Flowers For Algernon
I read the book Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes. It’s a fiction
book, but with all the advances in modern medicine it could happen. It
takes place over the course of a few months, starting in March and
ending in November. The book shows how society treats retarded people.
It also reminds us that all doctors are not all knowing, and some claim
to know more than they actually do.
2. Character Introduction-
Charlie Gordan’s character changes throughout the book. In the
beginning, when he is retarded, he is kindhearted and likable. In the
end, after the operation reverses, he is the same optimistic and happy
guy. In the middle, though, he almost turns into a new character, except
for the frequent reminders of how he used to be, in the form of
flashbacks to his childhood and other emotionally blocked parts of his
mind. He gets a new awareness of himself and others. He also makes the
realization that some people he had put on a pedestal are not as good as
they seem. He also starts to think about romance.
Miss Kinnian, or Alice as he later in the book calls her, is
Charlie’s night school teacher and then a romantic interest and then a
teacher again. She liked the old Charlie, but when he starts becoming
smart she finds it harder and harder to keep up with him. Being with him
makes her feel strange, inadequate at times. She’s almost afraid of him.
She thinks she knows Charlie, but discovers she doesn’t.
The people at the bakery employed the retarded Charlie for years.
While working there, they stood up for him sometimes, and sometimes
played cruel jokes on him.
The doctors are overconfident and pretend to know what they are
doing when they do the operation. They are dealing with stuff they
don’t understand and havn’t researched on humans, or followed through
with their research on the test animals.
In the flashbacks of Charlie’s family his mother was very
protective of her daughter, and after her daughter was born she didn’t
pay much attention to Charlie unless she was trying to make him
“normal”. His sister was bratty and spoiled. His dad lived in his wife’s
shadow, under her rule until the day he left. He thought they should’ve
loved Charlie just the way he was. When Charlie went back to talk to his
family, he found his mother psychotic and his sister overworked. His
father seemed lonely, but didn’t live with his family.
A man, Charlie Gordan, starting out with a low enough IQ to be
consider retarded, undergoes an operation and he gets to genius level.
Because he is the first human testing this experiment, he is not aware
of the long term affects, no one is. At the end, he goes back to the
mental state he was in before the operation and the whole exerience is
sort of like a dream, but he knew it happened. It is possible, though,
that he might soon forget. In the middle, with his newfound knowledge,he
struggles to find himself and understand his past. As his flashbacks
unfold, he relives the cruelty and judgment he had somehow blocked out.
He finally understands it, and feels a wide range of emotions.
4. Theme identification and Analysis-
A theme I found in this book was the way society has treated retarded
people. Society treats them as though they were children, aliens,
experiments, and most often objects of ridicule. It was interesting when
Charlie laughed at the fault of the retarded boy when he dropped the
dishes in the restaurant just like everyone else. Then Charlie
recognized him. It was too late when he saw the boy was himself, a few
months before. It made me mad at the people from the bakery when they
got Charlie drunk and played practical jokes on him. They knew better
than that. They should’ve remembered that Charlie was somebody too. Some
people have respect for retarded people, such as Alice/Miss Kinnian. She
liked Charlie and was kind to him.
The doctors pretended like they knew what was going on, when they were
dealing with variables they couldn’t control and in an experiment that
had little research done on the long term effects. They didn’t consider
Charlie could loose knowledge just as easily as he gained it. They
treated Charlie just like they treated the test mouse Algernon.
The subjects raised in this book couldn’t be solved in this book
because who knows how society can change the way it looks at people who
are “different”. Charlie was different but he also got a chance to be
average, and then climbed to above average. He was at both extremes and
mainly an outcast at each one. I think the author wrote this book so we
could spend a day in someone else’s shoes. Since what I read were
Charlie’s journal entries, I practically knew his innermost thoughts.
I agree with him about Charlie and other retarded people because as I
was reading it, I knew it was true.
Flowers For Algernon