Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes

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Charlie Gordon is a mentally retarded adult who undergoes a procedure to increase his intelligence. As he matures intellectually, he struggles emotionally as he delves into his past and makes new relations with other people. His intellect soon transcends that of the scientists in charge, and he discovers that his mental state could eventually regress to what it was preoperation. His findings are confirmed when Algernon, the lab mouse the procedure was tested on, rapidly deteriorates in mental stability. Charlie has to race against the clock to fulfill his new romantic relations and resolve past conflicts with his abusive family.

Charlie Gordon Analysis

Charlie Gordon agreed to the operation because he believed that being smarter would help him fit in with friends and acquaintances, and he wanted to show his family that he could be smart as well

“If the operashun werks and I get smart mabye Ill be abel to find my mom and dad and sister and show them. Boy would they be serprised to see me smart just like them and my sister. … I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me.” (12)

Following the operation, he realizes that people had been laughing at him, and as he becomes smarter and smarter, he finds himself just as disconnected from others as when he was retarded. As he learns, he has trouble maturing emotionally, and he finds that the “old Charlie” still resides in him and still influences his emotions. Before he regressed back into his previous state, he was briefly able to overcome his emotional retardation and have a romantic relation with Alice Kinnian, who was his teacher when he was retarded. He is also able to forgive his mother, who had abused him throughout childhood because of his disability. When he finally regresses, he maintains some of the emotional growth made despite being mentally disabled again.


The main conflict present in Flowers for Algernon is character vs. self. Charlie Gordon faces the challenge of emotionally developing and coping with his new perspective on past events. He struggles to overthrow his former self’s--the old Charlie’s--emotional state. This can be seen in his relationship with Alice:

“ ‘[Charlie’s] been coming between us all along. I thought my intelligence created the barrier--my pompous, foolish pride, the feeling we had nothing in common because I had gone beyond you. … But that’s not it. It’s Charlie, the little boy who’s afraid of women because of things his mother did to him’ ” (202).

He is able to win the battle and has a short romantic relationship with Alice before he deteriorates. After his mental reversion, he checks into the Warren State Home after realizing that people felt sorry for him. Part of his emotional development remained, along with some memories of being a genius.


A common theme throughout the book is about the bullying of those who are deemed inferior. It first presents itself as Charlie learning, following his procedure, that his friends had been making fun of him and laughing at him due to his lower intelligence. His mother had also abused him throughout his childhood because of his retardation. Upon becoming a genius, the tables are turned and Charlie actually begins thinking poorly of the scientists he was once inferior to. “Frauds--both of them. They had pretended to be geniuses.” (150) Later, Charlie sees a mentally disabled boy working at a diner being made fun of for dropping plates. He shouts for them to leave him alone. He recognizes that this behaviour towards others is wrong, regardless of their social, mental, or other status, but at the same time is able to understand the thought process behind it. After all, he’s been on both sides of the bullying. Readers can learn to not act superior and refrain from this kind of thought and behaviour.

Textual Evidence

Three quotes from Flower for Algernon really stood out to me:

1. "Seeing myself in the front mirror looking into the back mirror, as he held it for me, it tilted for an instant into the one angle that produced the illusion of depth; endless corridors of myself...looking at myself...looking at myself...looking at myself...looking… Which one? Who was I? … I wasn’t his son. 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. I didn’t want that” (186-188)

Here Charlie reflects on the fact that the increased intelligence has changed him. His dad didn't recognize him when he walked into the barber shop, and he debated about whether or not to reveal his identity. Finally he decides not to. He's afraid that his dad will be mad at him or resentful rather than proud. His dad did raise him as he was retarded, so the change might be too much to handle.

2. "P.S. please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he woud have more frends. Its easy to have frends if you let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of frends where I go. P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard." (311)

This was Charlie's final message in the progress reports after he had mentally regressed. It shows that he has retained some emotional maturity despite the regression. He is alluding to the fact that he previously was the subject of mockery before the operation, but he didn't know any better and thus didn't respond. This was one of the reasons people liked having him around, and he is suggesting that Professor Nemur, one of the scientists in charge of the operation, should follow that kind of forgiving advice.

The second part is him telling any readers to place commemorative flowers on Algernon's grave. Algernon was the lab-mouse the operation had been tested on, and Charlie had become attached to him. By asking readers to place flowers on his grave, he is showing that he believes Algernon to be more than just a lab-mouse. He is saying that Algernon, and by extension himself, has made an impact on the world. These are perhaps the most important quotes in the book since it shows the overall growth Charlie has made throughout the book.

3. " ‘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 that tree was forbidden to man.’ ” (107)

This quote, said by one of Charlie's coworkers at the bakery in response to his intellectual growth, isn't necessarily important to the plot of the story. However, it stood out to me as raising very important moral questions that society is going to have to answer, possibly in the near future: Is it ethical to genetically engineer people? Should we be allowed to change our children before even giving them a choice? To what extent should we be allowed to change ourselves and our children? I feel that these questions should be seriously considered, which is why I have chosen this as my topic for the multi-media section of this flyer.

Book Review

The base idea for Flowers for Algernon is rather thought-provoking: how might a retarded individual respond, and how would they be treated, if their intelligence level was increased? Keyes crafted a wonderfully written story with dynamic characters and entertaining scenarios. However, I feel that it was rather slow-paced at points, for example after he first moved into the apartment next to Fay. Additionally, I was left feeling that the idea could have been explored a bit more thoroughly. Overall, the book was well-written and kept my attention, and I rate it 3.25 stars out of 5.

Multi-Media Sources

The topic I have chosen for this section is genetic engineering. Is it possible to increase our intelligence, strength, etc.? What kind of risks would be involved? How might genetic engineering be used? Is it ethical? Included are several pictures, videos, and articles which explore these questions.
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Can We Genetically Improve Intelligence?
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Works Cited

ARHP. Proposals for Germline Engineering Combine the Use of Stem Cells and Embryo Cloning. Digital image. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, n.d. Web. 9 May 2016. <>.

AsapSCIENCE. "Can We Genetically Improve Intelligence?" YouTube. YouTube, 30 Mar. 2014. Web. 9 May 2016.

Center for Health Ethics. "Gene Therapy and Genetic Engineering." The Center for Health Ethics. University of Missouri, n.d. Web. 9 May 2016.

Doughton, Sandi, and Kelly Shea. The ABCs of GMOs. Digital image. The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Network, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 9 May 2016.

Regalado, Antonio. "Engineering the Perfect Baby." MIT Technology Review. MIT, 05 Mar. 2015. Web. 9 May 2016.

Sanders, Liz. Biotech Is Safe? Says Who? Digital image. Food Insight. International Center of Excellence in Food Risk Communication, 7 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 May 2016.