Flowers for Algernon

Written by Daniel Keyes


32-year-old Charlie Gordon just wants to fit in.

Being mentally retarded makes this a little difficult. With an IQ of 68, he's aware that he's not a genius, but he's determined to become smart. So when opportunity knocks, in the form of a groundbreaking science discovery, proven to make animals more intelligent but never before tried on a human, Charlie doesn't hesitate to open the door.

Through mazes against a mouse, emotional turmoils, a tripling IQ, and friendships collapsing, can Charlie keep his determined attitude? Is being smarter worth losing the ability to socialize?

Sometimes, naivety is a good thing.

"What did you expect? Did you think I'd remain the docile pup, wagging my tail and licking the foot that kicks me? I no longer have to take the kind of crap people have been handing me all my life," (Keyes 123)

Character Analysis

Charlie's character goes through many personality changes as the book progresses. At first, he is a lovable man with the mentality of a young child. He is always very sweet and nice and is always looking to please everyone around him. All in all, he is happy. He doesn't remember very much about his family until later in the story, when the operation starts to work. He has friends in the bakery, where he works, but as his intelligence raises, his attitudes start to change. He becomes irritable and selfish which causes him to lose his friends. He starts to spend more time alone and becomes too absorbed in his work. His intelligence gets higher, but he loses a lot of the things that made people like him in the first place.

"If your smart you can have lots of frends to talk to and you never get lonely by yourself all the time," (Keyes 15)


Charlie Gordon has a very low IQ. He was born during a time in history when retardation was not very accepted. During the whole story, Charlie has to deal with how society treats these people. Along with others thoughts of him, Charlie had to deal with his mother's expectations of how he should learn and act. After the operation, Charlie begins to remember these things - how his mother would always tell him that he had to be normal, all the money she would spend to try and get him to be smarter and how bad he was being treated in his own household. These memories probably caused some of the determination to be a part of this operation. Even when he didn't remember the things that his mother said, there was always something that would make him think that he needed to be smarter.

When he goes to visit his mother, he tells her, "You've got to understand, I'm not the same as I was. I've changed. I'm normal now. Don't you understand? I'm not retarded any more. I'm normal - just like you and Matt and Norma," (Keyes 263). This not only shows that his mother was one of the reasons he wanted to be smarter, but also says something about how others thought of him when he was younger.

After the operation, Charlie learns many different things that teach him about his life, before and after the operation, along with what might happen to him in the future. He got to see his family again, giving him some of the closure he needed and putting some of his memories to rest. He learned to appreciate what he had, instead of wishing for something better.


Flowers for Algernon has many important themes and life lessons. It is very easy to take something that happened in the book and relate it to your, personal experiences. One of the themes that really stuck out to me was about something that Charlie didn't really fully learn until the very end of the book.

In the beginning, all Charlie really wanted was to be smarter. He thinks that if he's smarter, everyone will like him more and he will have more friends. As the story continues, he finds out that he was wrong.

This was a very important thing for Charlie to learn. He figured out that having more isn't always better. This was an important experience for Charlie because if he had never been a part of this experiment, he would still think that the most important thing in life was to be smart.

Closer to the end of the book, when Charlie tells us, "...dont be sorry for me. Im glad I got a second chanse 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 little bit," (Keyes 310). I think this is a really good point for Charlie to make because it shows that he doesn't think that being smart is not the most important thing in the world. He is a very good example of someone who doesn't appreciate what he already has.

Textual Evidence

"When I was retarded, I had lots of friends. Now I have no one. Oh, I know lots of people. Lots and lots of people. But I don't have any real friends. Not like I used to have in the bakery. Not a friend in the world who means anything to me, and no one I mean anything to," (Keyes 174). This quote was my favorite from the book for many reasons. The first is it showed a lot about how Charlie's character had grew through out the story. It shows us one of the biggest revelations of the book - that being smart doesn't fix everything. Charlie was naive to this fact in the beginning. He believed that if he was smart, everything would be better. Before the operation, Charlie was very sweet and kind to everyone around him, even if they were bullies. As he got smarter, this changed. It became hard for him to socialize and we wasn't as easy for others to get along with him. He figures out that his IQ did not matter to the people who were really friends with him and when his attitude completely changed, which made him lose those friends.

Book Review

I gave Flowers for Agernon 4.5 out of 5 stars. I thought this was a very good book and I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end. It was never super boring - something was always going on - which made it an easy book to finish.

The only thing that I might have changed was how suddenly the book seemed to end. It wasn't really an ending, which made sense in some ways, but almost seemed like there should have been more to it.

I think anyone would enjoy this book and there are many important lessons that you can learn from reading it. The book is written really well, with very realistic characters and an easy story to follow. Reading the story puts you into the life of Charlie Gordon and shows how 'different' people are treated.

"Disabled" - A Short Documentary



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Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. Print.


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