Seminar Essay: The Themes of Alienation and Loneliness in the Novel If a person is lonely, it means that he or she is affected with or characterized by a depressing feeling of being alone. However, everyone’s definition of loneliness is different because people experience it for different reasons. Loneliness is an emotion everyone has experienced before, but it does contribute to growth, mentally and emotionally. Loneliness is felt by Charlie Gordon throughout Flowers for Algernon. Charlie’s varying degree of loneliness can be divided into three phases: the pre-genius, genius, and post-genius phases. The themes of alienation and loneliness played a big role in each one of Charlie’s phases of intelligence and affected his development to becoming a regular person. During the “pre-genius” phase, Charlie was treated like an outcast, however, he felt as though he fit in with the others at the bakery. Charlie felt like he belonged and wrote, “I dont care so much about beeing famus. I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me” (Keyes 13). Charlie wanted to become smart just like the workers at Donner’s bakery.
He thought that he could break the communication barrier between himself and his co-workers, which would have a positive effect. Unfortunately, Charlie was oblivious to what was happening in the bakery and wrote, “Lots of pepul laff at me and their my frends and we have fun” (Keyes 20). Charlie never actually had friends, but he thought he did. He also thought that all those times his co-workers were laughing; they were with him and not at him because he could not understand the mockery being made about him. “Charlie wants ‘to be smart’ to escape being ‘lonely by yourself all the time” (Bruccoli). At the pre-genius phase, Charlie did not feel lonely, but the other bakery workers, which were his bullies, thought he was. Feeling alienated depends on how one feels because someone could feel like they have all the friends they could ever wish for, but in reality, he had no friends. Charlie thought that the bakery workers were his friends, so he was not lonely from his own perspective. Loneliness still played a big role even though he had friends because Charlie’s behaviour revolved around him trying to fit in, and through wanting to communicate with his friends better. Loneliness and alienation were most evidently used during the genius phase because this was the phase where Charlie realized that he really did not have friends. In order to gain friends, Charlie changed his personality and the way he acted completely just to try and fit in. Through doing so, Charlie experienced what most people have in today’s society when affected by peer pressure. Charlie’s plan backfired, costing him his job at the bakery. The audience should have felt what Judith Baugman also had after she read the book as she commented, “Charlie afterwards becomes ‘an arrogant, self-centered, antisocial bastard’ as a consequence of realizing how much he had been victimized and abused when retarded” (Baugman).
Charlie decided to give his colleagues a taste of what they were doing to him and they got afraid of Charlie and isolated him. In this phase, Charlie faced the irony between being nothing and having everything to being everything and having nothing. He got what he had always wanted, which was to be normal, but when he acquired such aspiration, he lost what he already had, friendships. On page 104, Charlie begged Mr. Donner for his job back, but was rejected because he was upsetting the other employees and he had the potential to get a better occupation. Charlie felt unloved and unwanted even from the man he had treated as his father, which is a symbolic repetition of being rejected by his real parents. Also, as Charlie got even smarter, he realized that it got more and more complicated to communicate with others as “I am just as far away from Alice with an I.Q. of 185 as when I had an I.Q. of 70” (Keyes 126). Not only does Charlie feel unwanted and extremely lonely, but now, it is almost impossible for him to interact with others. All he had was Algernon, who could not make a man feel loved because he was not human. Loneliness affected Charlie’s development in the genius phase because his life was distasteful, but through this experience, he will only become stronger.
During the post-genius phase, Charlie’s intelligence started reverting back to his original state. Not only has Charlie learned how to treat others, but so have Gimpy and the others at the bakery as Diane Telgen also found evident and then noted that “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 his against an attack from a new worker. This is what real friendship is” (Telgen). When Charlie reverted back to his original self, he made real friends. Those who used to bully him became close to him just like when Gimpy said, “Charlie if anyone bothers you or trys to take advantage you call me or Joe or Frank and we will set him strait. We all want you to remember that you got frends here and dont you ever forget it” (Keyes 209). Gimpy actually told Charlie that he was his friend, a sign of moving forward. In this phase, Charlie finally felt as though he belonged and was wanted for the right reasons. Although Charlie’s intelligence revert back to an IQ of 68, Charlie became more wise and mature when on page 308, he told Gimpy not to get Klaus fired after he was bullied by him because it is right to give everyone a second chance. Charlie has learned the true importance of friendship and through not wanting to feel lonely and have others feel the same, he became considerate.
At every one of Charlie’s phases of intelligence, he felt lonely in some way. From thinking that he had a perfect life to becoming a genius and losing everything he had. Then, he reverted back to his original self, but this time, there were people who stood up and wanted to be around him. Charlie experienced much loneliness throughout the novel, which affected his behaviour, which is very common is today’s world when people want to fit in. Charlie teaches the audience an important lesson; friends are people who will like you for your personality and behaviour around them and intelligence is not an issue. This lesson actually reflects today’s society because it teaches how peer pressure is something that you should not take into account in life. Alienation and loneliness really played a huge role in Charlie’s life throughout his phases of intelligence. Loneliness affects how humans interact with one another because they want to be loved. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”
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