The Perks of Old School Intertextuality

Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an immensely popular novel- and in essence, a coming of age novel. We’re following Charlie through his (sometimes) awkward high school years,and everything that comes along with that- the love interests, the drugs, the music, the literature.  So much literature. The character of Charlie’s teacher Bill seems to soleley exist to give him this literature, and why? Well, supposedly, because literature is enriching. It helps you grow as a person, and that is what you do, when you are coming of age. Though it isn’t just that- it’s not as if authors just throw random references to other books into their work- more so that they’re carefully chosen, specific books. If you’re going to include another author in your book, you’re essentially recommending it to your readers-so if a book is included, there’s a reason it’s in there.

Tobias Wolff’s Old School also has a great deal of intertextuality, and more interestingly, it has a book in common with Perks of being a Wallflower. This particular book is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand even appears as a character in Old School, as one of many visiting authors to the school. One of the books main themes is individualism, on which the main character comments this

For once I had a complete picture of the world: over here a few disdainful Roarks and a few icy Dominiques, meltable only by Roarks; over there a bunch of terrifid nobodies running from their own possibilities. Now and then I caught glimpses of other ideas n the novel, political, philosophcal ideas, but I didn’t think them through. It was the personal meaning that had me in thrall- the promise of great mastery achieved by doing exactly as I pleased

Charlie also reads the book, and after being encouraged by Bill to be a “filter not a sponge” gives his thoughts on it:

There was this one part where the main character, who is this architect, is sitting on a boat with his best friend, who is a newspaper tycoon. And the newspaper tycoon says that the architect is a very cold man. The architect replies that if the boat were sinking, and there was only room in the lifeboat for one person, he would gladly give up his life for the newspaper tycoon. And then he says something like this …  “I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.” Something like that. I think the idea is that every person has to live for his or her own life and then make the choice to share it with other people. Maybe that is what makes people “participate.” I’m not really certain.

It is certainly an interesting book for both authors to have chosen for their respective ‘coming of age’ stories- as both fictional readers point out, it’s a book where the main character is extremely individualistic- he is only out for himself, and all of the other characters in the novel are defined by their help/hinderance towards him, and not on their own terms. It could potentially teach the reader that it is more important to share their lives with someone else (as Charlie notes) or it could do the opposite- turning the reader into someone who is hedonistic and who only thinks about themselves, which is what the narrator of Old School takes from it. From there, a reader of Old School or Perks of Being a Wallflower could read this book for themselves, and form their own opinions from it.

In doing this, it creates an experience that you as the reader can share with the characters of the book- it is something you can have in common, having read the same book, and perhaps even the same opinions.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s