Flowers for Algernon

In Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gordon is a man with an exceptionally low IQ who undergoes an operation to make him smart. Prior to Charlie, the only creature this operation had been performed on was Algernon, a little lab mouse whose results have proven to be a success. Charlie is told to write progress reports before and after his operation in order for the doctors (and the readers) to get a closer look at the inner workings of his mind.

In his reports before the operation, Charlie struggles to find meaning in his Rorschach tests and becomes frustrated by losing maze races to a mouse, but lives blissfully ignorant in his everyday life. He works as a janitor at Donner’s Bakery where the owner has told him he has a job for life, and goes to school at Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults where he is taught by Miss Kinnian. Charlie is happy with his friends and his job and his school, but he still wishes that he could be smarter so that everyone would like him more. Despite Charlie’s own interpretations of situations, the reader quickly realizes that things are not always as great as Charlie thinks they are.

Following the operation, Charlie slowly becomes smarter as his progress reports become more detailed and grammatically accurate, and his thoughts become heavier with experience. With the new knowledge that he has acquired, Charlie gains a better understanding of his life and his memories become clearer as he sees them in a new light, which is how they actually occurred.

As Charlie begins to see things as they really are, he becomes more aware of his “friends” laughing at him and the neglect he faced throughout his childhood. A schism develops between his old, dumber self and his new, smarter self which inhibits him from living his new life as he wants to. He often sees his past self looking through a window to watch his present self and questions, “why am I always looking at life through a window?”

When Algernon begins to exhibit some erratic behavior that reveals the deterioration of his mind, Charlie must race against time to determine if his fate will end up similar to Algernon’s. Charlie is a caring and compassionate man coping with the weight and responsibility of what his eyes have been opened to, and must deal with the potential loss of everything he once had as his world comes crashing down on him.


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