Themes in Flowers for Algernon
An Analysis of the Changing Relationship Between Charlie Gordon and Miss Kinnian in the Novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. PAGES 3. WORDS. Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction short story and subsequent novel written by Daniel . Charlie tries to mend the long-broken relationships with his parents, even as his own intelligence enhancements begin to slip away. He remembers. Charlie, a mentally handicapped human, and Algernon, a mouse, are both "lab rats" used for an experiment. Describe how Charlie reacts to the inkblot test in Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. In Daniel Keyes' novel, Flowers for Algernon, why is Charlie excited just before the.
More importantly, the gap between their respective IQs makes it harder and harder for them to communicate, a problem Charlie now has with almost everyone. As Burt, the graduate student who administers Charlie's psychological tests, points out to him, "You've got a superb mind now.
But you haven't developed understanding or—I have to use the word—tolerance. His disappointment with them turns into fear when he discovers that there is a flaw in Professor Nemur's analysis of the "waiting period" following the operation, a flaw which may indicate that the results of the operation are not permanent.
By this point in the novel, Keyes has firmly established what critic Thomas D. Clareson has called Flowers for Algernon's "double-edged theme: But despite his genius-level IQ and newfound personal freedom, his sense of isolation increases. He forms a relationship with Fay Lillman, an artist who knows nothing of Charlie's "former" life and whose uninhibited, free-spirited lifestyle is a sharp contrast to both the earnest and responsible Alice and the demanding, controlling project scientists.
But, as with Alice, he is unable to have a sexual relationship with her. Yearning for meaningful contact with others, he walks the streets of New York feeling an "unbearable hunger" for contact with others. His father fails to recognize him, and Charlie, sensing himself about to be disappointed yet again, does not reveal his identity: That was another Charlie. Intelligence and knowledge had changed me, and he would resent me—as the others from the bakery resented me—because my growth diminished him.
Seeing his earlier self in this young man, Charlie is outraged by the abusive response of the young man's boss and the condescension of the customers, doubly so because "at first I had been amused along with the rest. The Progress Reports Charlie writes while engaged in his own research reveal a Charlie Gordon who is, for the first time, a fully functional adult.
He works feverishly, driven by his fear of reverting back to his former self—Algernon is beginning to show signs of instability and decline. However, Charlie is also driven by his desire to help others like himself: Most importantly, he begins to achieve a more mature insight into his own nature and that of other people.
In a violent argument with Nemur, Charlie declares that "intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn. His raised intelligence is not permanent; within a few months, he will return to his former mental state. How Charlie faces this devastating news shows that, beyond his increased IQ, he has learned far more important lessons of tolerance, understanding, and acceptance.
But Charlie's decline is even more rapid than his ascent. He leaves Alice and the others of the project rather than have them witness his return to subnormal intelligence, a process depicted in agonizing detail as his Progress Reports return to the broken English and lack of awareness they exhibited before the operation.
Charlie's return to his former state is all the more poignant because, although he has lost his intelligence, he has not lost all of the insights he gained: Although critics have been largely positive about the novel, their praise has sometimes been accompanied by negative comments, usually along the lines of Mark R.
Hillegas' suggestion that the novel is occasionally "marred by a cliched dialogue or a too predictable description. In the words of a Times Literary Supplement critic, although the novel is "painful," it is also "important and moving.
Keyes has the technical equipment to prevent us from shrugging off the pain. Brett Cox, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, In the following excerpt, Small traces Flowers for Algernon through several incarnations, and praises it as a successful example of fiction that answers the question "what if?
It seems to have been immediately recognized as a piece of literature well above the routine, for it was anthologized in the next two years in Fifth Annual of the Year's Best Science Fiction, Best Articles and Stories, and Literary Cavalcade.
In the years that followed, it re-appeared as a television play by the Theater Guild under the title, The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon, in in an expanded version as a novel, and later still in as a film with the title Charly. The film's star, Cliff Robertson, received an Oscar for his performance. Reviews of the novel on its first appearance were generally very favorable and tended to praise its treatment of mental retardation.
For example, the Times Literary Supplement said the following: By doing more justice than is common to the complexity of the central character's responses it gives body to its speculations. In its ideas, especially in its speculations about the relationship between I. Moreover, the intelligence is displayed in a treatment of subject-matter which is bound to affect us as both important and moving.
It has, then, achieved literary success in an unusual variety of forms, and may well be the best known work of science fiction to the general public, that is, to non-science fiction fans. This success has come about because, as Robert Scholes puts it, "it was based on a powerful concept which worked well in all those forms.
Keyes raises the question, What if an operation could be discovered that allowed a retarded person to develop not only average intelligence but to become the world's most brilliant man?
The author answers that question by inventing such a procedure and then allowing the reader to follow that development stage by stage as the subject of the experiment, Charlie Gordon, a slow-witted but pleasant and kind man, becomes [as Robert Scholes describes him in Structural Tabulation] increasingly "an impatient, aggressive, arrogant, and unlovable man as his powers increase, inspiring envy, jealousy, and even fear in others. Here is a quotation from his journal when he is at his most arrogant: But there were other kinds of papers too—P.
Zellerman's study on the difference in the length of time it took white rats to learn a maze when the corners were curved rather than angular, or Worfel's paper on the effect of intelligence level on the reactiontime of rhesus monkeys.
Papers like these made me angry. Money, time, and energy squandered on the detailed analysis of the trivial. Keyes "what if" question is one that might occur to any reader, for who would not wish to become a genius?
But the story is not merely a pleasant fantasy. Rather, Keyes returns the reader to reality by having the effects of the operation gradually reverse themselves. Charlie, who has been the butt of jokes by the "normal" people he works with, gradually regains their friendship as his mind returns to its retarded state and he returns mostly but not fully to his more pleasant personality, "affection grounded in pity" Scholes calls it.
Charlie is retarded at the beginning of the story, and he is not aware that the friends he has are not real friends, that they treat him with disrespect, look down upon him, and enjoy a sense of superiority because they are not like him: Gimpy hollered at me because I droppd a tray full of rolles I was carrying over to the oven. They got derty and he had to wipe them off before he put them in to bake. Gimpy hollers at me all the time when I do something rong, but he reely likes me because hes my frend.
Boy if I get smart wont he be serprised. At the end, when these former friends begin to treat him as they formerly had, he accepts them but with more understanding of who they are and why they act as they do. Evrybody looked at me when I came downstairs and started working in the toilet sweeping it out like I use to do. I said to myself Charlie if they make fun of you dont get sore because you remember their not so smart like you once thot they were.
Writing in Library Journal [February 1, ] shortly after the story appeared in its novel form, Keyes described his story this way: Flowers for Algernon is the story of a man's inner journey from a world of retardation to a world of high intelligence.
Charlie Gordon lives through comic, sad, and ironic experiences as he emerges from his mental darkness, through the various stages of perceiving and understanding levels of knowledge, into the light of complex awareness of the world, of people, and of himself. A major contributor to the success of the work in novelette and novel form is the fact that the author tells the story by means of a notebook that Charlie begins to keep at the behest of the doctor involved.
Thus we see both the low level of literacy and thought that marks Charlie at the start of the adventure, as well as the sweetness of his character, by means of those journal entries. And we like him and yet feel the contempt that Scholes tells us is the basis for pity. At the same time, the story as told through Charlie's own journal, effectively carries out one of the main qualities that proponents of literature claim for it, immediacy of experience, that is, empathetic power.
In Scholes' words, "It conveys to us the deprivation involved in mental retardation as no amount of reports or exhortations could possibly do. And I had almost forgotten. Only a short time ago, I learned that people laughed at me. Now I can see that unknowingly I joined them in laughing at myself. That hurts most of all. As the effects of the operation appear, the entries in the notebook parallel those changes. Charlie's style evolves from short, awkward sentences and partial sentences cluttered with misspellings and marked by a limited vocabulary into, first, what Scholes calls "a rich, vigorous syntax.
At first, Charlie is not aware that he is losing the intelligence that he has gained. Soon, however, his still superior mind realizes what is happening, and he struggles to keep what he has gained. As he goes over what he still knows, as he practices and practices what he has learned, each entry in the notebook showing yet further loss, Charlie takes on an heroic stature as someone who has seen the marvelous, lost it, but remains determined at least to keep its memory alive.
And Charlie is not bitter. Rather, after a first bout with anger and frustration, as he works to retain what he is losing, he regains the sweetness of his temper, his kindness, tolerance, and generosity. Here he is in the midst of his struggle to keep what he is gradually losing: I dont no why Im dumb agen or what I did rong.
Mabye its because I dint try hard enuf or just some body put the evel eye on me. But if I try and practis very hard mabye Ill get a littel smarter and no what all the words are. I remembir a littel bit how nice I had a feeling with the blue book that I red with the toren cover.
And when I close my eyes I think about the man who tored the book [the smart Charlie] and he looks like me only he looks different and he talks different but I dont think its me because its like I see him from the window. Anyway thats why Im gone to keep trying to get smart so I can have that feeling agen. Its good to no things and be smart and I wish I new evrything in the hole world. I wish I could be smart agen rite now.
If I could I would sit down and reed all the time. The story, then, has much to offer a reader, and it seems especially well suited to a young reader. The premise is easy to understand and one that most of us, including children, can identify with—the desirability of becoming smarter. Keyes's "what if question is, in fact, probably one that most students have wished for in the competitive world of the school. At the same time, young readers can be helped through Charlie's entries at the beginning and close of the story to see into the world of someone like Charlie and understand that it is he, not the false friends around him, who is worthy of respect.
As the story progresses, they can identify with his exultation over his growing intellect; but they can also see that the arrogance and cruelty resulting from his superior intellect make him less than he could be, less in some ways than the earlier Charlie was. As the process reverses itself and Charlie becomes less smart, young readers can surely feel the terrible sense of loss that Charlie feels and realize that he faces that loss far better than they might.
They can admire the determination that he displays to the very end of the story to hold on to what he can of his new found understanding. Many teachers have recognized the fact that Flowers for Algernon would make an effective focus for reading and discussing in an English class, and so it has been used extensively with middle and high school classes. The Perfection Form company has prepared a set of work sheets to accompany its study, and versions of it have appeared in school literature anthologies.
But its use has not been without censorship problems. Two of the most common points of objection to literature by would-be censors have been aimed at it: Charlie is, of course, a young man.
As such, he would realistically have an interest in sex; and Keyes does devote a few passages to rather tame sexual encounters. As a result it has been called pornographic and sexually explicit, although it surely is neither. In addition, because the operation changes Charlie from the man that some readers feel their God meant Charlie to be, it has been accused of tampering with the will of God, of turning men—the doctors, that is— into gods, and of supernaturalism, although the story clearly dwells in the world of science fiction rather than fantasy.
It is, these critics argue, only for God to give mankind intellect. It was Satan who aspired to such power; and so if a work of literature shows a human possessing such powers, that work is clearly irreligious and perhaps Satanic.
The power of Flowers for Algernon lies partly in the original concept, the "what if that Keyes asks and then answers. More important, the novel gives its readers profound insights into people, retarded, average, brilliant, kind and cruel, and it does so with stylistic brilliance and control.
Perhaps most important, it creates one of those rare truly round fictional characters, to use Forester's term, who surprise convincingly, who have lives before and after the story is told, who seem to possess free will.
Keyes' accomplishment is all the more impressive because his character changes so drastically during the course of the novel, yet remains for the reader one human, and one we continue to care about past the end of the novel. Toward that end, Charlie writes in his last entry, If you ever reed this Miss Kinnian [his former teacher] dont be sorry for me.
Im glad I got a second chanse in life like you said to be smart because I lerned alot of things that I never even new were in this werld and Im grateful I saw it all even for a littel bit. And Im glad I found out about my family and me. It was like I never had a family til I remembird about them and saw them and now I know I had a family and I was a person just like evryone. Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean, Scarecrow Press,pp.
Robert Scholes Scholes is an American scholar and critic who has written widely on postmodern realistic fiction. In the following excerpt, he discusses Flowers for Algernon as a work of science fiction, dividing its main idea into two halves: Additionally Scholes observes that the book's packaging circumvents questions about its genre.
It establishes only one discontinuity between its world and our own, and this discontinuity requires no appreciable reorientation of our assumptions about man, nature, or society.
Yet this break with the normal lifts the whole story out of our familiar experiential situation. It is the thing which enables everything else in the novel, and it is thus crucial to the generation of this narrative and to its affect on readers. How crucial this idea is can be seen in the story's history, which, as it happens, makes an interesting fable in itself. It received a Hugo award in for the best science fiction novelette of the year.
It was made into a television drama and then rewritten to appear as a full-length novel in Then it was made into a movie and given, of course, a new title: In it appeared in paperback and has now been through more than thirty printings. My paperback copy, which is from the thirty-second printinghas a scene from the film on the cover, with the word CHARLY prominently displayed, and a bundle of "rave" quotations from reviewers on the back cover.
Flowers for Algernon
Nowhere on the cover of this book does the expression "science fiction" appear. Even the Hugo award which is at least as reliable an indicator of quality as, say, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction goes unmentioned.
Inside, in very fine print, the ultra-snoopy purchaser may find in the back pages some words about the author, which indicate that this work first appeared as a "magazine story" but the name of the magazine is suppressed and that it won a Hugo award as the "best science novelette" in Even there, the cautious editors have managed to avoid the stigmatizing expression. Flowers for Algernon has gone straight, folks; it has passed the line around the SF ghetto, and to remind us of its sordid history would be downright impolite.
And it might chase away a lot of potential customers who "hate science fiction. It certainly reveals something about attitudes toward SF in various quarters, and this is instructive as well as amusing.
But it also reveals something about the genre itself. Flowers for Algernon could succeed in four distinct forms novelette, TV drama, fulllength film, and full-length novel because it was based on a powerful concept which worked well in all those forms.
Daniel Keyes had an exceptionally good idea for a work of fiction, and the idea is what made it originally and still makes it a work of SF. The idea is simply that an operation might be performed on a severely retarded adult male, which would enable his mind not merely to catch up with those of his peers but actually to surpass theirs.Flowers For Algernon - Movie (2000)
That is half of the idea. The other half, which completes and justifies this idea, is that the effects of the operation would prove impermanent, so that the story involves our watching the protagonist grow into a genius unconsciously, and then consciously but helplessly slip back toward a state of semi-literacy.
When this mental voyage has come full circle, the story is over. For many people, I suspect, the first half of this idea constitutes the domain of SF, a land of inconsequential wish-fulfillment in which the natural laws that constitute the boundaries of human life are playfully suspended.
But the best writers of structural fabulation do not settle for mere imaginative play. Daniel Keyes completed the circuit of his idea, and the beauty and power of the resulting story were acknowledged by his readers at the eighteenth World Science Fiction Convention, where he was awarded the Hugo.
The Relationship Between Charlie and Algernon by Kate Charlton on Prezi
It should be added that Keyes's execution of his idea was fully adequate to the original conception. He undertook to present the story through a journal kept by the protagonist himself, at the request of his doctor. Thus, we see the growth of Charlie Gordon's mind through the evolution of his prose style as well as in the events narrated. Keyes, we might note, happens to be an English teacher.
Charlie acquires a competence in grammar, an extensive lexicon, and a rich, vigorous syntax—and then gradually loses all these, as his mental powers fade. He also becomes an impatient, aggressive, arrogant, and unlovable man as his powers increase, inspiring envy, jealousy, and even fear in others. But as he loses his mental competence he regains the affection of those around him—an affection grounded in pity, which is, as Joseph Conrad knew, a form of contempt.
This tale is beautifully problematic. It conveys to us the deprivation involved in mental retardation as no amount of reports or exhortations could possibly do it. And it does this by the fabulative device of an apparently miraculous scientific discovery.
It is fabulation that promotes speculation, and speculation that is embodied in an emotionally powerful fable. The intensity of our emotional commitment to the events of any fiction, of course, is a function of countless esthetic choices made by the author—at the level of the word, the sentence, the episode, the character, the ordering of events, and the manner of the presentation.
These aspects of Flowers for Algernon cannot be dismissed without devoting much more space-time to this story than is available here. I must assert, merely, that Keyes has fleshed out his idea with great skill, and I invite those interested to investigate the text for themselves. When he finishes his experiments, his intelligence regresses to its original state. Charlie is aware of, and pained by, what is happening to him as he loses his knowledge and his ability to read and write.
He tries to earn back his old job as a janitor, and tries to revert to normal, but he cannot stand the pity from his co-workers, landlady, and Ms. Charlie states he plans to "go away" from New York and move to a new place. His last wish is for someone to put flowers on Algernon's grave.
Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye.
Charlie Gordon, 32 years old, demonstrates an IQ of 68 due to untreated phenylketonuria. His uncle has arranged for him to hold a menial job at a bakery so that he will not have to live in a state institution. Two researchers at Beekman, Dr. Strauss, are looking for a human test subject on whom to try a new surgical technique intended to increase intelligence.
They have already performed the surgery on a mouse named Algernon, resulting in a dramatic improvement in his mental performance. Based on Alice's recommendation and his motivation to improve, Nemur and Strauss choose Charlie over smarter pupils to undergo the procedure. The operation is a success, and within the next three months Charlie's IQ reaches However, as his intelligence, education, and understanding of the world increase, his relationships with people deteriorate.
His co-workers at the bakery, who used to amuse themselves at his expense, now fear and resent his increased intelligence and persuade his boss to fire him.
Later, Charlie confronts his scientific mentors about their condescending attitude toward him, particularly Dr.
Nemur, because Charlie believed Dr. Nemur considered him a mere laboratory subject and not human before the operation. When not drinking at night, Charlie spends weeks continuing his mentors' research and writing reports which include observations of Algernon, whom he keeps at his apartment.
Guarino, "with the Lord's help," might be able to make Charlie like other children. Finally, Professor Nemur admits this ambition in his speech at the International Psychological Association presentation when he says, "We have taken one of nature's mistakes and by our new technique have created a superior human being.
This theme encompasses all aspects of friendship: Charlie's friends at the bakery — Gimpy, Frank, and Joe — are the ideal studies in the perception of friendship. Before the surgery, these men were Charlie's best friends. He loved their company and looked forward to spending time with them. After the surgery, Charlie is able to view their relationship in a different light and comes to realize is that these men were not friends.
They not only made fun of him, but he was also often used solely for their entertainment. As he recognizes that, so ends their friendships. However, as Charlie is failing intellectually, he returns to the bakery, and it is these "friends" who welcome him back, having accepted him for who he again is.
The first book that Charlie reads after his surgery foreshadows the friendship struggles that he will encounter. Miss Kinnian has Charlie read Robinson Crusoe. As Charlie interprets it, the book is about a very smart man marooned on a desert island. Charlie feels very sorry for Robinson Crusoe because he is all alone and has no friends.
The strength of friendship is examined in Charlie's relation-ship with Algernon.