Imagine that at school, people stare at you all the time. They gawk and jeer at you. They spread mean rumors about you. They even avoid touching you. This is the social life of the main character in the novel Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Ten-year old August "Auggie" Pullman has a cleft palate, causing him to have an unusual face that society doesn't consider normal. For most of his life, Auggie is only influenced by familial forces, and builds his identity completely on family opinions. However, when he starts going to Beecher Prep, a private school, August is introduced to societal influences. As a newcomer to both school and society, Auggie is considered somewhat of a reject. To fit in, August starts to become more influenced by the outside world and makes decisions he normally wouldn't make if he were still homeschooled. At the end, Auggie discovers his true self, and forms a strong identity with his internal forces being the most important in finding who he truly is.
August Pullman is classified as a medical wonder as soon as he is born. A child who is small for his age, Auggie is sickly, so homeschool is his only reasonable choice of education. Therefore, he is oblivious to how vicious bullying can get at private school. August's first day at Beecher Prep is awkward. Being the new kid is bad enough for most children, but August's extreme facial deformation makes him an instant target for bullies, such as popular boy Julian Albans. Someone who has never been exposed to society's influences, Auggie is changed by Julian even on the first day of school. As his life progresses and August grows older, Auggie's identity is starting to form based on societal influences; hence he abandons some of his previous hobbies as not to seem strange. Around the middle of the school year, August finds himself and his best friend, Jack, in a "boy war" against Julian, and most of the boys at school start to ignore the pair. He and Jack deal with the pranks and mean notes, and they are forced to battle against the continuous flow of hatred every day at school. Soon, when the "war" starts getting old, most boys become neutral and eventually, only Julian and his two best friends are still being rude. Afterwards, at the end of the year, many fifth graders go on a trip to the Broarwood Nature Reserve, and during a bathroom break, Auggie and Jack run into a group of seventh graders that mistreat them. Luckily, three of Auggie's classmates come and defend Auggie and Jack, and the Beecher Prep students escape from the older kids with only a few minor injuries. This encounter sends August and Jacks' social statuses rising while Julian's fame level falls permanently for the rest of fifth grade. Finishing his first year of private school, Auggie starts to feel more "at home" with his classmates, and his fifth grade school year ends with earning the Henry Ward Beecher medal and finally fitting in.
Early on in his childhood, August's identity is created mostly by listening to what his family says about him. As a result, they turn Auggie into a kind, warm-hearted little boy that is seemingly unaware of society's negativities. However, August isn't as clueless as his family thinks he is. He is heedful of how people react when they see him, yet still believes himself to be an ordinary child. Auggie quotes, "I know I'm not an ordinary ten-year-old kid. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an Xbox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don't make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don't get stared at wherever they go." (10e) Instead of acknowledging his problems, August chooses to run away from them. He says, "One of the reasons I grew my hair long last year was that I like how my bangs cover my eyes: it helps me block out the things I don't want to see." (22e) Auggie doesn't want to see any mean faces glaring at him, so he decides to ignore everyone around him instead of talking to them and turning his enemies into friends. August's shyness isn't entirely his fault, though, because his parents hadn't encouraged Auggie to make new friends and interact with others while he had been homeschooled. He had played by himself and had fun with a few old friends sometimes. August's timidity is an issue at school, because this along with his face makes it challenging to obtain friends. On the first day of school, he thinks, "I admit that the first day of school I was so nervous that the butterflies in my stomach were more like pigeons flying around my insides." (33e) In fact, Auggie is so nervous about more than five hundred people seeing his face at the same time and whispering about him that he keeps his head down and his bangs obscuring his eyes the whole time he walks to homeroom. He's even glad that he'd gone on the tour of the school so he doesn't have to ask anyone for directions. Overall, familial influences turn August into a shy boy with only a few friends.
Before long, school changes Auggie and he strains to become more popular, or at least fit in, at school. Already, he is a social outcast at school, and if it isn't for Jack and Summer, his two best friends, August would be a loner. Therefore, Auggie is determined to make the best out of his tattered reputation. He does anything he could to make himself seem less strange and dorky to his classmates, including hiding any signs of liking Star Wars. For instance, August snips off his Padawan braid that he has grown for years just because Julian makes a nasty comment about it. Julian inquires what Auggie's favorite character in Star Wars is, and August replies, Jango Fett. Then, Julian asks if Auggie likes Darth Sidious, and August is shocked. "Now it was Jack's turn to talk, but I admit I didn't hear a word he said. Maybe no one got the Darth Sidious thing, and maybe Julian didn't mean anything at all. But in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious's face gets burned by Sith lightning and becomes totally deformed. His skin gets all shriveled up and his whole face just kind of melts." (39e) "I peeked at Julian and he was looking at me. Yeah, he knew what he was saying." (39e) Auggie knows that cutting off his Padawan braid won't send him rising up to popularity instantly, but at least he is cutting off one less insult Julian would give him. August also buys a new duffel bag without Star Wars on it to take to the nature reserve so that he won't seem like a geek with a Star Wars obsession. He says, "I asked Mom to buy me a new rolling duffel bag because my old one had Star Wars stuff on it, and there was no way I was going to take that to the fifth grade nature retreat. As much as I love Star Wars, I don't want that to be what I'm known for." (173e) "My point is that in middle school, you kind of get known for what you're into, and you have to be careful about stuff like that." (174e) Auggie is trying to change his image a little so that he won't be known for something nerdy by his classmates. If August had still been homeschooled, he wouldn't have been concerned with social issues and would have continued owning Star Wars items without caring about others' opinions. Auggie might have been shy when he first goes to school, but societal influences cause him to be desperate to fit in at school and make more friends.
After both societal influences and familial influences leave August puzzled about his true identity, Auggie relies on his internal forces to determine his real self. Underneath his personality and self-consciousness, August realizes that he is an extraordinary boy. It is unlikely that any other human in history will act or look like Auggie, and he is one-of-a-kind. When Via looks at her ancestors' photographs, she discovers something shocking about August, made more unusual due to her uncommon half-Brazilian, half-European mix. She quotes, "Not one person in the exotic mix of my family gene pool has ever shown any obvious signs of having what August has. I've pored over grainy sepia pictures of long-dead relatives in babushkas; black-and-white snapshots of distant cousins in crisp white linen suits, soldiers in uniform, ladies with beehive hairdos; Polaroids of bell-bottomed teenagers and long-haired hippies, and not once have I been able to detect even the slightest trace of August's face in their faces. Not a one." (77e) Even through thousands of generations, Auggie is the only person in the entire Pullman family with face mutations in his genes. In the entire world, there is a one-in-four-million chance that a baby will turn out looking like August, and this baby will be deathly ill when it is born. Auggie pulls through the night of his birth, but his survival isn't exactly a win-win situation. August's ears have always been his least favorite part of his face for more than one reason, and as the years pass by, he starts having hearing problems. This leads him to getting a pair of hearing aids, which look like massive headphones due to the fact that Auggie doesn't have outer ears. August's hearing aids will most likely never be duplicated in history again, and the same goes for his face. Auggie's face condition makes him uncomfortable at times where he is on display, and he feels thrilled when Summer, one of his friends, tells him that he can wear a costume to school. Auggie's costume usually comes with a mask, and on Halloween, wearing the mask makes him feel like an average kid. His face, the only abnormal part of his body, is never in sight on Halloween, and no one else knows that he is different from every other child. "For me, Halloween is the best holiday in the world. It even beats Christmas. I get to dress up in a costume. I get to wear a mask. I get to go around like every other kid with a mask and nobody thinks I look weird. Nobody takes a second look. Nobody notices me." (58e) To Auggie, being able to blend in with the crowd is a faraway dream that he will never have. But what he doesn't know is that he won't ever be part of the "normal" crew; instead, he will always stand out positively like a bright light in a dark room.
Fifth grader August Pullman may not be the handsomest boy in the world, but he survives, and tells an uncommon tale of his childhood. A child that almost dies after he is born, Auggie isn't as healthy as children his age should be, making public and private school impossible for him to attend . Nine years of being kept away from interacting with society has made August's identity completely surrounded by his family; Auggie has become a sweet boy that shouldn't know what society will think of him. Nevertheless, August is more observant than his family thinks, and sees that he is not "ordinary" in the outside world. Fifth grade being the first year in his life to go to private school, Auggie is anxious that everyone will make fun of his face. August has a cleft palate along with some other malfunctioning genes, and these genes have made his face into a mess, causing others to think him ugly. After going to school for a while, Auggie is completely overwhelmed by societal influences, and does anything to help his dignity as a freak at school. At the end of his school year, August develops his true identity with internal forces, and grows a strong sense of self-perception. His struggle to find his real self is a whirlwind of experiences, influences, and understanding; together, they patch his identity and for the first time, Auggie learns who he really is.
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