Flowers For Algernon


Flowers for Algernon is a story about a failed scientific experiment. However, the radio play also deals with other issues such as love and friendship, medical ethics, tampering with human intelligence and the consequences, and conflict of interest.
On one level Flowers for Algernon is about a scientific experiment that goes wrong. Charlie Gordon is a thirty seven year old man, who has an IQ of sixty-eight. Charlie wants, more than anything, "to be smart." Charlie agrees to take part in an experimental operation, to hopefully triple his intelligence. The operation is successful, but not permanent, and the after effects leave Charlie in a worse state than before the operation. Sadly, the idea of improving intelligence by surgical means, " has no practical application what-so-ever."
As well as being a story about a failed scientific experiment, Flowers for Algernon also addresses the issue of love and friendship, especially between ?slow' and ?normal' people. A special friendship develops between Charlie and Ms Kinnian, over the course of the radio play. To Charlie, Ms Kinnian is like a mentor. She supports and cares for Charlie throughout his development, and helps him realise things about the world and himself that he never knew before.
Ms Kinnian cares deeply for Charlie, in this radio play, she believes Charlie is a " very fine person," but Charlie feels more than respect for Ms Kinnian. As Charlie's emotions develop, he realises that he is "in love with Ms Kinnian." It is questionable, however, if Charlie really does love Ms Kinnian, or just thinks he does for she is the one person that understands him.
In the beginning of the radio play, Charlie believes he has wonderful friends, who he has fun with and who are very nice people. Meanwhile, Joe and Frank, ( his friends), are just continuously making fun of him, by making very bad jokes such as " Getting him up Ellen" and " What'd they do, Charlie, put some brains in?". Charlie later realises that Joe and Frank were just using him as a butt for all their bad jokes, and this angers him, for all he ever wanted was to be like his friends. Even when Charlie is very intelligent, he is still not accepted, for now Joe and Frank feel threatened by the new Charlie. " Before, when they laughed at me, they despised me for my ignorance; now they hate me for my knowledge. What in God's name do they want of me?"

 
Flowers for Algernon is also a play about medical ethics. A debatable question in our society is whether we should experiment on animals or not. If no, then the only alternative is to experiment on humans, but are humans more important than animals? The experiment performed on Charlie was also performed on Algernon, but Charlie was seen as the more important subject. " ?Charlie and Algernon', ?Algernon and Charlie', - two interchangeable experimental animals. We should be treated alike."
Charlie was also not fully aware of the consequences of the operation. It was mentioned to Charlie that there was " no guarantee of permanence," but no one, not even Ms Kinnian really tried to convince Charlie of the possibly fatal consequences that this operation could have.
After they experimented on Algernon, they immediately experimented on Charlie. Whether or not the doctors did the right thing by not waiting to see if the effects of the experiment were successful on Algernon or not, is hard to answer. Although the doctors most probably made an error of judgement, there may have been ulterior motives behind these decisions.
There is also the issue of whether or not any of the actions taken in the radio play were taken because of a conflict of interest. It is suggested in the radio play that Dr. Nemur's main reason for performing and publishing the results of the experiment, was to achieve fame and acclaim at the ?World Psychological Association'. Dr. Nemur often seems to refer to Charlie as an object, and experiment rather than a human. As Charlie says, " Nemur seems to think he hasn't so much helped me, as created me." Charlie believes that Dr. Nemur has an inferiority complex, and to feel he has succeeded in life, he needs continuous praise. " I realise that although he has a very good mind, he is shackled with self doubt.