Flowers for Algernon


In this story, the intelligence of a mentally challenged man is greatly enhanced by neuro-surgical treatments. He forms an attachment with a mouse named Algernon who has already undergone this same treatment shortly before him. Charlie is asked to keep a dairy and the novel consists of his daily reports. As his intelligence grows Charlie becomes more aware of his status. He soon develops into a "super genius" and finds he is just as isolated and lonely (if not, more so) as he was before the treatment. I felt that I could "see" the characters develop before my eyes, especially the "young" Charlie who haunted the "older" Charlie while he was in his genius state. Daniel Keys was able to make the people (pepul) come alive by painting their portraits with Charlie Gordon's words. I don't remember when I have read a book that incorporated so many interesting ideas and concepts into the actions of one person. Also, it seems to me that Charlie was right when he wrote, "Ironic that my intelligence doesn't help me solve a problem like this." He was referring to a moral decision he had to make about one of his co-workers at the bakery. Charlie's intelligence put him into just as much of a disadvantage as did his retardation. He never could fully relate to or understand Alice Hannigan, though he did know that he loved her. Unfortunately, she loved the retarded, yet compassionate, sensitive, and good-natured Charlie. She just couldn't have the best of both worlds...his intelligence and his simplistic yet beautiful outlook on life. Charlie felt a strong connection to Algernon because he had undergone the exact same operation (opershun) as he had. He felt sorry for him as he was constantly taunted with food as a reward for solving a puzzle. Charlie felt that he too was being treated somewhat like guinea pig in a science lab and he wanted to take special care of Algernon--he was "a special mouse" to quote Charlie's words. This book, along with being a fictional story of a retarded man and the operation that gave him the intelligence he always dreamed of, is about Charlie relating to Algernon and a romance between him and a woman named Alice, who loved him as he was before. Some people I?ve spoken to about this novel had commented that Charlie caused his own loneliness. How can that be? He was mentally challenged at the start of the novel and, after his treatments, he did not have the time we all have to develop social skills. He is not at fault here. But, he also discovers that it is only temporary and he has to deal with his upcoming return to mental retardation (as what happened to Algernon). As I sit down and think, I realize that there is another issue that should arise whenever discussing the novel. It concerns the ethics of the researchers who provide the treatment. They convinced a mentally challenged man, who clearly doesn?t fully understand what is happening, to undergo a treatment that had only been applied to a single laboratory mouse! These same researchers also performed the treatment when their understanding of neurochemistry and neuroanatomy is clearly deficient (as Charlie later shows in the novel). In my opinion, they are actually the villains of the tale! At the end of the book, Charlie realizes that the retarded boy who lay hidden inside his sub-conscious deserved a chance to live his life...although it may not be on the same intellectual level as others in our society. Maybe the operation shouldn't have even been performed in the first place? Maybe the nurse was right when she said that we should simply appreciate what God gave us and live our lives to the fullest? Maybe we shouldn't try to change what seems as if it was meant to be? I'll leave you with one final quote from the book that pertains to this question: "Who's to say that my light is better than his darkness?" It refers to whether or not a "genius" lifestyle is in fact any better than a "retarded" lifestyle. Well, is it any better? Could it possibly be worse? Ahhhhh...I leave you with that question to contemplate. In closing, this is a great story and provides much insight into our dealings with others, how different