizes books such as Peter Pan, A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher and the Rye to help Charlie in his maturity and become involved in Charlie’s self-discovery of who he is and how he can be a “participant” in his own life.

Charlie and Ponyboy are raised in dysfunctional families which are a direct cause to why they are considered outcasts. Charlie is very hard on himself as he feels he killed his Aunt Helen. Although she is the only individual he feels connected to, she is the direct reason for his psychological issues because of being sexually molested by her and repressing his emotions. His connection to his Aunt Helen allows him to bond with his mother, but the rest of the family does not share the familiarity. His parents are then only an inconvenience as they create tension between him and his siblings, despite voicing how he would like to buy a gift for his mother on his birthday to show he appreciates her. Overall his parents don’t understand him or his psychological problems but are encouraged by his intelligence that he will become successful and well-adjusted, something that torments his father when he relapses. Charlie’s siblings are constantly fighting and his sister is only kind to him when she is vulnerable. Charlie’s brother is a distant part of his life, as their large age gap and living proximity make their relationship only something from the past. Charlie’s social inadequacies only infuriate his sister until she is in need of help. Charlie proves to be supportive when his sister is vulnerable, but overall he is just a nuisance.

Ponyboy’s life at home is similarly disparaging, however, due to his low socioeconomic standing, he is a social outcast because of physical barriers instead of emotional disabilities. The death of his parents resulted in his being raised by his oldest brother Darry. Ponyboy views resentment by his brother Darry as he feels Darry would have a better life if he didn’t need to be the provider. “Darry didn’t deserve to work like an old man when he was only twenty. He had been a real popular guy in school; he was captain of the football team and he had been voted Boy of the Year. But we just didn’t have the money for him to go to college, even with the athletic scholarship he won. And now he didn’t have time between jobs to even think about college” (Hinton 16). Ponyboy’s other brother Sodapop is unintelligent and dropped out of school. Although this could cause more barriers between the two, it only makes their relationship stronger as dropping out becomes a secret between the two. It also allows Sodapop to provide for their family. Overall, their gang is a replacement extended family, something that causes mixed emotions for Ponyboy as an insider in the group as well as an outsider.

Finally, Charlie and Ponyboy must cope with the loss of friends and family throughout the novels as a way to grow and ensure that they are making the most out of life. Perks begins with the death of Charlie’s only friend Michael Dobson. This is a difficult time for him and he sees a counselor and psychiatrist to cope with this as well as his other emotional issues. Eventually, he reflects on death and friendship by stating, “…things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody” (Chobosky 145). Throughout the book, he also reflects upon the death of his Aunt Helen. He feels responsible for her getting in the car accident as she shopped for a birthday gift for him. He has difficulties feeling special without her, but through his friendship with Sam, Patrick and Bill he gains the self-confidence he lacked. These are the individuals that begin to empower him and help with his growth in life and for him to become more extroverted. As Charlie describes, “This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive…And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite” (39).

Ponyboy constantly is dealing with death and he feels that it is incredibly unfair, although in the end, he comes to terms with all of it around him. First, the death of his parents leaves him under the unfair supervision of his eldest brother, which causes a difficult strain on both him and Darry. He then is involved in the accidental murder of Bob after beings jumped by a gang and trying to defend himself. Because he wants to see more fairness in the world he would rather take the blame although Johnny is the actual individual that killed him. Redeemed as heroes after saving children from a burning church, Ponyboy must still deal with the death of his best friend Johnny after he dies from complications from the church burns. Finally, Ponyboy must watch as Dally, the man that abetted and mentally supported him after the accidental death is gunned down by police. Overall it would be easier for Ponyboy to change into a hood, but through the posthumous words of Johnny, he has an appreciation for life. He realizes that he needs to be a good person and “tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn’t be so quick to judge” (179).

The protagonists of The Outsiders and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie and Ponyboy, are both very astute teens, despite the difficulties they must face. They are social outcasts that come from dysfunctional families and do not know how to interact in social situations. Although they feel that life is unfair, they overcome their emotional and mental obstacles, especially those that came about from the death of their friends and family, developing into strong individuals and participants in life.

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The Development of Two Social Outcasts into Strong and Dependable Individuals in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Outsiders. (2023, Mar 03). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/the-development-of-two-social-outcasts-into-strong-and-dependable-individuals-in-the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-and-the-outsiders/

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