Flowers For Algernon: Quarter Four Book Review: Flowers for Algernon, is a science fiction novel written by Daniel Keys. Taking place in the mid 1960s, the story revolves around Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded young man from New York, whose life is completely altered when he becomes the test subject for an intelligence science experiment. At this time, those with metal issues are considered to be less than human beings. Flowers For Algernon, is composed of progress reports written by Charlie himself, about his thoughts and life seen through his eyes.
Charlie Gordon, the protagonist, is a thirty-two-year-old man who has been mentally challenged since birth. At the beginning of the story, he has issues understanding people, and is rejected by the public. He speaks in broken sentences, and his writing is full of errors. Those around Charlie often mock and take advantage of him for his differences, but he does not realize it. Nonetheless, he has a warm, friendly personality. Though held back by his mental issues, he is determined to learn, hoping that this will earn him friends and acceptance from others.
With great determination, and help from his teacher Miss Kinnian, Charlie learns to read and write. Alice Kinnian works at Beekman College for Retarded Adults. She recommends Charlie to be a test subject for an operation boosting intelligence, because of his motivation to learn. She is a flat character, who stays patient and kind throughout the whole book; keeping Charlie grounded. As Charlie’s intelligence increases he develops feelings for Alice. She tries to help Charlie deal with nightmares and flashbacks he has of his mother, Rose Gorden.
Rose was ashamed of her son because he was not normal like other children and constantly beat him. Charlie Gordon meets Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur, two middle aged men who have created an operation that heightens human intelligence. The process has been successfully tested on lab mice multiple times, but Charlie is the first ever human subject. After the operation, he begins taking tests and solving mazes alongside the bright Algernon– a mouse much like him, who was undergone the same brain operation. As weeks pass, Charlie’s intelligence rises drastically and his IQ skyrockets to that of a genius.
He begins to develop feelings for his school teacher Alice. Though he soaks up information like a sponge, emotionally, he is still immature, unable to deal with his feelings for her. With all this newly gained knowledge, Charlie is having issues coming to terms with who he is as a person. He is troubled with nightmares from his past of being scolded and beaten by his mother, rejected by his younger sister, and being hidden away from the rest of the world. Algernon the mouse begins to lose his intelligence, and act erratically; running into walls, and refusing to eat, which leads to his death.
Charlie fears what happens to Algernon, will occur in him too. He reunites with his mother and sister to resolve all the painfully sad feelings he holds deep in his mind. Alice stays by his side, though he is bitter and frustrated that his intelligence is slipping away. Eventually, Charlie’s mind returns to its original state, and he checks himself into a nursing home for retarded adults. Charlie is torn up inside, feeling as if he is nothing more than a “…side show! An act never before seen in the scientific world! A mouse and a moron turned into geniuses before your very eyes! (pg109) Even with an IQ of 185, he is still taken advantage of. Charlie is constantly offended that Professor Nemur treats him like another lab rat, as if was not a human being before his intelligence was increased. Before his operation, Charlie was a much happier, kinder character, compared to how miserable he is in the last chapters of the book. He is mistreated and looked down upon by all of the people around him, but when tables are turned, Charlie disrespects and criticizes those who aren’t on the same intellectual level as he.
It’s mentioned often in Flowers for Algernon that science should not go against the work of god. Hilda, the nurse who takes care of Charlie after his brain operations, expresses out loud that “…she woud never let them do things to her branes for all the tea in china. And she said mabey they got no rite to make me smart because if god wanted me to be smart he would have made me born that way. And mabey Prof Nemur and Dr Strauss was tamipiring with things they got no right to tamipir with…” (Pg 12).
After this, Charlie’s nurse is changed to a quieter woman with less opinions. Fanny Birden, one of his friends at the bakery is worried he has made a deal with the devil for his new intelligence. She fears for Charlie because “it’s not meant for a 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… ” (Pg 75). At the end of the story, it shows that the knowledge given to Charlie was generic and eventually, when he reverts back to his original mindset.
I’d recommend this book to any teenagers and adults. What makes Flowers for Algernon an interesting story is seeing how Charlie’s reports drastically change every chapter. During the beginning of the story he speaks in simple sentences, but as his mind progresses further his sentence structure improves, his vocabulary becomes more complex. It gives the reader a better look into Gordon’s mind. Throughout the book the tone gets darker and more sinister as he looks back on his childhood. The story is heartfelt, but sad. The moral of the story is simply, to be yourself.