How Do Young Malaysians Make Sense of Perks of Being a Wallflower?

perks of being a wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky centers on an intelligent but socially awkward American teenager named Charlie. Charlie is a wallflower who’s consistently watching everything from the sidelines. The way he perceives the world and its norms began changing drastically as he interacts with Patrick and Sam, two seniors. Throughout the book, we can see the progression of Charlie as a person he deals with family drama, new friends, having his first date and kiss, encountering drugs and alcohol.

 

After much reflection on this book, I wonder the book’s reception and meaning in my country. I hail from Malaysia which is a Southeast Asian country located between Thailand and Singapore. It is a relatively modern country with an Islamic government. That said, Muslims in Malaysia are held to the standards of the shariah law. As for the non-Muslims (Chinese and Indians), we are a lot more liberal in the way we think about what society ought to be like. Often times, the difference in our perspectives creates conflicts amongst ourselves.

51st National Day

I am Chinese and was raised in a strictly traditional household where there were a lot of rules so this book never made it to my mom’s list of things to get me for Christmas. When the film was released in 2012 and I was sixteen, the film did not pop up on my parents’ radar at all even though the poster was graced with the presence of Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. Nonetheless, many of my friends watched this film thereby, contributing to a fairly successful box office when it opened in Malaysia. I believe that my friends felt a sense of freedom and liberty when watching this film. It presented an opportunity for them to explore perspectives that are often times, branded as rebellious and Westernize as the older generation of Malaysians would say. This is not to say that drugs, alcohol, sex, and homosexuality are never discussed about in Malaysia however, the level of openness is definitely a lot more scaled back. However, there are many pockets of community, predominantly located in the capital city, where people are more receptive of the surge of these ideas.

Rather than focusing on how the film was structured, I believe the younger generation in Malaysia would be intrigued by the life events that Charlie go through. There might be a lack of understanding and identification with what he’s going through and this might be due to the fact that the frame of reference is set in America. At the same time, the younger generation has a desire to know more and speak about these topics because of the exposure they have had through social media. Nonetheless, there is a limit to where the younger people are taking this dialogue due to the social and political context of iron clad rules and regulations.

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