What Did Charlie’s Aunt Do To Him In The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

What Did Charlie’s Aunt Do To Him In The Perks of Being a Wallflower?

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower deals with the problems of approaching adulthood and is sprinkled with spectacular performances and a grounded screenplay. The story is about Charlie, a high school freshman who becomes friends with a group of seniors who show him a fun time but unconsciously help him confront his trauma. It is a beautiful coming-of-age film exploring the themes of friendship, love, loss, and sexuality. A central theme of the film was the relationship Charlie shared with his aunt, which will be our topic for discussion in this article. So if you found yourself wondering about the same, here is a detailed guide to Charlie’s relationship with Helen, his aunt. No wonder you would find a whole lot of spoilers as I proceed on.


What Did Charlie’s Aunt Do To Him?


Although an unseen character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Aunt Helen has a significant role in the story. The film’s ending revealed a great deal about her and what she did to her nephew, Charlie.



What Happened In The Ending Of The Perks of Being a Wallflower?


The final reveal of this story worked a lot better on the screen than in the books. Towards the end, Charlie wrote a final letter, dated two months later, saying that his parents had found him in a catatonic state on the couch and took him to the mental hospital. It was then that Charlie realized that he had been a victim at the hands of his ‘favorite person in the world’ – aunt Helen, but that he had repressed all those memories. Finally, Charlie forgave the memory of his Aunt Helen, and the film ends with Charlie writing that he was planning to stop writing letters. He wanted to live his life to the fullest and just start to be the “main character” in his life, participating more in the moments.

But How was Charlie a victim at the hands of his aunt? What did aunt Helen do to Charlie that subconsciously traumatized him? 


What Did Aunt Helen Do To Charlie?


Charlie’s aunt took advantage of her position as an aunt and a nanny and abused him sexually. It was implied by how Charlie had flashbacks of her rubbing his leg when Sam tried to initiate sexual contact with him before leaving for her summer pre-college program. The sexual contact dredged up a repressed memory of his Aunt Helen molesting him as a child. It was reinforced later when Charlie was in the hospital, and the doctor said-

Doctor: You said some things about her in your sleep.

Charlie: I don’t care.

Doctor: If you want to get better, you have to.

Later on, we got a clear picture that something was wrong with aunt Helen when Charlie wrote-

“There were some very bad days and some unexpected beautiful days. The worst day was the time my doctor told my mom and dad what Aunt Helen did to me.”

Chbosky portrayed a brilliant picture of abuse as reflected by the fact that while in the act of molesting, the aunt continued to repeat, “Don’t wake your sister”. She cemented keeping quiet as the foremost priority in the child’s mind, making herself seem like a devoted guardian and undermining the idea that she was doing something wrong.


Why Did Aunt Helen Molest Charlie? 


Towards the end of the story, Charlie realizes that his Aunt Helen molested him when he was a child. Often, victims of abuse become abusers themselves. The same happened with Aunt Helen. When she was young, Aunt Helen was molested by a family friend, and when she told her parents about it, they did not believe her. Moreover, they did nothing to stop it and even continued inviting the man over to their house. Aunt Helen grew up and eventually got away, but her trauma remained. This abuse caused her to have psychological issues and led her to resort to her closest source of comfort, Charlie, whom she abused systematically. Charlie said about her aunt-

“My aunt Helen drank a lot. My aunt Helen took drugs a lot. My aunt Helen had many problems with men and boys… She went to hospitals all the time”

She never fixed her trauma, so she let that cycle of abuse continue and became the abuser herself. She took out her sexual abuse on Charlie and molested him while his sister was asleep. Like typical abusers, she even told him to be quiet as a way of telling him not to tell anyone about what she did.


Why Was Aunt Helen Charlie’s “Favorite Person In The World”?


We know how Aunt Helen sexually abused Charlie repeatedly. But when Sam told Charlie that her father’s boss molested him when she was eleven, he told her about his aunt. Charlie told her that his aunt was also molested (instead of him being molested by his aunt), and she turned out to be a nice person and that she was his favorite person. Charlie thought about his aunt a lot, and it appeared he was fond of her. He visited her grave and told her secrets that he only shared in his letters. Why did he love and trust her so much? Why was she her favorite person even when she was the one who molested him and scarred him for life?

We know that Charlie was trying to make Sam not feel insecure about what happened to her. At that critical moment, he wanted to make her feel that she was not alone and everything would be fine despite her past traumatic experiences. When Charlie said that, he still believed that his aunt was his “favorite person” because when he was a child, even though she molested him, she seemed to “understand” him the most and gave him special attention. She was also one of the few people who got him presents. Charlie was a sensitive and introverted kid, and aunt Helen used to address him personally. They were often alone, and she might have talked to him more intrinsically out of the psychological need to make sure her secrets were safe. He only knew that he was a little boy then, and because of all this, he felt an emotional connection to her. 

Sam also pointed out how Charlie always puts other people before himself. Although he acknowledged his pain, he did not attach much value to it as he did to other people’s trauma. Charlie knew that his aunt was treated miserably by men in her life and had gone through a great deal of pain. He understood how much it had affected her. When she molested him, Charlie was hardly old enough to understand what she had done. So he pushed his pain to hindsight. Instead, he focused on his guilt of her death and his admiration of her overcoming her pain.

Charlie did not change his story wilfully. Rather he just suppressed what she did to him. Charlie did not realize it until his actual suicide attempt. Up until then, she was just a person he had a very strong emotional relation to and indeed his favorite person, even though he did not yet know why at this point.



Aunt Helen’s Death In The Perks Of Being A Wallflower


In The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Aunt Helen died in a car accident. So why did Charlie feel guilty about her death?


Why Did Charlie Feel Guilty About Aunt Helen’s Death?


Aunt Helen met with the car accident on Charlie’s birthday, when she had gone to get him a gift for his birthday as well as one for Christmas. Charlie was guilt-ridden because he thought that it was his fault that his seventh birthday lied on that day, and so his aunt had to go get him a present, leading to her death. It was his birthday when he last saw her and blamed himself for her death. He also spiraled into believing that what if he wanted her dead because of all the pain and trauma she had caused him, leading him to fall into the dark pit of guilt. 

All this made the climax of the film gut-wrenching. All along the way, we were led to believe that it was his friend’s suicide and aunt’s accident that loomed large on Charlie’s psyche. It was a punch in the gut to realize that Charlie was hiding a worse memory – his sexual abuse. His repressed memories of these events were triggered by an intimate moment between him and his new ‘favorite person in the world’. Despite such a scarring experience, he felt genuine love for his friends, and the greatness of his character shined through. What followed was him going through therapy and finally coming to terms with his past. The tunnel scene truly gave us a glimmer of hope, a hope that while we cannot choose where we come from, we can still choose where to go from there.


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