Who's In Charge?

It is unethical for man to take on the role of God

By: Verina Salib

Theme Development

In Flowers for Algernon, the plot overview relies on the central theme of man playing God. To begin, Charlie Gordon, a developmentally delayed individual undergoes a scientific experiment in order to enhance his intelligence. Enhancing his intelligence was an unethical action is it is completely unmoral for man to try to change what God has created. the novel takes time over a span of nine months- it takes charlie nine month to change from a developmentally delayed to a genius. Moreover, this nine months period correlates with the concept of gestation-the time it takes for a fetus to grow and ultimately be born. However, a new Charlie is not born at the end of the novel, but rather the rebirth of the original charlie takes place which confirms the failure of man attempting to play God. This is evident through charlie's hallucination at Dr. Strauss' therapy session.


1. "And she said mabey they got no rite to make me smart because if god wantid me to be smart he would have made me born that way. And what about Adem and Eev and the sin with the tree of nowlege and eating the apple and the fall" (Keyes 16).

This quote is significant as it is the first encounter readers have with the theme of man playing God. Hilda. charlie's nurse confronts Charlie and tells him that science should not get in the way of his intelligence. Furthermore, she continues by saying that Nemur and Strauss have no right to change Charlie's being and alter the path that God has already molded for him. This quote is substantial as it mentions the story of Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge. This is important because just like Adam and Eve ate from the tree and fell from paradise, it foreshadows early on in the novel, that Charlie's rising intelligence will act as a burden towards him and lead to his downfall. Moreover, Hilda mentions the SIN of Adam and eve. By mentioning that it is a sin, Hilda tries to show him that it is unethical for man to tamper with God's creation. The use of allusions and foreshadowing is significant as it highlights the consequences of man playing God.

2. "If you'd read your bible charlie, you'd know that it's not meant for man to know more than was given to him to know by the lord in the first place. The fruit of the tree was forbidden to man" (107).

Fanny Birden, one of Charlie's co-workers confronts him about his rising intelligence following his banishment from the bakery. Although she did not sign the petition that makes Charlie get fired, she admits that she thinks there is a strange change in charlie. Although Fanny is not aware of Charlie's experiment and his journey, she is quick to realize that Charlie must have done something unethical in order to change his original being. She expresses this when she says, " Charlie, if you done anything you wasn't supposed to-you know, like with the devil"(107). This is significant because it highlights Charlie's excessive change. Moreover, god's creations are always good. However, when man gets in the way of god's masterpiece, it changes these good characteristics. This is seen throughout the novel as Charlie changes from a kind and loving individual to a bitter and hostile one. Additionally, the story of Adam and Eve is once again alluded to which highlights the severity of Charlie's actions and that he will have to face the consequences.

3. "We have taken one of nature's mistakes and by our new techniques created a superior human being" (161).

Professor Nemur says this during the Chicago conference which proves that he thinks he has authority over the creation of God. This quote is significant because it highlights Nemur's feelings towards the experiment. Nemur feels that he has superiority over God's creation as he is able to alter it using science. Nemur's understanding is that he has created Charlie. However, he did not as human life can only be granted by God. Additionally, the theme of man playing God is present in this quote as Nemur labels Charlie as a nature's mistake. it is evident that Nemur's statement is unethical as he has no right to say that Charlie is a mistake due to his disability. This is evident since disablities are not mistakes but rather they are challenges. Professor Nemur's actions prove to be unethical as he attempts to take an individual's' identity and alter it into a better creation.


text to world connection

The theme of man playing God is seen in various ways in society. This is a list of real life applications of this theme

  1. Cloning
  2. Plastic surgery
  3. Splitting the atom
  4. Stem cells research
  5. Changing genders
  6. Choosing the sex/gender of the baby
  7. Abortion

Choosing the sex/ gender of the baby is now more common and is done by many celebrities such as John legend and Chrissy Teigen. This has caused the topic to become popular in society and has caused many controversies. Choosing the sex/ gender of a baby is an example of man playing God as the parents take on the role of the creator by trying to change the destiny/ future that God has already planned for that individual and for their family. It is unethical for parents to choose the sex/gender of their baby as it proves that they are not thankful for what God has blessed them with. This process is usually done by different methods such as sperm sorting and PGD(pre-implantation genetic diagnosis). In both cases, the methods are unethical as they challenge god's plan for how man is to come to life. The Daily Mail UK tackles this issue and talks about morals and ethics. the UK banned this option for parents due to their understanding and belief that no one should take on the role of God. Furthermore, choosing the sex of the baby is unethical as it disregards the welfare of the child. This is significant as in some cases, the child could have traits that contradict his/her family's desire and they could also suffer from a disability if something goes wrong during the process. it is evident that tampering with God's original creation always has consequences. This correlates with the novel Flowers for Algernon, as Charlie's artificial rising intelligence ultimately leads to his downfall.

text to text connection

This theme of Man playing God has been present in society for a long period of time as early as the 1800s.

Movies and Novels related to this theme:

  • Frankenstein- Mary Shelly
  • Blade runner
  • The boys from brazil
  • Multiplicity

In Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein is driven to use science in order to eliminate death. Frankenstein's goal is to resurrect the dead due to his past experiences of losing loved ones as well as overpower God through science. Victor's attempt to bring life to the lifeless is the first and most complex example of man playing God. This is unethical as God is the only one who is able to create life/human beings. Once Victor finishes his creation, he realises that he has created a morbid monster that contradicts the creation that he desired. As a result, he tries to flee away but is soon informed that his younger brother, William passed away. Although it is not confirmed, Victor is aware that his creation is responsible for his brother's murder. It is palpable that although Victor tries to escape his creation, it haunts him. Additionally, at the end, the monster ends up murdering Victor's lover Elizabeth and strangles Victor himself. This is ironic as Victor's actions that lead to his creation are instigated by his desire to resurrect the dead. However, his creation is responsible for the death and destruction of Victor. Similarly, in Flowers for Algernon, Charlie's rising intelligence exposes him to various memories from the past that cause conflicts to arise in his life. Furthermore, Charlie is unable to escape the old charlie who is always watching him through a window which is similar to the story of Frankenstein and his creation. It can be concluded that this text relates to the theme as it proves that tampering with God's will, will always lead to the individuals' downfall.

Text to self connection

Personally, I agree with the theme statement as I believe that it is unethical for man to tamper with God's original creation.

Personal Connection:

Last year, a family friend of mine had severe bleeding that led to brain damage. My family friend was rushed to the hospital and his family was told that the doctors would try to do everything in order to helm him. After undergoing several operations and surgeries, the doctors asked his family if they would give consent for assisted suicide/ euthanasia in order to relieve his pain. My family friends chose to keep their son on life support as they believed that they had no right to alter the path that god had planned for their son. They were not in control of whether their son was to live or die. Since God created life and brought us into this world, he alone can decide when we are to die and leave this physical and materialistic world. Furthermore, they knew that they had no authority to take the role of God and determine their son's fate.

Day-to-day experience:

I believe that something i struggle with is judgment. i find myself unintentionally judging individuals based on their appearance or their clothes. This is an example of man playing God as we have no right to judge God's creation as we are not perfect ourselves. God is the only one who is capable of judgment as he is perfect and has authority over all creation. in order to overcome this negative habit, I try to get to know the individual nd learn more about their story prior judging them. This has given me the opportunity to become closer to many of my friends as well as meet new people in the school who I did not talk to before. Additionally, before reading the novel Flowers for Algernon and becoming more educated about mental and physical disabilities, i found myself unintentionally judging these individuals. Now that I've learned more about the stigma around this issue, i've become more accepting and eager to help those with disabilities.

" i happen to belive you make your own destiny. you have to do the best with what God gave you" -Forrest Gump