Loneliness is a feeling of being alone, affecting individuals differently and contributing to mental and emotional growth. In Flowers for Algernon, loneliness is experienced by Charlie Gordon in three phases: before his intelligence increase, during his genius phase, and after returning to his initial state. Throughout these phases, themes of alienation and loneliness significantly impact Charlie’s development. In the “pre-genius” phase, Charlie feels like an outcast but believes he fits in with others at the bakery. He expresses his desire to be smart like them and have friends who like him (Keyes 13).
He believed he could overcome the communication barrier with his co-workers, which would have a positive impact. Unfortunately, Charlie was unaware of the events in the bakery and wrote, “Lots of people laugh at me and they’re my friends and we have fun” (Keyes 20). Charlie mistakenly believed he had friends. He also believed that when his co-workers laughed, they were laughing with him and not at him because he couldn’t comprehend the ridicule directed towards him. “Charlie desires to become intelligent to avoid being lonely all the time” (Bruccoli). In the pre-genius stage, Charlie didn’t feel lonely, but his co-workers, who were actually his bullies, perceived him as such. The feeling of isolation is subjective since someone may believe they have countless friends while in reality, they have none.
Charlie’s lack of loneliness was alleviated by his perception of the bakery workers as friends, yet he still grappled with a significant sense of solitude. He endeavored to better connect and integrate himself with these companions, but his genius phases ultimately exposed his dearth of genuine friendship. Consequently, Charlie adapted his personality in an attempt to conform, encountering the common occurrence of peer pressure prevalent in today’s society. Regrettably, this endeavor proved detrimental as it resulted in him losing his job at the bakery. If Judith Baugman had perused the book, she would have comprehended Charlie’s transformation and remarked on how he morphed into an “arrogant, self-centered, antisocial bastard” after realizing the full extent of victimization and mistreatment he endured due to his mental challenges (Baugman).
Charlie decided to retaliate against his colleagues, which led to their fear and subsequent isolation of him. This phase exposed the irony of Charlie’s situation, as he transitioned from being nothing to having everything, only to lose it all and be left with nothing. Although he finally achieved his longed-for normalcy, it came at the expense of his friendships. On page 104, he pleaded with Mr. Donner to let him have his job back, but was rejected due to his disruptive effect on other employees and the potential for him to find a better occupation. This rejection from someone he considered a father figure paralleled his previous experiences of being rejected by his own parents. As Charlie’s intelligence increased even further, he discovered that communication became increasingly difficult, stating “I am just as far away from Alice with an I.Q. of 185 when I had an I.Q. of 70” (Keyes 126). Not only did Charlie feel incredibly lonely and unloved, but now it seemed nearly impossible for him to connect with others. His only companion was Algernon, who couldn’t fulfill a human’s need for love. Loneliness greatly impacted Charlie during his genius phase, making his life unbearable. However, this experience ultimately contributed to his strength and personal growth.
During the post-genius phase, Charlie’s intelligence reverted back to its original state. It was observed by Diane Telgen that not only did Charlie learn how to treat others, but so did Gimpy and the others at the bakery. Telgen noted, “And in the final irony, when Charlie returns to his IQ of 68 and seeks his old job back, Joe and Frank, the men who had persecuted him before, defend him against an attack from a new worker. This is what real friendship is” (Telgen). When Charlie returned to his original self, he made real friends. Those who used to bully him became close to him, as Gimpy expressed, “Charlie if anyone bothers you or tries to take advantage you call me or Joe or Frank and we will set him straight. We all want you to remember that you got friends here and don’t you ever forget it” (Keyes 209). Gimpy explicitly told Charlie that he was his friend, which symbolized moving forward. In this phase, Charlie finally felt a sense of belonging and being valued for the right reasons.
Even though Charlie’s intelligence regressed to an IQ of 68, he became wiser and more mature. On page 308, he advised Gimpy not to have Klaus dismissed after being bullied by him because he believed in giving others a second chance. Charlie now understands the value of friendship and is considerate, not wanting to feel lonely or have others experience loneliness.
Charlie experienced loneliness throughout every phase of his intelligence, whether he was living a seemingly perfect life or losing everything as a genius. However, when he returned to his original self, he found people who genuinely wanted to be around him. Loneliness greatly influenced Charlie’s behavior in the novel, reflecting the common desire for acceptance in today’s world. His journey teaches an important lesson about friendship, emphasizing that being liked for one’s personality and behavior is more important than intelligence. This lesson remains relevant in society today, highlighting the need to resist peer pressure. Alienation and loneliness played significant roles in Charlie’s life during his different phases of intelligence. The yearning for love and human connection is strongly affected by loneliness. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
- Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. New York: A Harvest Book / Harcourt Inc., 2004. Print. ThinkExist. “Loneliness quotes.” Thinkexist.com. 2010. Web. 9 January 2011.
- Telgen, Diane. “Flowers for Algernon.” Gale Cengage Learning. 2007. Web. 25 December 2010. . The Facts On File Companion to the American Short Story, Second Edition. “Flowers for Algernon.” Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. 2011. Web. 24 December 2010.