Flowers For Algernon

Daniel Keyes


Fascinating how people will not make fun of a crippled or disabled person, but they will to someone who is mentally retarded. In the realistic fiction novel, Flowers for Algernon, this idea all eluded Charlie Gordon, who suffers from phenylketonuria, until a breakthrough procedure enabled his capacity for intelligence to grow exponentially. After the procedure, Charlie became able to read an entire book in minutes, and learn a language a day. Although Charlie was very intellectually smart, his emotional side struggled to develop. He had trouble getting past who he once was, especially seeing how he had been treated before the operation. He physically wanted to be with a woman, but emotionally struggled with them. He had no experience with them. For every situation he got in with a woman, he felt he could see his old self looking at him scared. Charlie was one of two subjects for the operation. The other was a white mouse named Algernon who suffered from a similar mental disability. Algernon was the first to receive the treatment and show results. Algernon became incredibly intelligent until signs of suicidal and violent actions were noted. Before they knew it, he was unstable and eventually died. Charlie, now smarter than anyone else, began to conduct his own experiments on the matter. He discovered that the brains capacity for knowledge grew as fast as it decayed. For Charlie, it meant that his intelligence would fade out, and before he knew it, he would be back to mentally disabled Charlie that was always apart of him.

Charlie Gordon

Charlie Gordon was a fictional man who had suffered from phenylketonuria which is a very rare case that caused amino acids to build up in the brain and lead to brain damage. Charlie lived a very rough childhood. No matter how hard he tried to learn and write, he struggled greatly. At school, the other children often made fun of his limited abilities through physical and verbal harm. As he grew, he faced troubles at home as well(more info in "The Gordons"). Eventually, he was forced to live with his Uncle Herman when he was a teenager. His uncle was able to land him a job as a custodian at a local bakery under the supervision of Mr. Donner. Life was the same for Charlie everyday. He worked a nine to five job and on weekends he attended classes at an adult center with Miss Kinnian. One day, a research group from the college where Charlie took classes asked him to come in for some basic tests. They informed Charlie on the life changing journey he was to embark on. The procedure they were to conduct had been tested on a lab mouse Algernon and had been very successful. The operation was of course fictional. Today there is no technology that has the capacity to expand intelligence. But in the novel, it turns out successful. He began to learn to read and write at an astounding rate. The more time given the more his intelligence was able to expand. All seemed good for Charlie, but nothing is every as good as it seems.

Affects and aftermath of procedure

As Charlies capacity for intelligence grew, his lack of common sense and emotional development did not. Once Charlie hit his full stride, he seemed to feel a sort of emptiness. He grew arrogant in many ways. He had troubles feeling empathetic towards others. He lacked from the social experiences that were needed to cope with such things. He often got into arguments with people who cared about him. He had an instinct that shut him off from people and did not allow him to use his senses. All he had learned were the facts and not the social skills. As for Algernon, he had been stolen from the lab after a science exhibition went wrong by Charlie and they lived together. As time went by for Algernon, Charlie started to notice some strange behavior. Algernon began to have trouble running mazes that were very advanced, yet he made them look easy. When Algernon made a mistake, he would be very violent and throw himself against walls. Conditions only decayed further. Charlie began his own study on it. He eventually concluded that after the procedure, the brain would increase its capacity for knowledge as fast as it would decay. Meaning for Charlie that his old ways would come back. Overtime he began to have trouble understanding thing that were once very simple. His reading and writing skills worsened and soon it was to difficult to process deep understandings. One day Algernon died. It was sad, but Charlie was able to handle it. Charlie felt very close to Algernon, because they could relate to each other having gone through the similar experiences. He made sure to put flowers on his grave everyday. Charlie's conditions got so bad that he ended up locking himself in his room until he could take no more. His intellectual level had returned to that of when he began. He went back to working at the bakery, where he was happy. It was where he loved to be and felt he belonged.

The Lab Crew

The entire novel of Flowers for Algernon is written as if you are reading Charlie's accounts of his life. The scientists who performed the procedure on Charlie asked him to keep a journal of everything that happened. This allowed them to see how Charlie changed through his eyes. There were three main scientists who were involved greatly in Charlie's life. Professor Nemur was the head of the experiment and was the one who performed the operation and took credit. Tension grew between Charlie and Nemur. Overtime Charlie began to see that Nemur was not treating Charlie as a human, but rather a creation. This inevitably created a lot of controversy, eventually upsetting Charlie so much that he ran away from it all. The second professor involved was Dr. Strauss. He worked more on the aftermath of Charlie's operation. He would run test to see how he was improving and would sit down and have psychiatric sessions. Unlike Nemur, Strauss cared what was going on with Charlie emotionally. He worried a lot for Charlie, and in doing so was able to gain more trust from Charlie. The third scientist to work with Charlie was Burt Seldon. Burt was a very friendly man, and he enjoyed the company of Charlie. Burt was in charge of Algernon, which really interested Charlie, because he was going through the same experiment. The scientists kept the reminder that Charlie was not naturally smart, but the outcome of a successful experiment. It was all not apparent this at his original state, but it hurt him greatly when he discovered the fact. The important thing learned from the scientists is that we are all human deep down. We all have feelings and emotions, and at no point should someone forget that. Femur was too caught up in his work and success that he forgot who Charlie was.

Alice Kinnian and Fay Lillman

Perhaps the two most influential young women during Charlie's change, both Alice Kinnian and Fay Lillman played a important role in Flowers for Algernon. Both of the women experienced the changes in Charlie's emotional behavior. Alice was Charlie's teacher at the college for retarded adults. She had Charlie as a student and promoted him to go in for the operation. After the operation, Charlie began to develop mentally rather quickly. He read a lot and began to learn of how relationships worked. Quickly, he developed feelings for Miss Kinnian. He eventually talked her into a date. They had a lot good times, and Charlie was very optimistic about the relationship going forward, but she was a little unsure. Charlie, who had little experience with relationships, rushed into things and scared Alice away. Alice, who had developed feelings for Charlie, had no idea what to do in a situation like this. He ended up going to a science fair for the doctors to show off their accomplishments. There he realized that Prof. Nemur was treating him as a test subject and not as a human. Charlie ran away from the fair and when he got back he needed a new place to stay. He stumbled across a small apartment where he met Fay, his new neighbor. She was a corky girl, she loved art and was very comfortable with her body. Charlie had some trouble with Fay and getting past his old self. When he got into a sexual encounter with Fay, he would see his old self looking at him. The old Charlie haunted him and prevented him from moving forward emotionally. More than once Charlie got close to having sex with Fay, but he broke down emotionally and could not do it. Until one night he built up the will strength to break down the walls that held him back. He felt proud of his accomplishment, but at the same time he felt that he had lost some part of him. He was growing away from the old Charlie who had been for the last thirty years of his life. It was all too surreal for Charlie. It was a reminder of the life changing and awe-inspiring journey he was undertaking. All in all, Charlie ended up putting off the two females and focusing on his work. He felt they were too much for him to handle as is intelligence slipped away, and he had to say goodbye. (Picture is of Charlie and Alice Kinnian)

The Gordons

As a boy who struggled through school and social acceptance, Charlie had a very difficult childhood in and out of the home. The Gordons were an average family of four. Matt, the father, was a barber who was married to Rose. Charlie had one sister named Norma. Charlie was never accepted by his mother, and she often abused him for mistakes he made. She was never able to accept the fact that Charlie was retarded. She put Charlie through a horrible life. She kept switching him from schools, and always told herself that he was just like the other kids. She had special tests performed on him to boost his IQ. Of course, none of them worked. Rose favored his sister over Charlie. She always felt that having Charlie in Norma's life would limit her potential. She got into many fights with Matt over what to do with Charlie. Eventually she forced Matt to take him out of the house, and Charlie went to live with his Uncle Herman and work at the bakery. On the other hand, Charlie's father Matt was very supportive of Charlie. He loved Charlie and cared for him unlike Rose. He was able to accept the fact that Charlie was a little slow, but it did not matter. Matt stood up for Charlie when Rose tried to harm or hurt Charlie. Charlie's sister had a hard time growing up with a mentally disabled brother as well. She was often bullied at school, because she had a "moron brother". She felt left out. To her, it seemed that all of her parents attention was put towards Charlie. She did not understand the circumstances though. She tried to make Charlie feel bad some times by blaming things on him that were not really his fault. Eventually, Charlie went back to visit his family post-procedure. When he saw his dad, he did not know what to do. He ended up not telling him who he was. He had know idea how his father would handle seeing his son after some ten to fifteen plus years. When Charlie went to see his mother, she was confused at first. It took her a while to understand everything that happened. Charlie's sister was glad to see him. She was very apologetic about how she had mistreated Charlie as a kid. But when Charlie gave her a hug, his mom ran at him a knife accusing him of having a sexual dirty mind towards his sister, which was not true. Even after 30 years of life, Charlie's mom still could not accept that fact that he was different, but it was okay, because he finally felt that he was starting to have a family


The Bakery

After being abandoned by his family, Charlie was able to land a job as a janitor at a local Bakery. The owner Mr. Donner was very generous and caring for Charlie. Charlie loved working there. He felt like he fit in with the other guys, which was something he had lacked in his childhood. Although all appeared normal, the workers actual poked quite a bit of fun at Charlie. They often made his cleaning job more difficult, or would take him out to drink and embarrass him in front of people. Before the procedure, Charlie never noticed any of this. He always assumed they were being friendly to him. But after the operation, he started to see things. Quickly he was getting good at baking and taking the work of other men. He soon saw that all the things they did to him were really meant to make fun of him. It hurt Charlie a lot, because he realized the guys he once trusted were actual making fun of him the whole time. He never really understand why he was bullied so much for being mentally disabled. He thought people just assumed it was okay, because they thought he would never figure it out. When he did, he was devastated. Everything he had grown to know was a lie. In the end, when Charlie came back to the bakery after losing his intelligence, the guys that used to make fun of him stood up for Charlie. They did not let another new worker make fun of him. It is interesting to see how people can change around such a dramatic change in one person's life. The workers actual saw Charlie as a person instead of a human prank. (Workers at bakery put dough in Charlie's lock which was incredibly annoying to clean up.)

Movie: Charly

In year of 1968, the movie Charly was released to theaters. The movie was based off the novel and was able to include most of the important scenes of the book. The movie was well liked. Cliff Robertson, who took on the challenge of playing a mentally disabled man, one an Oscar for his work. (many of the pictures I used were scenes from the movie)

Link to Trailer:

Ideas of Flowers For Algernon & Personal Thoughts

  • Who are we to say someone is not perfect or not right One of the big ideas from the novel is how people as a society treat those who are mentally retarded. Charlie witnessed it first hand, and the reader was able to step inside his world as he knows it. He saw that people enjoyed Charlie making a fool of himself. They thought it was okay, but it was not. Charlie was a human. He had just as much heart and soul, if not more, than those who harassed him. Charlie said it himself, why do people make fun of me, but not physically handicapped people. For someone to realize that what they thought had been fun and fulfilling memories, were all a big joke to who he thought were his friends, really broke Charlie down. In know way, shape, or form should it ever be okay to bully another human, retarded or not, because when it is broken down, he is just as human as anyone else.
  • How it can be to see your life from a whole new view Something fascinating about the Flowers for Algernon is how Charlie sees his own life from another perspective. People are told to think outside the box and look at things in a different way. For Charlie, he was able to actually experience it. He saw how people had treated him poorly, but respected him too. With the physical change, Charlie changed the way he acted as well. People no longer had the very optimistic and happy go lucky Charlie anymore. Instead, they got the more arrogant and wiseass Charlie. For Charlie himself, he had a hard time breaking down the wall between the old and new him. In the end, he ended up wanting to be who he was again. The old Charlie who lived a simple life and was loved by everyone, and that is who Charlie wanted to be, himself.
  • How novel is very realistic and one of the best I have ever read Personally, I loved the way the novel was written. Daniel Keyes writes the book as Charlie's intelligence changes. In the beginning it is choppy and words are spelled wrong, but as you get to the middle, sentence structure grows and vocabulary is advanced. I feel it added a realistic affect to the book. Also, the way he describes everything in the book is practically flawless. When Charlie was losing his intelligence, Keyes made it seem as if he him himself had gone through such an experience, and it was very well written. In all, it would have to be one of my favorite books, because it has elements of action, romance, and hardship all in three hundred pages.