The Perks of Being a Wallflower
On the surface, Charlie's family meets the textbook standard criteria for normal: mother, father, three kids. We wouldn't be surprised if they had a white picket fence. But just because they fit a mold set by 50s-era sitcoms, that doesn't mean they are one big happy family. They definitely have their share of problems, some of them dating back a generation or two. And they're certainly not forthcoming with loving comments and physical affection. Still, in the clutch, they all come together to support each other.
Things aren't great for Charlie's sister in the relationship department. She and her boyfriend have a nasty relationship; when he hits her, she stays with him and continues dating him until she gets pregnant. Amidst all this, she tells Charlie that Sam has low self-esteem; and by the time she says the same thing about Mary Elizabeth, we wonder if maybe she should turn the mirror on herself.
After she tells her boyfriend about their baby, he denies that it's his, and she decides to have an abortion. Charlie is the only person she tells, and it seems like their relationship really improves after that. It's amazing what a little trust can do.
The very first thing we learn about Charlie's mom is that she "cries a lot during TV programs" (1.1.25). Not super helpful, Charlie.
She did grow up with Charlie's aunt Helen, who was molested, and she herself was beaten by her own father. These are probably the issues behind her insecurity: Charlie says that his dad "calls her beautiful, but she cannot hear him" (1.6.29).
While she may not be vocal about it, Charlie's mom does love her kids. And she's found a good partner in her husband, which we see when they break up the fight between Charlie's brother and sister on the way to Ohio. Charlie observes, "My mom and dad make a real team sometimes. It's amazing to watch" (2.12.71).
Other than that, we don't know much about her. In the course of a year, she and her son never have a heart-to-heart talk or some other tender mother-son moment.
Charlie's dad first comes across as cold, uncaring, and maybe even abusive. In his first letter, Charlie tells us that his dad slapped him after he made Aunt Helen cry. It's not until his second letter, almost two months later, that he says that his dad "felt terrible for doing it. And he was so sorry. And he would never hit me again. And he hasn't" (1.8.61).
He may not ever say "I love you," preferring to express affection with "love pats" (3.1.12), but he's a good dad to Charlie, and Charlie even says he's "a very good husband" (1.6.29) to his mother.
Charlie sums it up pretty nicely: "My brother likes posters of girls and beer cans" (2.12.4). Well, then.
Facts about Charlie's brother:
- He's playing football for Penn State on scholarship.
- For a while, he has a girlfriend named Kelly, whom Charlie is strangely obsessed with, wondering if she's "a smart girl who wears a lot of sweaters and drinks cocoa" (2.4.5).
- Unlike Charlie and his sister, he didn't do very well in high school. He was "something like 223rd in his class," according to Charlie (4.13.55).
But he's not just some dumb jock. He supports his family in his own way. Before he went to college, Charlie's brother helped Charlie out after Michael died. He took him out of school and distracted him from his grief by allowing him to help work on his Camaro. He's also kind of a peacemaker between his grandfather and the rest of the family. Charlie says, "my brother always understood my grandfather. He rarely got angry at him unless my grandfather said something mean about my mom or sister or made a scene in public" (2.6.9).
As nice as he can be, siblings are siblings, and the bickering will never stop.
According to Charlie, his grandfather had to choose between loving his family or supporting them financially. He chose the latter, eventually becoming an abusive father. Charlie's grandfather regrets these decisions, but there's nothing he can do to change it. So, like Charlie, he resorts to crying. In the end, though, he's proud of his family. At his granddaughter's graduation, "[n]obody clapped or yelled louder than my grandfather" (4.13.56).