Flowers For Algernon
Impressions from 1998 (Middle School) and 2020 (Adulthood)
Mom — thank you for saving absolutely everything I ever wrote… I think.
Flowers for Algernon was a compelling story, up until the end. The author shows what it would really be like to be challenged. I enjoyed the way the author progressed Charlie’s writing at a smooth pace — not jumping from poor writing to terrific.
The middle section of the story is compelling, Charlie is getting smarter when ever exposed to information. It keeps you wondering what will happen next, will he loose his intelligence, or go on to become a genius. I soon found out the answer… he would loose it all. Before Charlie becomes to dumb, he writes a report about what happened to him and a mouse who had the same tests performed on him as on Charlie.
I think the story takes a turn for the worse at the end, where one can assume Charlie dies. Why such a sad dismal ending? Why not a happy ending like no one is ever retarded again?
All well, can’t always have a story your way. In this cast of characters, Charlie is my favorite. At some points he is stupid and at others a genius. I particularly like the moment in which Charlie discovers what he used to be — retarded. Of course, I’m talking about the restaurant scene with the retarded busboy breaking the dishes and the whole restaurant laughing at him.
On the other end of my ‘opinion of characters list’ would be Dr. Nemor and his wife. I dispise Mrs. Nemor more because she is using her husband to try to get famous, and is a particular nagger and whiner. I don’t like Dr. Nemur because one, he married Mrs. Nemur and two, because he was rushing the project to get it published (indirectly Mrs. Nemur’s fault).
Finally, my favorite animal character, Algernon, an innocent mouse (until acted upon by Dr. Nemur, Dr. Strauss and Burt). Algernon didn’t have much character, but was essential to the story.
The story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally-challenged bakery worker who undergoes a scientific treatment (Sci-Fi novel) to become not challenged, like Algernon the mouse. With his increased intelligence, he loses some of his humanity, and begins to realize that many people were laughing at him before. He comes to threaten many in his life, and they start to resent him, because they now think he thinks he’s better than them (and, they’re not wrong), reminiscent of Helmut Schoeck’s Envy. He is forced out of his job at a bakery by the other workers, his former “friends”; “You come pushing in here with your ideas and suggestions and make the rest of us all look like a bunch of dopes.” Thus, envy is one component, but another is securing livelihood, being threatened. In keeping with their Baloney Generators, smart-Charlie asks of people, “Why is it that everyone lies? No one I know is what he appears to be.” Regarding the professors who did the experiments — who make themselves look like experts, but pale in comparison to smart-Charlie’s intelligence –there is always someone who is “better” than you, unless you’re Michael Phelps, and people evolved to make ourselves look good to others for a variety of reasons. Of the professors, “They don’t like to admit that they don’t know” — something the World could maybe use more of. What ought one to do with education? Somehow draw the World together, or separate it further apart; Charlie pushes the people in his life away when he becomes more intelligent. Charlie observes the professors at a conference, “Money, time, and energy squandered on the detailed analysis of the trivial… something insignificant and safe,” arrogating unto himself what is trivial, what is not, and what is meaningful. Growing up, Charlie’s hysterical mother had had a constant worry of keeping up appearances, threatening him with violence to get out of the home; she does this again when he revisits as Smart-Charlie the adult. She illustrates the extreme downside of a life too “other-directed,” putting all of her insecurities on Charlie, a helpless child. Smart-Charlie observed his former classmates at the school for the challenged, “Each one knew his job and took pride in doing it well” — each had a place in the World even if they weren’t Nobel Laureates. Charlie was selected for the experiment to become smart because he was extremely motivated; he realizes later that it is because he wanted so badly the acceptance of his mother, who from the beginning rejected him for being a moron. Smart-Charlie realizes an Alfred Adlerian-truth, “I’ve got to stop this childish worrying about myself — my past and my future. Let me give something of myself to others. I’ve got to use my knowledge and skills to work in the field of increasing human intelligence. Who is better equipped? Who else has lived in both worlds?” Charlie realizes his unique abilities, and how he could use them for something more than just narcissistic concerns; “I will have lived a thousand normal lives by what I might add to others not yet born.” Charlie visits the Warren Home, a home for the mentally-challenged he may be sent to once his smartness from the experiment reverts back. The man running the home explains it’s not a prison; people who wander off generally come back. “The world doesn’t want them and they soon know it.” Many must learn through experience, even if they must learn the sad nature of humanity’s capacity to reject for myriad reasons. Yet, Charlie sees deaf mutes at the home happily hard at wood-working, “What an incredible thing! How much less they had than other human beings. Mentally retarded, deaf, mute — and still eagerly sanding benches.” Even for the mentally ill, joy can be Aristotle’s being-at-work, however one defines it. Smart-Charlie thinks of his new-found love for his new life, “[T]his bubbling energy, the zest that fills everything I do. It’s as if all the knowledge I’ve soaked in during the past months has coalesced and lifted me to a peak of light and understanding… This is joy. And now that I’ve found it, how can I give it up? Life and work are the most wonderful things a man can have. I am in love with what I am doing…” Charlie sets himself to the task of, “[F]ind[ing] the truth wherever it leads.” — and this is how the search for truth works. Charlie realizes later, though, what lack of life balance can lead to. “But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love… Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis. And I say that the mind absorbed in and involved in itself as a self-centered end, to the exclusion of human relationships, can only lead to violence and pain.” Charlie calls into question life-values and how we live, “Who’s to say that my light is better than your darkness?” (smart-Charlie vs. dumb-Charlie). Nonetheless, Charlie resolves to try to, “[K]eep what they’ve given me and do great things for the world and for other people…” When Charlie sees his ailing mother, he actualizes the Adlerian idea of correctly attributing meaning to trauma; “Whatever the truth is, I must not hate Rose for protecting Norma [his Sister]. I must understand the way she saw it.” His mother had gone to great lengths, in her eyes, to protect his sister from Charlie, a threat she had thought. Charlie learns to re-interpret his childhood trauma, even if his mother will never be able to admit her own shortcomings.