Personal response #6 (Novel 2)

Perks of being a wallflower: Highly recommended

Author: Shephen Chbosky

Published: February 1st, 1999

“He’s a wallflower. You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.”

Perks of being a wallflower is an enticing coming of age novel that depicts common struggles and issues that have been shaping teenage society for decades. The author discusses deep but often underlying themes such as love, family, friendship, passivity, and sadness, in a way in which the reader can either relate to their own lives, or understand easily. I personally found this book showed me a perspective on the life of a teenager I hadn’t previously seen, read about, or experienced, as many of the issues and actions taken by the characters in the book where not things that have happened to me before. This helped me understand the divergence that is often seen between teenage individuals, and how experiences shape the way we think, act, and understand. I greatly enjoyed reading about the experiences of the characters in the story, because the issues and themes discussed were written in an interesting and often over simplified way that was hard to decipher in some parts. This difficulty, however, only made the story more interesting, because it made you want to see things from the perspectives of the characters, which made the book an enticing and interesting read. It was because of this, and the fact it covered alternative themes and issues in teenage society to my own life, that I would highly recommend this to other readers my age.

Perhaps the part of the story that I found the most interesting was how it was written. The author had formatted the book so that it was a collection of letters from the main character, Charlie, to an unnamed source. The whole book is written solely from one perspective, and is only showing the parts of his life that he deems the most important. This allowed the reader to learn more about the character in a very unique way that profoundly opposes the way we would meet each other in modern day society. In real life and in other books, we meet people or characters through snippets of conversation, by how they treat certain people, by surviving or imagining all kinds of different experiences with them. This story just has Charlie telling you the experiences of his day to day life, but takes the time to expand on how these events have affected him emotionally, and how it has affected the way he views things. “I walk around the school hallways and look at the people. I look at the teachers and wonder why they’re here. If they like their jobs. Or us. And I wonder how smart they were when they were fifteen. Not in a mean way. In a curious way. It’s like looking at all the students and wondering who’s had their heart broken that day, and how they are able to cope with having three quizzes and a book report due on top of that. Or wondering who did the heart breaking. And wondering why.” This quote depicts how Charlie used the letters as a way to express how he was feeling to the reader, and allows us to view him in a way we wouldn’t normally see a person. This quote doesn’t show his perspective or experience of his school life, but rather how he always questions seemingly insignificant events that occur inside his school, and how they flow on to affect the world he lives in. His character was interesting to read about, because you start to engage with his constant curiosity. Instead of reading about a character who saved the world, or who fell in love, you get to see inside this characters mind, you get to empathise with his perceptions and emotions, rather than his actions. This helps the reader to gain a more in depth understanding both of Charlie, and the story. I really enjoyed reading these parts because it also allows you to consider how these seemingly insignificant things have impacted our lives, and the lives of those around us, and how it has affected us more than we could ever know or understand. It is uncommon to find a story that expresses the effects of daily events on our daily lives, and gives the reader a new perspective on how these things have affected more than just the people the events belong to. I think that this way of explaining things in a story to the reader is a kind of universal language, that doesn’t need to be adapted for people from different cultures or backgrounds to understand. This is why I would highly recommend this story to a year 12 book club.

Another fascinating question the story poses but doesn’t cover, is whether Charlie is the one who needs saving, or whether Charlie is the one who saves everyone else. The main basis of the book is that Charlie has a teenage life that is harder than most. His social issues become increasingly apparent as the book progresses, as it outlines how hard it is for him to make friends. This means that when he eventually does conform to a group, he finds it difficult to decipher simple things, like whose side to take in a petty argument, or what he feels about the perspectives of each side. He is such a different to character to those that surround him, that this realisation often has a kind of jarring effect. Charlie is a damaged character, a result of a troubled childhood. But even with all of his imperfections, he still changes the lives of others, by bringing a kind of social balance between the different friendships and relationships in which he observed and participated in. One of the most admirable qualities of Charlie is that he was always willing to help his friends. If it were a story of one of his friends, Charlie would likely be a side character that was known for not saying much and not being considered a valued member of the group, but in Charlie’s story, everyone he talked about he valued and admired. “It’s just hard to see a friend hurt this much. Especially when you can’t do anything except ‘be there.’ I just want to make him stop hurting, but I can’t. So I just follow him around whenever he wants to show me his world.” The quote helps to elaborate on his kindness to those that surrounded him, and that when he didn’t understand what he could do to make a friends bad situation good again, he simply kept them company as they fixed it themselves. He stayed out of the way so he didn’t make the problem worse, he assisted in trying to make it better. Charlie helped me understand the importance of kindness, and how being nice to others can also make you feel just as good. Humans are selfish creatures, and don’t often do things unless it will involve personal gain. This is why the authors approach to explaining the way Charlie was nice to people showed the reader that often being kind can have a bigger impact on you than you would think. This would make people more willing to actually take this characteristic and implement it into their lives, especially teenagers who are often very impressionable to this kind of character. This is why I would recommend this book to a year 12 book club, or other readers my age.

Charlie and his story had a bigger impact on my life than I could have imagined. He taught me the importance of getting involved with things you didn’t think you could do, and how this had the potential to make your life something you wanted to remember, rather than something you had to. His character development was astounding to read, as we watched him grow from a shy, timid wallflower, into a budding and growing sunflower. He went from avoiding every social interaction he could and living life through observations, to realising that sometimes the best thing to do was just get in the middle of it all. “Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.” This quote describes how living life in your comfort zone all of the time, can often be quite boring. It shows how there comes a point in life where you just have to get in the middle of it all, you have to get well out of your comfort zone to realise that maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons a little. I think this lesson would be important for some teenagers to learn, as it is becoming more common for people to distance themselves from others, because it’s easier to watch everyone else going through all of these struggles than to have to go through them yourself. “Enjoy it. Because it’s happening.”  This part of the story showed that you can’t go through life as an observer, and that it’s of utmost importance that you get involved sometimes, no matter how badly you’d rather not.

After finishing the book, I found I had gained a far better understanding of how everything we do shapes who we are. “So, 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.” It taught me that no matter how many bad decisions we make, we will always have the opportunity to make better ones, and that we don’t have to be stuck inside cycles of confusion and negativity. This can be easily related to today’s society, especially teenagers, because it’s something that I think everyone needs to keep in mind: just because you may have done bad things, or made some bad choices, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Just start making some better decisions with your life. Even though I am surrounded by, and am a teenager, this book helped me understand the reasons behind our actions in a positive way. It showed me how no matter how we act, we will still have the memory of these times for years to come, and whether they’re good or bad, they’re the only ones we’ll get. “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not” The most important lesson this book has to offer is that nothing is more valuable than getting involved. Growing up may be hard, but we have the choice on whether or not we enjoy it.

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

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Personal response #5 (Short story)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Recommended

Author: Ernest Hemingway

It was first published in Esquire magazine in 1936

“You know the only thing I’ve ever lost is curiosity”

It is not uncommon for many people in this day and age to lose their curiosity in living. They start to question the ‘what ifs?’ They want to know if they truly got the most out of their lives, and whether their purpose was fulfilled. But as we grow older, this curiosity for what life can bring starts to turn into an unhealthy obsession where we question if we utilised all of the opportunities life has brought. This short story looks into the life of a character called Harry, who started an African safari in an attempt to get rid of his lazy life of luxury and procrastination. He needed to be reminded what it felt like to work for something, to struggle with something, to feel like he was living, instead of the constant, declining cycle of feeling his artistic talents drain as he lived off his wife’s wealth. An unfortunate accident meant that a dying Harry and his wife were stranded in a small African village, while waiting for an emergency aeroplane to be sent from Nairobi. During his last few hours, we see Harry begin to reminisce over his life, and it looks into the regrettable decisions he had made. This short story greatly affected the way I viewed the world, because the author used many connections between the characters and other non-human symbols to help portray ideas and themes throughout the text. His use of language features also assisted this. The decisions made by the characters all bring important life lessons that readers in year twelve can learn from, which is why I would recommend this short story to other people my age.

As we watch Harry begin the dreary, depressing decent to death, we see him begin to re-evaluate his life. He begins to realise he will never “write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.” He begins to understand that it’s now too late to do anything about this wasted talent, and he will never get the opportunity to record the many wondrous events of his life, and see “if he could have written them.” His agonizingly slow departure to death makes him realize how often and how much he squandered his life, while avoiding writing down all the stories he now desperately wishes to. Here, the author adeptly contrasts two prominent themes in the text: this man’s engagement with death, and his failings to pursue his artistic dreams. This contrast is relatable to today’s society because many people, just like Harry, tell themselves that they will wait to complete these artistic endeavours because they don’t have the time, or they can’t think of a way to compile their ideas together. All they’re really doing, however, is wasting their time procrastinating all of the things they really want to be doing. It is common in today’s society to procrastinate activities we don’t want to be doing, to put off tasks because we feel they’re too difficult to be completed today, or we just simply can’t be bothered. This hesitation to simply do the things we don’t want to do starts become a habit, starts to become part of your routine. This habit will start to fester into everything you’re doing and suddenly you begin to procrastinate the things you actually want to be doing, because that’s how you deal with all of the other tasks you’re supposed to be dealing with. This can be a very dangerous and regrettable trait, as Harry discovers, and something which we shouldn’t allow to happen. This part of the story showed me how putting things off now can have much larger effects on us later in life. It taught me that the consequences of putting things off can include feeling huge amounts of regret and remorse for the amount of time you wished you’d spent doing the things you love. This is an important story for young readers to read because it teaches us that sometimes it’s better to just get on with the things that need doing, because the only thing you’re really procrastinating is your life. The reason Harry procrastinated writing all of the stories and experiences he’d had, was because he knew that writing wouldn’t earn him a wealthy living. Instead of writing, he married rich women and survived off their incomes, and began to veer onto the trail of wealth, rather than that of passion. “It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one? But when he no longer was in love, when he was only lying, as to this woman, now, who had the most money of all, who had all the money there was, who had had a husband and children, who had taken lovers and been dissatisfied with them, and who loved him dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession; it was strange that when he did not love her at all and was lying, that he should be able to give her more for her money than when he had really loved.” This mistake of choosing money over your passions and what you love is common in today’s society, for people to do jobs for the money, rather than because they actually enjoy what they’re doing. So many people are wasting their lives trying to earn more money than everyone else, to buy material goods that don’t really make them much happier. This idea that money buys happiness is a fake ideal that is starting to trick the younger generations into pursuing careers they hate, because they want to reap the rewards. I was easily able to relate this part of the story to my own life, because it reminded me that I need to look into careers that I will actually enjoy, rather than ones that will earn me the most money. This relation will also help many others my age and in my position, and shows why it is an important story for young people in year twelve to read. It teaches us that life isn’t always about being rich rather than poor, and that it’s better to pursue a career you love than one you hate, no matter what the price tag is.

Symbolism is evident throughout the text, and is used by the author to link many ideas that wouldn’t previously be connected. For example, in the beginning of the story, the author writes a note about Mt. Kilimanjaro, where it says “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” This mountain is represented in the story as a place of warmth and happiness, despite its height and freezing temperatures. This symbol was often linked to the symbol of the African plains, which stretch for miles below the towering mountain, and is connected to negative connotations of death and darkness through the text. Throughout history, civilisations have chosen the tallest mountain in their area to represent where God, or his immortality lives. It has been suggested that the leopard mentioned was searching for a form of immortality while it was stalking the treacherous peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and was frozen while on its journey. The idea of immortality is common in today’s society, as few people want to die. People look for it in all kinds of ways, but they all have the common denominator of trying to live forever. People are comforted by the idea that they don’t have to die, and is why there are so many legends surrounding immortality. In the text, the author manages to project these ideas to the audience in a systematic way, where he explains that when we get close to dying, all we want to do is live forever, to do all the things we wish we had all those years ago. This part of the text helped me understand why people are often very religious when they know they’re going to die, because they’re seeking help from their God to allow them to keep on living. It allowed me to understand the perspective of a dying person, and why they suddenly began religious practices. This was a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.  However, the mountain doesn’t always symbolise religion and immortality. In the story, Harry saw it as a symbol of an idealistic life that was pure and true. When he looks at the mountain, he is reminded that sometimes life is good, and can remember all of the good experiences he has been privileged to partake in. That is why when he finally dies; there is a kind of tragic irony. The leopard mentioned previously, died in search of a happier life, in search of immortal ideals, on a mountain that was clean, simple, and had the views of a God. In contrast, Harry was killed by his own rotting flesh, surrounded by the smell of death, in the presence of the plains. The author allows the reader to interpret that Harry died the way he lived, by wasting his life as his body wasted away, while drowning in nostalgia for all the things he never did. This part of the story helped me understand that even though we can do many good things in our lives, we don’t always die heroically. On the contrary, we can do bad things for most of our lives and die in search of good.  This is an important lesson for young readers in year twelve to learn, because it represents the idea that things aren’t always as they seem. At the end of the story, the author has written the ending in a way to make the author assume that Harry’s soul went to the summit of the mountain, as God’s way of saying thank you for all the sacrifices he made to ease the suffering of the characters that surrounded him. The leopard was seen stalking the plains, taking Harry’s life and represented that although he searched for positive ideals, he wasn’t given the same ending as Harry. The afterlife experiences shown in the story brought a stark contrast to the way the characters died. This part of the story made me feel that the leopard was given an unfair ending, and presented me with the idea that although everyone starts out in life the same way, we don’t all have to go out the same way. By this I mean that when someone or something dies, it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the same place. As Harry’s soul moved to the mountain, the leopard was reincarnated. Or maybe Harry was reincarnated into the leopard, and the leopard’s soul rested on the mountain. Either way, it showed me that there might not be only one way out of life, which is a big perception to make over such a short story. This links to today’s society because many people are terrified of dying because they feel they haven’t deserved happy ending, but it teaches us that sometimes kindness, even in the smallest of forms, allows us be happy anyway. This can often be a very positive way of looking at death, which can be a good thing for readers to keep in mind.

An underlying development in the text was the relationship between Harry and his wife, Helen. Harry explains that he never really loved her, but simply stuck with her because she was able to provide the income and outrageous lifestyle he so desperately desired. He felt guilty for using her like this, but also felt that “if he lived by a lie he should try to die by it.” He felt he owed it to her to leave her as he’d met her, by lying about how he felt to try in an attempt to minimise the pain it would cause her to know the truth. This relationship was portrayed as though she had made him happy throughout their relationship, but he’d never quite felt like he loved her. The author managed to portray these feelings in a way that it was easy to understand Harry’s perspective on this issue. While reading this part of the story, I felt that it was unfair of Harry to use Helen for her money, but I also felt that even though he didn’t love her, she still loved him, and he still made her feel much, much happier. It was because of this that I found I wasn’t as angry with Harry over his choices, because in the end, they were both happy with the outcome. This taught me that even though we can make wrong choices in life; these wrong choices can still make us happy, even if it isn’t in the way that was initially intended. The lesson I learnt from this would also be important for other people my age to learn, because many young teenagers often make many mistakes, no matter what areas of their lives it’s in. This teaches us that even if we make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world, and it can often make us just as happy and content with our lives even if it isn’t how we’d originally planned it to be. This part of the story relates well to society, because it isn’t uncommon for people to go into relationships with people they don’t care about for financial reward. This shows us that lying about our feelings isn’t always the best thing to do, because you’ll likely regret your decision. However, as the story progresses and Harry begins to die, he gets in a few arguments with Helen, and blames her for many of the bad things that have happened in his life. He tells her he doesn’t love her, but quickly retracts the statement telling her that he wasn’t feeling quite right and to not take what he says to heart. He explains in the story that he wants to destroy what he has so he can die with nothing: “I don’t like to leave anything,” the man said. “I don’t like to leave things behind.” We can relate this to society because people always change their minds. He decided he couldn’t die without telling her the truth about his feelings, but once he saw how it affected her, he changed his mind and decided it was better she was happy with a lie, than upset and angry at the truth. It also relates to today’s society because it’s common for people to not want to leave things unsaid. People don’t like the idea that they can die without telling people the truth about everything, because now that they’re dying, the repercussions of telling the truth will have little effect on them. Sometimes, however, it is better to leave things unsaid, and let people live on happily with a lie than to let them live sadly with the truth. This lesson is important for people my age to learn because it shows us that the best thing to do is to just tell the truth from the beginning. But it also teaches us that if we do lie, sometimes it’s better to let that person stay happy, rather than make them feel awful, especially if neither option will have much of an effect on you.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this short story. In some parts I found it hard to understand the wording because it was written a very long time ago, but you can still understand what the author is trying to portray. The lessons, ideals, symbols, and underlying themes that are written throughout the text really show the authors capabilities, and will help readers of any age understand complicated, modern day issues, in a simple and understandable manner. It was because of this that I would recommend this short story to a year twelve book club.