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Analysis of Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon

By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 24, 2021

“Flowers for Algernon,” first published in 1959, is considered a landmark work in both science fiction and disability literature. It was expanded into a novel of the same name, which was published in 1966. Both the short story and the novel consist of a series of progress reports that track Charlie Gordon, a 37-year-old man suffering from mental retardation, through an experimental procedure designed to triple his I.Q. Charlie is the first human to receive the operation, though it has been successfully completed on a laboratory mouse, Algernon. Charlie’s early reports are riddled with spelling and grammatical errors; a month after the operation, the reports are grammatically correct. Within two months Charlie complains that the doctors in charge of the experiment cannot read Hindustani and Chinese. This rapid growth in intelligence from an I.Q. of 68 to triple that figure is accompanied by a crippling isolation from other people. A decline in his intelligence is first predicted by Algernon’s rapid regression, and Charlie soon conducts experiments into his own condition. He finds that his regression will be as rapid as his ascent to genius. The last progress reports are similar in style to those at the beginning, and Charlie closes the story by telling the doctors that he will be leaving New York, presumably to enter a state-operated home.

Experimentation is the predominant theme in “Flowers for Algernon.” At the height of his intelligence, Charlie complains that Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur, the doctors conducting the experiment, are not the mental giants he once perceived them to be. Some of his complaining can be accurately perceived as hubris—his aforementioned complaint about the professors’ knowledge of foreign languages is certainly unreasonable, considering their wide reading knowledge in Western languages. Much of Charlie’s observations about the doctors, though, can be interpreted as a nuanced critique on the medical establishment. The doctors argue at several points in the story, and the arguments reveal that they are often more interested in self-advancement than in Charlie’s development. Dr. Nemur is especially held to ridicule because he is primarily driven by his wife’s prodding. If the doctors are in a certain sense using Charlie, then the parallelism between him and Algernon takes on more significance. In the short story, Charlie is implicitly similar to Algernon because the doctors use him for advancement of their careers. The novel makes this theme more explicit through confrontations between Charlie and Dr. Nemur about the latter’s attitude toward the former. Dr. Nemur states that Charlie is a new creation of sorts, that he has achieved personhood through the experiment.

thesis for flowers for algernon

Daniel Keyes/Los Angeles Times

Charlie’s status as experimental subject comes into focus at the end of “Flowers for Algernon,” when he researches the consequences of the experiment conducted that made him a genius. The turning point in both the short story and the novel happens in a diner: A retarded young man breaks a plate and the customers, including Charlie, laugh at him. The moment defines the rest of the story because Charlie realizes how deeply he has isolated himself from other people during his ascent to genius. Although he has gained many gifts, he has also lost his meaningful relationships; thus, the connection with the retarded young man motivates Charlie to pursue research for the betterment of all who suffer from retardation. His research is set in opposition to the research of Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur because it is conducted solely to improve the lives of other people. Moreover, Charlie readily accepts his discouraging conclusion— namely, that the experiment conducted on him has no practical value because of the swift regression into retardation—and asks that the results be published. Charlie’s research can be read, therefore, as a commentary on medical experimentation and a call to consider the subjects involved—particularly those with limited abilities—as individuals.

The emphasis on experimentation in “Flowers for Algernon” can largely be explained by its roots in science fiction. Critics have observed that the experiment conducted on Charlie and his subsequent regression into mental retardation indicate that “Flowers for Algernon” properly belongs in the science fiction genre. Moreover, the short story and the novel won the most prestigious awards in science fiction (respectively, the Hugo award and the Nebula award).

“Flowers for Algernon” can also be classified as disability literature because its explorations delve into fundamental questions about the place of disabled people in modern American society. Charlie’s descriptions of other retarded people are telling—he speaks of vacant smiles and empty eyes. This perception is remarkably similar to Dr. Nemur’s assertion in the novel that Charlie did not properly exist as a person before the experiment. Disability remains an important public policy issue, which contributes to the enduring popularity of “Flowers for Algernon.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY Biklen, Douglas. “Constructing Inclusion: Lessons from Critical, Disability Narratives.” International Journal of Inclusive Education 4 (2000): 337–353. Clareson, Thomas D. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative Period, 1926–1970. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990, 231–233. Keyes, Daniel. Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey. New York: Harvest-Harcourt, 2004. Moser, Patrick. “An Overview of Flowers for Algernon.” In Exploring Novels. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 1998. Rabkin, Eric S. “The Medical Lessons of Science Fiction.” Literature and Medicine 20 (2001): 13–25. Scholes, Robert. Structural Fabulation: An Essay on Fiction of the Future. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975. Small, Robert, Jr. “Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.” In Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean, 249–255. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1993. Whittington-Walsh, Fiona. “From Freaks to Savants: Disability and Hegemony from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1933) to Sling Blade (1997).” Disability & Society 17 (2002): 695–707.

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  • Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes

  • Literature Notes
  • Themes in Flowers for Algernon
  • Book Summary
  • About Flowers for Algernon
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Character Analysis
  • Charlie Gordon
  • Alice Kinnian
  • Mr. Donner, Frank, and Gimpy
  • Matt Gordon
  • Rose Gordon
  • Norma Gordon
  • Daniel Keyes Biography
  • Critical Essays
  • Ethical Issues in Flowers for Algernon
  • Full Glossary for Flowers for Algernon
  • Essay Questions
  • Cite this Literature Note

Critical Essays Themes in Flowers for Algernon

The central theme in Flowers for Algernon is Man Playing God. The basic structural layout of the novel supports this theme. The novel's chronological timeline begins March 3 and ends November 21. The seasonal interpretation is obvious. Charlie's surgery takes place in the spring, a time of new beginnings, new growth, and re-birth. The progress reports, and our journey with Charlie, come to an end in the heart of autumn. Autumn is the season that displays nature's decline. Autumn isn't death as symbolized by winter, but it is the loss of new growth and the beginning of regression. A synonym for autumn is "fall," and that word, in the verb form, is what we witness in Charlie.

Charlie's personal odyssey spans a period of nine months, which is both a plot technique and a representation of the human gestation period (a period in which new life is developed and nurtured, culminating in the birth of a new individual). At the conclusion of Charlie's nine-month development, however, no new individual is born. Rather, readers witness the rebirth of the original Charlie. This "failure" symbolizes the ultimate failure in the concept of Man Playing God.

Many overt references to this theme run throughout the novel. Many people, including Charlie, discuss tampering with man's intelligence. The first nurse Charlie encounters after his surgery introduces this theme. She tells Charlie that if God had wanted Charlie to be smart, God would have made him that way. Charlie also remembers his mother telling him about God, and that they were to pray to God to make Charlie smart. Even Dr. Guarino, "with the Lord's help," might be able to make Charlie like other children. Finally, Professor Nemur admits this ambition in his speech at the International Psychological Association presentation when he says, "We have taken one of nature's mistakes and by our new technique have created a superior human being."

Another theme that is essential to Flowers for Algernon is one of friendship. This theme encompasses all aspects of friendship: expectations, perceptions, and the importance of it. Charlie's friends at the bakery — Gimpy, Frank, and Joe — are the ideal studies in the perception of friendship. Before the surgery, these men were Charlie's best friends. He loved their company and looked forward to spending time with them. After the surgery, Charlie is able to view their relationship in a different light and comes to realize is that these men were not friends. They not only made fun of him, but he was also often used solely for their entertainment. As he recognizes that, so ends their friendships. However, as Charlie is failing intellectually, he returns to the bakery, and it is these "friends" who welcome him back, having accepted him for who he again is.

The first book that Charlie reads after his surgery foreshadows the friendship struggles that he will encounter. Miss Kinnian has Charlie read Robinson Crusoe . As Charlie interprets it, the book is about a very smart man marooned on a desert island. Charlie feels very sorry for Robinson Crusoe because he is all alone and has no friends.

The strength of friendship is examined in Charlie's relation-ship with Algernon. The white mouse offers Charlie what he needs most in this world: unconditional friendship. Charlie shares the experience of the experimental surgery with Algernon, and Charlie discovers his own fate through Algernon. When Charlie has regressed to a point that is below where he began, we see the strength of friendship, not only in the friendship that existed between Algernon and Charlie, but also in the friendship that Charlie offers to those around him. At the conclusion of the novel, Charlie is unable to remember many things from his past, but he is aware that his regression is upsetting to others, especially to Miss Kinnian, whom he considers a friend. He chooses to move to the Warren State Home out of consideration for his friends. And, truly a loyal friend himself, Charlie's final entry in his progress report requests that someone please remember to put flowers on Algernon's grave.

A third pervasive theme in the novel is the role of intelligence in human relationships. Charlie's social self suffers both as an individual of low intelligence and one of high intelligence. Charlie expects that increased intelligence will please his friends and increase the number of friends that he has. He is not prepared for the change in his relationships with his friends brought about by his new intelligence, nor is he prepared for the changes in himself. As a genius, he joins in with people who condescend to people who know less than they and becomes even less able to make and maintain friendships than he was as the original Charlie.

Does Charlie regret his brief flirtation with genius? Would he have been better off without the experiment? Charlie tells Alice that he does not regret being part of the experiment. "Im glad I got a second chanse in life . . . because I lernd alot of things that I never even new were in this werld and Im grateful I saw it all even for a littel bit." He also notes that he's probably the first "dumb persen in the world who found out some thing importent for siense." As Charlie notes in Progress Report 16, "intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn." The difficulties faced by the intelligent person who often lacks good social skills persist even today as "nerds" are made fun of by the "in," crowd and as introverts are often treated as "flawed" because of their more private personalities.

Previous Daniel Keyes Biography

Next Ethical Issues in Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon

Introduction to flowers for algernon.

Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction written by Daniel Keyes, evolved from a short story of the same title the author penned in 1959. Hugo won an award for the same, encouraging him to expand it into a novel under the same title. The novel was published in 1966, proved an instant hit and won another award for the author, the Nebula Award. The story of the novel comprises the diary of Charlie Gordon who undergoes intelligence surgery in a laboratory to enhance his intelligence. The story became popular, inviting instant ban shortly after it appeared in the market. Later, the ban was removed. Cliff Robertson won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1968 for the movie CHARLY.

Summary of Flowers for Algernon

The story of the novel presents Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged adult, nominated for experimental surgery to enhance his intelligence level. His eagerness to learn more has prompted his teacher Alice Kinnian at the Beekman College to recommend him for this experiment as directed by Dr. Strauss accompanied by his team. Both the doctor as well as the professor advise Charlie Gordon to write his experiences as a journal about the progress in his intelligence.

As far as Charlie’s career is concerned, he was working with Donner’s Bakery as a delivery boy. He also works as a janitor over there during his free time. Despite his being the center of the mockery of his colleagues, he demonstrates indifference to them, considering them his friends. The doctors decide to bring him to compete with Algernon, the mouse that has already been operated upon, they conduct a surgery upon him. Although he does not see any instant change following his operation, Alice works with him to improve his linguistic skills.

Finally, he starts reading and becoming proficient in reading books. On the other hand, he also shows improvement in his work at the bakery. Whenever he initiates some new productivity tools in the bakery, his coworkers become nervous. Now that he is intelligent he understands that his co-workers are not laughing with him but at him so keep them at bay. Once he finds that the one of the staff in the bakery was stealing and faces the moral dilemma of whether, to tell the truth to the owner Donner or not. When discussed with Alice she asks him to follow his heart so he informs the owner about the stealing, realizing that he is capable of dealing moral dilemmas on his own which he lacked in the past.

Interestingly, he feels attached to Alice more than he thinks who, despite her professionalism, stays with him. Finally, he leaves his job after the owner sees him more capable, while his relationship with Alice, too, grows, though, he sometimes feels his reflection in his old self and realizes his traumatic past. He finds that he was unable to be close with Alice because of the past with his mother who happens to beat him as a child for the slightest sensual impulses. Throughout the novel inspite of his ‘Family’ abandoning him, he still tries very hard to make them proud. When he is paraded in the Chicago demonstration along with Dr. Strauss, he feels that Professor Nemur is treating him like an animal , having gone under experiment. Charlie, outraged at this treatment, frees Algernon. He himself leaves the exhibition and hides himself in his apartment with Algernon. He soon realizes the transience of his capability and meets his neighbor, Fay Lillman, and becomes intimate with her. The foundation reaches out to Charlie mentioning that he can continue the research himself. Although he returns to his lab, he does not feel committed. He even abandons Fay.

Later, he realizes that Nemur’s hypothesis has a setback and the effect of the intelligence gain is only short term. Then it happens that Algernon becomes erratic, making Charlie fear for the evaporation of his intelligence, too. When Algernon dies, he is traumatic, fearing death coming to him sooner or later. Therefore, he thinks it necessary to visit his mother. When she sees him, she becomes overjoyed, and he feels relieved at this sudden welcome. However, he is surprised to see his mother attacking him with a knife. He, then, feels his own individuality and escapes to save his life.

Afterwards, he thinks that he has found a mistake in Professor Nemur’s idea that intelligence could evaporate as quickly as it has been instilled. He labels this as the “Algernon-Gordon Effect” and feels that he is regressing to his former disable self. Even though he maintains a brief relationship with Alice, he sends her away when he notices that his intelligence evaporating.  When this regression completes, he visits his bakery and briefly enjoys the love of his former coworkers. Meanwhile, after forgetting everything about his intelligence and the duration, he appears before Alice and after upsetting her, seeks asylum in a disabled home. He makes a final request to his readers to visit Algernon’s grave to appreciate him.

Major Themes in Flowers for Algernon

  • Unethical Experiments: The novel, Flowers of Algernon, shows the major theme of unethical experimentation when performing the surgery on Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged person. Dr. Strauss and his team have subjected him to experimentation on the line of Algernon, the experimental mouse. However, as soon as he becomes intelligent, he loses his job in the bakery where he was quite happy. Meanwhile, he comes across Alice, who, too, leaves him when he starts losing his intelligence, for she is attached to him only until the completion of the experiment to record his progress. In this case, both Algernon and Charlie have been treated as subjects of studies which is against the standard and existing ethical framework. It is because it falls under the preview of animal cruelty and violation of human rights.
  • Gaining Knowledge: The novel shows the theme of gaining knowledge at the expense of others through the experiment of Dr. Strauss and Professor, who conduct brain surgery on Charlie Gordon with the promise of blessing him with intelligence. When he becomes brilliant, he also comes to know through Fanny about Adam’s knowledge acquisition and becomes sad. He thinks that he has lost happiness he used to enjoy on Mr. Donner’s bakery. That is why his knowledge does not bless him with happiness. Rather, he brings more problems for him similar to Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the paradise.
  • Loss of Identity: Loss of identity is another theme reflected through Charlie Gordon and the experiment to augment his intelligence. In the beginning, he feels that his identity is that he is a worker in Mr. Donner’s bakery where he enjoys life and feels happy with his co-workers, but when he thinks that he is undergoing surgery to acquire intelligence, he thinks of his new identity. He faces this ethical dilemma when turning in Gimpy at the bakery for stealing things. Therefore, he surmises from these circumstantial transformations that identity is always changing and that he is again going to lose his identity along with his intelligence.
  • Hubris : Although Charlie Gordon is not a classic hero , nor neurosurgery in the United States a Grecian context , yet his hubris is the same; his pride and ambition to undergo surgery and enhance his thinking power , or intelligence. His pride lies in his thinking of being a smart person who wants to learn about the world around him. He thinks that with the intelligence he would launch his bright career in signing and research. By the end, he faces the punishment through his fall after losing his intelligence. His contextual hubris becomes his personal flaw, making him worthy of the readers’ sympathies .
  • Human Relations: The novel shows the theme of human relations through the character of Charlie Gordon. When he is a dullard and dunce person, he faces maltreatment despite having a strong ethical sense. However, as soon as he becomes intelligent, even Alice becomes intimate with him, though, her relationship with him does not solidify. His worldview is quite simplistic when he is not intelligent, but his vision widens after the surgery and he desires to revert to the same level where he has intimate and loving relationships with the people around him.
  • Love and Sexuality: Although Charlie Gordon does not confuse his total transformation only with his intelligence, the major change in his life is his perspective toward love and romance in life. He is unaware of this aspect of life before the surgery due to the teaching of Rose Gordon not to touch the opposite sex. However, following surgery, he even contemplates having sex with the opposite gender that, though, could not be equated to the Oedipus Complex of Charlie. It could, however, be termed as an awakening of his love for the opposite sex, including his mother.
  • Maltreatment: Keyes has beautifully presented the idea of maltreatment toward other human beings based on their weaker points. Charlie Gordon is mentally fragile as he cannot think linearly at the beginning of the novel, the reason that all others treat him in the same way, while his master at the bakery also exploits him. However, the recuperation of intelligence through surgery not only changes his perspective toward life and the world, but also this thing changes public perspective toward him as shown by his mother, Alice, and his former employer.
  • Emotions: The novel shows the emotional balance in the life of Charlie Gordon whose disability impacts his emotional growth. Yet, it is interesting to note that he is emotionally tenderer and loving in the first part of his life before he gets intelligence through surgery. As soon as he becomes intellectual or intelligent, most of his energy is spent thinking about other people in a logical manner instead of giving more thought to his emotional growth and passions.
  • Memory: Memory becomes another significant theme due to the role it plays in the life of Charlie Gordon. It seems that his past is always with him even when he undergoes surgery and gains intelligence. He recalls his childhood all the time. This split personality due to memory becomes significant in the last part of the novel as it keeps him puzzled and confused.
  • Alienation: The novel shows the theme of alienation in Charlie Gordon who feels it intensely after having undergone surgery to enhance his intelligence. That is why he visits his former employer to recall the warmth and love of friendship that he feels despite having Alice with him.

Major Characters of Flowers for Algernon

  • Charlie Gordon: Charlie is not only the main narrator but also the protagonist of the novel whose diary narrates his story from being a mentally retarded young man to an intellectual. A young man of 32, he faces social discrimination on account of his mental retardation. Working as a deliveryman and janitor at the Donner’s Bakery, he wins applause for his integrity but when he joins the learning class of Alice Kinnian, he undergoes experimental surgery to enhance his intelligence level. With an enhanced IQ level, he faces emotional challenges and comes to terms with his new life with arrogance and haughtiness. However, he starts losing this streak of brilliance by the end and reverts to his disability after solving scientific puzzles. His experimental life, thus, becomes a subject of scientific study when he bids adieu to Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur.
  • Alice Kinnian: A young but very intelligent and beautiful lady, Alice works as a teacher for literary classes for the disabled students where Charlie Gordon is introduced to her. She becomes the main source of his intelligent growth after she introduces him to Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur who perform brain surgery on him. Despite demonstrating her initial intimacy toward Charlie, she is fed up with his arrogant attitude . She also identifies this flaw in his character, which she thinks needs toned down to make him eligible for a good social life with somebody. She, however, abandons him she sees his intelligence fading into his former disability.
  • Algernon: The significance of the character of Algernon, the mouse, lies in that he is the first victim of the obsession of Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss. In a sense, he is equated to human beings after his intelligence is increased through surgery. Charlie, therefore, is unconsciously equated to Algernon. Therefore, his presentation in the storyline is a representation of human beings to animal levels. As Algernon also experiences fading of his artificially constructed intelligence, it also signals a moment of its transience for Charlie Gordon. By the end of the novel, he dies, leaving questions about human control over life and death.
  • Professor Harold Nemur: The role of Professor Nemur in the storyline is important in that he lays the foundation of neurosurgery to enhance intelligence in case of mental retardation and demonstrates this ability for the first time during his surgery on Algernon, the mouse. However, he does not stop here and continues propagating his academic achievement and prowess in surgery with Dr. Strauss after which both of them hook Charlie Gordon to become a subject of their experiment. Despite being a brilliant scientist, Nemur has no ethical fears when he operates upon Charlie. Thus, demonstrating his arrogance over his plight.
  • Dr. Strauss: The character of Dr. Strauss is significant in that he works closely with his friend, Professor Nemur, in his surgical feats of transforming the intelligence level of Algernon, the mouse, as well as, Charlie Gordon, the mentally retarded young man. Despite having brilliance of mind, he has some human flaws such as jealousy and ambition. This points to the ethical side of his experiment. However, as compared to Professor Nemur, he is to some extent humble and takes care of Charlie when he undergoes surgery, and informs him how to cope with his anxiety.
  • Rose Gordon: Rose, Charlie’s mother appears quite early in the novel and demonstrates her significance by showing heavy-handed and cruel treatment toward her son. First, she entirely rejects the notion that her child, Charlie Gordon, could be mentally underdeveloped, and second she sends him to his uncle to undergo further mental torture. Even though Charlie acquires intelligence, she continues pestering him, the reason that he finds it difficult to form relations with others such as with Alice.
  • Fay Lillman: A neighbor of Charlie, Fany shows her casual attitude toward her neighbors including Charlie who pays attention to her in his early life but she fades into the humdrum of life with time.
  • Burt Selden: Selden assists his mentors, Nemur and Strauss, during the surgery and supervises the subjects, Algernon and Charlie. He later takes Charlie to introduce him to students.
  • Matt Gordon: Matt lies is Charlie’s father whose main desire lies in having his barbershop that he finally establishes. As a shy husband, he does not rise against domineering Rose to protect his son.
  • Uncle Herman: Uncle Herman is the guardian of Charlie after his own mother, Rose Gordon, expels him from home.

Writing Style of Flowers for Algernon

The style of the novel, Flowers for Algernon, shows that it is quite complex as Daniel Keyes uses very simple sentence structure and easy diction for Charlie Gordon before he undergoes surgery. However, when he comes out after the surgery, his identity becomes complex not only in the usage of his sentences but also in diction. His sentence becomes complex and long from choppy and stilted ones he used earlier. The first person narrative further lends credence to this style. For literary devices , Keyes resorts to similes, metaphors and personifications.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Flowers for Algernon

  • Action: The main action of the novel comprises the life of Charlie Gordon, the mentally deranged young man, who undergoes brain surgery for intelligence enhancement and then reverts to his mentally deranged state after living in that situation for some time. The rising action occurs when he begins flirting with Alice and the falling action occurs when Alice leaves him, seeing his reversion to his former self a reality.
  • Allusions : The novel shows examples of allusions such as given below, i. Theories instead of about my own ideas and feelings. But it’s okay to read novels. This week I read The Great Gatsby , An American Tragedy , and Look Homeward, Angel. I never knew about men and women doing things like that. (April 15) ii. It’s exciting to hear them talking about poetry and science and philosophy-about Shakespeare and Milton; Newton and Einstein and Freud; about Plato and Hegel and Kant, and all the other names that echo like great church bells in my mind. (April 26) iii. They were arguing about whether or not Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare’s plays. One of the boys-the fat one with the sweaty face-said that Marlowe wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. But Lenny, the short kid with the dark glasses, didn’t believe that business about Marlowe, and he said that everyone knew that Sir Francis Bacon wrote the plays because Shakespeare had never been to college and never had the education that shows up in those plays. (April 27) iv. I spend most of my free time at the library now, reading and soaking up what I can from books. I’m not concentrating on anything in particular, just reading a lot of fiction now-Dostoevski, Flaubert, Dickens, Hemingway, Faulkner – everything I can get my hands on feeding a hunger that can’t be satisfied. (April 27) These four examples show the use of allusions such as the novels and books in the first and different writers in the other two.
  • Anaphora : The novel shows the use of anaphora given in the below examples, i. In the middel of the nite I woke up and I coudnt go back to sleep because it kept saying remembir… remembir… remembir… So I think I remembird something. I dont remembir exackly but it was about Miss Kinnian and the school where I lerned about reading. And how I went their. (March 26) ii. Now that Im starting to have those dreams and remembiring Prof Nemur says I got to go to theripy sesions with Dr Strauss. He says theripy sessions is like when you feel bad you talk to make it better. I tolld him I dont feel bad and I do plenty of talking all day so why do I have to go to theripy but he got sore and says I got to go anyway. (March 27) iii. That’s all I can remember . I can see it all clearly, but I don’t know why it happened. It’s like when I used to go to the movies. (April 13) These examples show the repetitious use of “I remembird”, theripy sessions”, “I can.”
  • Antagonist : It seems that Professor Nemur is the real antagonist of the novel in that he is merely interested in the advancement of his knowledge and learning and not in human life.
  • Colloquialism : The below examples show the use of colloquialism such as, i. I get headakes from trying to think and remembir so much. Dr Strauss promised he was going to help me but he dont. He dont tell me what to think or when I’ll get smart. He just makes me lay down on a couch and talk. (PROGRESS REPORT 8) ii. Then Dr Strauss came over and put his hand on my sholder and said Charlie you dont know it yet but your getting smarter all the time. You wont notise it for a while like you dont notise how the hour hand on a clock moves. That’s the way it is with the changes in you. They are happining so slow you cant tell. But we can follow it from the tests and the way you act and talk and your progress reports. He said Charlie youve got to have fayth in us and in yourself. We cant be sure it will be permanint but we are confidant that soon your going to be a very intellijent young man. (March 24) These examples show the use of colloquialism in the conversation and dialogs of Charlie Gordon.
  • Conflict : The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Charlie Gordon and the world around him, while the internal conflict is going on in his mind about his situation.
  • Characters: Flowers for Algernon has both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Charlie Gordon, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel when reverts to his mental retardation. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Alice Kinnian, Dr. Strauss, and Professor Nemur.
  • Flashback : Below are examples of flashbacks from the novel, i. I see Charlie-eleven years old. He has a little goldcolor locket he once found in the street. There’s no chain, but he has it on a string, and he likes to twirl the locket so that it bunches up the string, and then watch it unwind, spinning around with the sun flicking into his eyes. (April 15) ii. I never remembered any of this before today, but it came back to me after I thought about the dream . It has something to do with the feeling about Miss Kinnian reading my progress reports. Anyway, I’m glad now I don’t have to ask anyone to write things for me. Now I can do it for myself. (April 17)
  • Imagery : Flowers for Algernon shows the use of imagery in the following examples, i. But other things come into my head too. Sometimes I close my eyes and I see a clear picture. Like this morning just after I woke up, I was laying in bed with my eyes open. It was like a big hole opened up in the walls of my mind and I can just walk through. I think its far back… a long time ago when I first started working at Donner’s Bakery. I see the street where the bakery is. Fuzzy at first and then it gets patchy with some things so real they are right here now in front of me, and other things stay blurred, and I’m not sure…. (April 13) ii. The wall breaks down and suddenly there is a redhaired girl with her arms outstretched to me – her face is a blank mask. She takes me into her arms, kisses and caresses me, and I want to hold her tightly but I’m afraid: The more she touches me, the more frightened I become because I know I must never touch a girl. Then, as her body rubs up against mine, I feel a strange bubbling and throbbing inside me that makes me warm. But when I look up I see a bloody knife in her hands. (May 2) These two examples show images of color, sound, and feelings.
  • Metaphor : Flowers for Algernon has the following examples of metaphors, i. A look passed between them. I felt the blood rush to my face again. They were laughing at me. (April 17) ii. Thousand confusing ideas burst into his mind at the same time and he stands there smiling. He wants to do it, to make Frank and Gimpy happy and have them like him, and to get the bright good-luck piece that Gimpy has promised him. (Progress Report 10) . iii. As soon as the fuzziness passes away he’ll remember. Just another few seconds and he’ll have it. He wants to hold on to what he’s learned-for a little while. He wants it so much. (Progress Report 10) iv. The fuzzy cloud comes and goes, and now he looks forward to the pleasure of the brightly colored pictures in the comic book that he has gone through thirty, forty times. (Progress Report 10) v. The principal in my dream had a long beard, and was floating around the room and pointing at me. (April 27) These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as look with something, ideas with explosives, fuzziness with the flood, and the principal with some boat.
  • Mood : The novel shows a very confusing mind in the beginning, then becomes happy when Charlie acquires intelligence but again falls into a tragic mood after he reverts to his situation.
  • Motif : Most important motifs of the novel are language, flashbacks, and memories.
  • Narrator : The novel is narrated from the first person point of view as well as third person Point of view by the narrator at some places.
  • Parallelism : Below are the examples of parallelism in the novel, i. I was a blundering adolescent in her eyes, and she was trying to let me down easy. (April 28) ii. I moved closer and reached for her shoulders, but she was too quick for me. She stopped me and took my hand in hers. (April 28) These examples show the parallel structure used in these sentences.
  • Paradox : Two examples of paradox from the novel are given below, i. He laughed and then he got up from his chair and went to the window. “The more intelligent you become the more problems you’ll have, Charlie. Your intellectual growth is going to outstrip your emotional growth. (April 14) ii. I still don’t know how the conscious and unconscious mind works, but Dr Strauss says not to worry yet. (April 15) Both of these examples show that the writer has put paradoxical ideas or things together.
  • Personification : Examples of personifications from the book are given below, i. March 25 – That crazy TV kept me up all nite. How can I sleep with something yelling crazy things all night in my ears. (March 25)) ii. The fuzzy cloud comes and goes, and now he looks forward to the pleasure of the brightly colored pictures in the comic book that he has gone through thirty, forty times. (Progress Report 10) iii. “The argument went on that way with Strauss saying that Nemur had his eye on the Chair of Psychology at Hallston, and Nemur saying that Strauss was riding on the coattails of his psychological research. (April 25) iv. The terror that waits in that cold tile room overwhelms him. He is afraid to go there alone . (April 28) These examples show as if craziness, fuzziness, argument, and terror have life and emotions of their own.
  • Protagonist : Charlie Gordon is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entrance into the story, his journey through his challenges and final resolution .
  • Rhetorical Question : The examples of rhetorical questions from the book are given below, i. I was furious at her, myself, and the world, but by the time I got home, I realized she was right. Now, I don’t know whether she cares for me or if she was just being kind. What could she possibly see in me? What makes it so awkward is that I’ve never experienced anything like this before. How does a person go about learning how to act toward another person? How does a man learn how to behave toward a woman? (May 2) ii. She must have sensed the urgency because she agreed to meet me. I hung up and stared at the phone. Why was it so important for me to know what she thought, how she felt? (May 8) These rhetorical questions show that Charlie Gordon questions his own thoughts.
  • Repetition : A few examples of repetition from the novel are given below, i. The said make beleeve but I tolld her thats lies. I never tell lies any more because when I was a kid I made lies and I always got hit. (Progris riport 4) ii. I think it’s a good thing about finding out how everybody laughs at me. I thought about it a lot. It’s because I’m so dumb and I don’t even know when I’m doing something dumb. People think it’s funny when a dumb person can’t do things the same way they can. (April 13) These examples show the use of repetition such as “lies” and “dumb.”
  • Setting : The setting of the novel, Flowers for Algernon, is the city of New York where the bakery and laboratory was located during the 1950s.
  • Simile : The below are the examples of similes from the book, i. If the operashun werks good I’ll show that mouse I can be as smart as he is even smarter. (Progris Riport 6 th Mar 8.) ii. Anyway, that is my memory of the time, clearer and more complete than anything I have ever experienced before. Like looking out of the kitchen window early when the morning light is still gray. (Progress Report 10) These two similes show comparisons ; the first shows this between the mouse and Charlie and the second shows this between his memory and something else.

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Flowers For Algernon

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progris riport 1-Progress Report 10

Progress Reports 11-13

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Summary and Study Guide

Daniel Keyes’s science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon (1966) is the story of a man’s journey from having an intellectual disability to gaining extraordinary intelligence—and his regression when an experimental procedure to “correct” his disability goes wrong. Keyes first published a short story titled “Flowers for Algernon” in 1959, which won the Hugo Award for best science fiction short story, before publishing it as a full-length novel, which won the Nebula award for science fiction novel.

This guide references the 1994 Harvest (Harcourt) version of the novel. The novel has never gone out of print, has been made into multiple film and stage adaptations, and has been adopted by many required reading lists. However, the novel has also been viewed as controversial and has frequently been banned for its depiction of explicit sexual content. This guide acknowledges the novel’s depictions of this topic, as well as other difficult material, including abuse, bullying, and terminology that is now considered disrespectful toward people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

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Plot Summary

Charlie Gordon , aged 32, has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 68. He lives in New York City and works as a janitor in a bakery owned by Mr. Donner, a friend of Charlie’s uncle who took Charlie in after he was abandoned by his family in youth. A few nights a week, he attends classes at Beekman, a college center for adults with intellectual disabilities. His teacher at the center, Alice Kinnian, notes that Charlie is motivated to learn, and he is chosen for an experimental procedure designed to vastly improve his intelligence. Before the procedure, Charlie is asked to begin recording his thoughts and feelings in a series of progress reports (which he initially spells “progris riport”). The early progress reports, which function as the novel’s chapters, are simple and full of mistakes, but over time, Charlie’s writing becomes far more advanced.

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The experimental operation is a success. Charlie and a mouse named Algernon, who received the procedure before him, undergo psychological tests and training. Charlie, like Algernon, begins to make rapid intellectual gains. However, Charlie finds that his emotional development does not match his intellectual growth. He has difficulty understanding how to interpret and respond to other people’s emotions and struggles to control his own. In particular, he has difficulty managing his sexuality; he tries to begin a relationship with Alice but finds that his romantic feelings cause panic. In addition, Charlie’s coworkers at the bakery become resentful of his transformation.

Charlie’s progress reports describe how his emotional and romantic frustrations build, and he also becomes critical of the lab team at Beekman. Long-buried memories of Charlie’s childhood begin to surface. He recalls how his mother shunned him and the pain it caused. Charlie’s issues come to a head when the lab team attends a conference to report their research. At the conference, Charlie becomes angry at being treated like a lab specimen, and escapes with Algernon.

For a time, Charlie lives a different life, developing a friendship with a carefree artist, Fay, who is his neighbor. Charlie becomes weary of partying, and is concerned about Algernon, whose behavior has become erratic. He returns to the Beekman lab and devotes himself to studying intelligence. Algernon loses all of the intellectual gains he had made and dies, devastating Charlie. Charlie realizes that he will meet the same fate as Algernon, and eventually lose his intellect.

Charlie begins to regress back to his former self, losing some of his intellectual gains. The style of the progress reports becomes simpler, as they were at the beginning of the novel. He visits the state-sponsored Warren State Home for people with intellectual disabilities, realizing that he will eventually be sent back there. He unsuccessfully tries to reunite with his father, and in a separate instance visits his mother and sister. While the reunion with his mother and sister does not go how he expected, Charlie finds that he is able to deal with some of the fear and shame that stem from his mother’s mistreatment of him in his youth.

Looking back, Charlie realizes that becoming more intelligent did not in itself make his life better. Charlie is finally able to experience a full relationship with Alice, though their time together is short-lived. Charlie’s decline becomes more rapid, and in a final progress report, knowing he will soon have to go to the Warren State Home, he describes his plight. He asks for others to place flowers on the grave of Algernon, whom Charlie had buried in his backyard. 

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Flowers for Algernon

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Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon

Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness

After Charlie Gordon has his surgery and begins to progress from mental disability to brilliance, he has an argument with one of his coworkers, Fanny Birden . Fanny tells Charlie that it was a sin for Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, because in doing so, they traded eternal happiness for knowledge. The apparent tradeoff between happiness and intelligence is one of the most important themes in Flowers for Algernon …

Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon

Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality

In Flowers for Algernon , Keyes establishes a tradeoff between intelligence and happiness, and at the same time makes a different point about the relationship between intelligence and wisdom. By the novel’s midpoint Charlie Gordon is a genius: his brain holds a staggering amount of information about the world. And yet in spite of Charlie’s vast knowledge and voracious reading, he finds himself incapable of handling the most basic “real-world” situations. The distinction between intelligence…

Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon

Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero

From the very beginning, the readers of Flowers for Algernon are meant to identify with Charlie Gordon in one important respect: his pride and ambition. Charlie’s pride—his desire for respect, intelligence, and prestige—is at the center of his character: without pride Professor Nemur would never have chosen him to undergo the operation that makes him a genius. And yet Charlie’s pride is his greatest weakness as well as his greatest strength. Through pride, Charlie takes…

Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon

Cruelty and Bullying

Flowers for Algernon studies the relationship between intelligent and unintelligent people, or more generally, between the powerful and the weak. Because Charlie Gordon travels between these two worlds—moving from mental disability to brilliance, and then back to mental disability again—he comes to see the ways in which people mock and bully their intellectual inferiors, partly out of cruelty, and partly out of insecurity.

People of average intelligence bully the mentally disabled, Keyes suggests, because they…

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Love and Sexuality

Arguably the biggest change that Charlie Gordon undergoes in Flowers for Algernon —even bigger than his rise from mental disability to genius—is the change in his romantic life. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie is completely ignorant of the opposite sex (he’s assumed to be straight). He’s never even kissed a girl, and from an early age his mother, Rose Gordon , has impressed upon him that he mustn’t touch women. As he ages…

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Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Books — Flowers For Algernon

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Essays on Flowers for Algernon

Hook examples for "flowers for algernon" essays, "the quest for intelligence" hook.

"In 'Flowers for Algernon,' we follow the journey of a man striving for intelligence. Explore the universal human desire for knowledge and its consequences."

"The Power of Perspective: Before and After" Hook

"The novel presents a unique narrative structure, showcasing the protagonist's changing intelligence. Delve into the power of perspective and how it shapes our understanding of the world."

"The Ethical Dilemma: Enhancing Intelligence" Hook

"Charlie's transformation raises ethical questions about human enhancement. Analyze the moral implications of enhancing human intelligence and the blurred line between science and ethics."

"Intelligence vs. Emotional Intelligence" Hook

"Charlie's journey explores the difference between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence. Discuss the importance of both aspects in human growth and relationships."

"The Isolation of Genius" Hook

"As Charlie's intelligence grows, he becomes increasingly isolated from others. Examine the loneliness that often accompanies exceptional abilities and the human need for connection."

"Lessons from 'Algernon'" Hook

"Algernon, the laboratory mouse, plays a crucial role in the story. Explore the symbolism of Algernon and the lessons we can learn from this character about life, intelligence, and empathy."

"The Tragic Arc of Charlie Gordon" Hook

"Charlie's story is one of tragedy and self-discovery. Analyze his character arc, the impact of his intelligence regression, and the themes of acceptance and self-worth."

Popular Flowers for Algernon Essay Topics

  • The Ethical Implications of Intelligence Enhancement in "Flowers for Algernon"
  • Exploring the Human Condition Through Charlie Gordon's Transformation
  • The Role of Memory and Past Experiences in Shaping Identity in "Flowers for Algernon"
  • Charlie Gordon's Transformation: Intelligence, Emotion, & Human Connection
  • The Impact of Social Perception on Self-Worth as Depicted in "Flowers for Algernon"
  • Isolation and Loneliness: Analyzing Charlie Gordon's Relationships Before and After the Experiment
  • The Consequences of Scientific Experimentation on Human Subjects in "Flowers for Algernon"
  • The Transformation of Charlie Gordon in "Flowers for Algernon"
  • The Perception of Intelligence and Happiness in "Flowers for Algernon": A Critical Analysis
  • The Use of First-Person Narrative to Engage Readers in Charlie Gordon's Emotional Journey

Flowers for Algernon: an Analysis

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Flowers for Algernon Character Analysis

A theme of motivation in flowers for algernon by daniel keyes, a review of the book flowers for algernon, analysis of charlie gordon's character in flowers for algernon, let us write you an essay from scratch.

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Intelligence Versus Happiness in Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The impact of intelligence quotation surgery on charlie in flowers for algernon by daniel keyes, the use of negative language to describe mental handicaps in flowers for algernon, the 'flowers for algernon' theme: intelligence and emotion, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

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The Consequences of Technology in Flowers for Algernon, a Short Story by Daniel Keyes

Challenges of being intelligent in daniel keyes’ novel flowers for algernon, analysis of charlie's dreams in flowers for algernon.

April 1959, Daniel Keyes

Short story, Novel, Science Fiction, Epistolary Novel, Psychological Fiction

Charlie Gordon, Alice Kinnian, Professor Harold Nemur, Burt Selden, Burt Selden, Algernon, Fay Lillman, Rose Gordon, Matt Gordon, Norma Gordon, Uncle Herman, Mr. Donner, Frank Reilly and Joe Carp, Gimpy, Fanny Birden, Dr. Guarino, Hilda, Minnie, Meyer Klaus

The inspiration for "Flowers for Algernon" can be traced to the author's observations and experiences working with intellectually disabled individuals. Keyes delves into the complexities of human intelligence and the impact of artificially enhancing or altering it. The novel raises thought-provoking questions about the nature of intelligence, the ethics of scientific experimentation, and the societal treatment of individuals with disabilities. Through the character of Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental procedure to increase his intelligence, the story explores the themes of self-awareness, identity, and the consequences of knowledge. It delves into the emotional journey of Charlie as he grapples with newfound intelligence and the subsequent isolation and alienation he experiences.

"Flowers for Algernon" follows the life of Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who works as a janitor and longs for intelligence. He becomes the subject of a groundbreaking experiment conducted by scientists Dr. Nemur and Dr. Strauss. The experiment involves a surgical procedure to enhance Charlie's intelligence. As Charlie's intelligence begins to rapidly increase, he undergoes a profound transformation. He surpasses the intellectual abilities of those around him, becomes highly intelligent, and starts to uncover the complexities of the world. He forms deep connections with his teacher, Miss Kinnian, and Algernon, a laboratory mouse who had previously undergone the same experimental procedure. However, Charlie's newfound intelligence comes with a price. He becomes aware of the mistreatment he faced in the past, the shallow nature of some relationships, and the loneliness that accompanies his superior intellect. As Algernon's intelligence begins to decline, Charlie realizes that the same fate awaits him. Eventually, Charlie's intelligence regresses, and he returns to his previous state of mental disability. He reflects on his experiences, the lessons he has learned, and the fleeting nature of his intelligence. The story ends with Charlie understanding the importance of love, compassion, and the acceptance of one's own limitations.

"Flowers for Algernon" is set in New York City during the mid-20th century. The story primarily takes place in a scientific research facility where the experiment to increase human intelligence is conducted. The laboratory becomes a central setting, symbolizing the pursuit of knowledge and the boundaries of human potential. Beyond the laboratory, the story explores different facets of the city. Charlie's workplace, a bakery, represents his initial world of simplicity and routine. As his intelligence expands, Charlie navigates through various environments, including the university where he attends classes and interacts with other intellectuals. The urban setting of New York City reflects the fast-paced nature of Charlie's transformation and the bustling backdrop against which his personal journey unfolds. The contrasting landscapes of the city, from the bustling streets to the sterile laboratory, serve as a backdrop for Charlie's emotional and intellectual growth.

One central theme is the power and limitations of intelligence. The story delves into the ethical implications of artificially enhancing intelligence and raises questions about the impact of knowledge on personal identity and relationships. It examines the inherent human desire for intellectual growth and the consequences of realizing that desire. Another theme is the quest for acceptance and belonging. The protagonist, Charlie, experiences rejection and isolation due to his intellectual disability. As his intelligence increases, he faces new challenges in fitting into society and forming meaningful connections. The story highlights the importance of empathy, understanding, and embracing diversity. Additionally, "Flowers for Algernon" explores the fragility of human life and the inevitability of change. Charlie's journey from innocence to knowledge, and ultimately his regression, raises existential questions about the nature of existence and the fleeting nature of human experiences.

One prominent device is the use of first-person narrative. The story is presented through Charlie's perspective, allowing readers to intimately experience his journey and empathize with his emotions. This narrative choice immerses readers in Charlie's thoughts, capturing the essence of his transformation and the challenges he faces. Another literary device employed is symbolism. Algernon, the lab mouse, serves as a powerful symbol of intelligence and progress. Algernon's experiences mirror Charlie's own trajectory, symbolizing the potential and risks associated with artificial intelligence and human enhancement. Algernon's fate also foreshadows Charlie's eventual regression, emphasizing the fleeting nature of knowledge and the transience of human achievements. Additionally, the author employs foreshadowing to create anticipation and tension in the story. The early hints and glimpses of Charlie's future progression and eventual decline build suspense and engage readers emotionally. This technique deepens the impact of the narrative and underscores the story's themes of human limitation and the consequences of seeking knowledge.

"Flowers for Algernon" has been represented in various forms of media, including stage adaptations, film, and television. One notable adaptation is the 1968 film titled "Charly," directed by Ralph Nelson and starring Cliff Robertson in the lead role. The film received critical acclaim and earned Robertson an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Charlie Gordon. It successfully captured the emotional journey of the protagonist and the ethical dilemmas surrounding intelligence enhancement. In addition, the story has been adapted for the stage, with productions that have brought the thought-provoking narrative to live audiences. These adaptations often employ visual and auditory techniques to depict Charlie's transformation and the subsequent challenges he faces, highlighting the impact of his changing intelligence on his relationships and personal growth. Furthermore, "Flowers for Algernon" has been referenced and alluded to in various literary works, films, and television shows as a representation of the ethical and moral implications of scientific advancements and the nature of human intelligence. Its themes of empathy, identity, and the pursuit of knowledge continue to resonate with audiences, making it a source of inspiration and discussion in contemporary media.

The impact of "Flowers for Algernon" can be seen in the way it has inspired other authors and artists to explore similar themes in their own works. The narrative's exploration of the human mind and its fragility has influenced writers in the science fiction genre, as well as those interested in psychology and the nature of intelligence. Additionally, the novel has had a lasting influence on ethical debates surrounding scientific advancements, particularly in the field of cognitive enhancement and the treatment of individuals with intellectual disabilities. It prompts discussions on the ethics of manipulating intelligence and the importance of empathy and understanding in society. Furthermore, the character of Charlie Gordon and his journey from innocence to enlightenment has become an iconic figure, representing the quest for knowledge and personal growth. The novel's exploration of the human experience and the universal longing for acceptance and understanding has touched readers and contributed to its enduring influence.

1. "Flowers for Algernon" received widespread acclaim and recognition, winning the prestigious Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966 and later the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. 2. "Flowers for Algernon" has been adapted into various forms of media, further solidifying its impact. In 1968, it was adapted into a stage play, and in 2000, it was made into a film titled "Charlie." These adaptations bring the story to new audiences and provide alternative interpretations of the narrative.

Flowers for Algernon, written by Daniel Keyes, is a profoundly impactful and thought-provoking novel that delves into the complexities of human intelligence, identity, and the moral implications of scientific advancement. Exploring themes of empathy, ethics, and the meaning of intelligence, this novel offers rich material for insightful essays. One reason why Flowers for Algernon is important to write an essay about is its exploration of the human condition. The transformation of the main character, Charlie Gordon, from a mentally disabled individual to a highly intelligent being raises questions about the nature of intelligence and its effects on personal relationships and societal dynamics. Furthermore, the ethical considerations surrounding the treatment of Charlie and the experiment conducted on him provide fertile ground for ethical analysis. The novel prompts discussions about the limits of scientific progress and the responsibility of society towards individuals who may be considered different or disadvantaged. Moreover, Flowers for Algernon prompts readers to reflect on the themes of empathy and understanding. It challenges the reader to examine their own attitudes towards intelligence, disability, and the value we place on different forms of human experience.

"I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone." "I'm afraid. Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been." "I don’t think it’s right to experiment on animals, and I don’t think it’s right to experiment on people unless they want to be a part of it." "Please, Miss Kinnian, if you don't want me to talk no more in your class, I won't." "I want to be smart. I want to be like other people. I want to read and understand important books. I want to be able to write them myself. I want to be able to talk to people and have them understand me, really understand what I mean."

1. Keyes, D. (1966). Flowers for Algernon. Harcourt, Brace & World. 2. Kurdi, V. (2017). Intelligence and disability in "Flowers for Algernon." Journal of Literary Studies, 33(3), 81-98. 3. Lachmann, R. (2014). Reading "Flowers for Algernon" through Deleuze and Guattari: The becoming-intense of the disabled subject. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, 8(1), 1-15. 4. LeClair, T. (1990). Irony and "aesthetic distance" in Flowers for Algernon. Journal of Modern Literature, 17(2), 161-170. 5. Lutz, D. (2000). "And Charly discovered a lot of people had hearts like flowers for Algernon.": Mental disability and human identity in Daniel Keyes' novel and film adaptation. Journal of Literary Studies, 16(3-4), 346-363. 6. Manju, A. (2014). Psychological analysis of Charlie Gordon's character development in Flowers for Algernon. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 4(7), 266-270. 7. Pollack, C. M. (1999). Analyzing irony in "Flowers for Algernon". The English Journal, 88(6), 70-74. 8. Ransdell, J. (2012). Ethics and Eugenics in "Flowers for Algernon". In B. Huss (Ed.), Ethics and Neurodiversity (pp. 125-136). Palgrave Macmillan. 9. Rummel, K. (2013). Charlie's brain: Ethics and identity in Flowers for Algernon. Journal of Narrative Theory, 43(1), 30-50. 10. Seiler, S. J. (2000). The dark side of the good: The betrayal of Charlie Gordon in Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon". Papers on Language & Literature, 36(4), 385-403.

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thesis for flowers for algernon

Flowers for Algernon

By daniel keyes.

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thesis for flowers for algernon

Watch the illustrated video of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon, written by Daniel Keyes, follows a man, Charlie, and a mouse, Algernon whose IQs have been artificially increased. Originally published as a short story, Flowers for Algernon was inspired by several events in Keyes’ life, including his experience teaching English to developmentally disabled students.

In a series of progress reports, Charlie Gordon, an ambitious, developmentally disabled 32-year-old, chronicles his candidacy for an experimental operation, led by Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur, that would allegedly “make him smart.” Burt, a graduate student working on the experiment, introduces Charlie to another participant: a white mouse named Algernon who completes a maze in record time. Charlie races against Algernon, completing the same maze on a piece of paper, and Algernon wins. Charlie is selected for the experiment and his operation goes smoothly, but he’s frustrated when he's not immediately brilliant.

After some time off for his operation, Charlie returns to the bakery where he works as a janitor. With the help of a TV-like machine that Nemur and Strauss tell him to turn on while he sleeps, Charlie begins to learn and remember things from his childhood, and he finally beats Algernon in a maze race. Charlie’s bakery co-workers, Frank and Joe, try to play a trick on him, but it backfires, and Charlie gets promoted instead. Charlie begins to understand that his so-called friends at the bakery are making fun of him.

Charlie initially learned about the experiment through Alice Kinnian, who teaches a class at Beekman for developmentally disabled adults that Charlie used to attend. Charlie now invites Alice to a movie and dinner and confesses his feelings for her, but she rebuffs him, saying it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be together… for now. After realizing a bakery co-worker is stealing, Charlie approaches Alice again, asking for her advice and this time saying that he loves her. She agrees to go on a date with Charlie and he tries to kiss her, but he pulls back when he thinks he sees a boy watching them. Charlie gets fired from the bakery because his sudden intelligence has spooked his co-workers, and he feels alone.

The research team presents their findings at a convention, revealing that at the peak of Algernon’s intelligence, his behavior became erratic. Charlie, now more intelligent than the scientists, realizes that they missed something, and he may not have as much time as he thought. He also finds the conference demeaning, especially Nemur’s continued implication that he did not think of Charlie as a human being before the operation. Charlie releases Algernon from his cage and, after a conference-wide search for the mouse, stows Algernon away in his pocket and heads back to New York in secret.

Charlie visits his father, Matt, at the barbershop where he works. Charlie looks forward to reconnecting, but when he arrives at the barbershop, his father, who hadn’t seen him since he was a child, doesn’t recognize him. Charlie decides not to reveal his identity, afraid his father will resent his newfound intelligence, like others have.

Charlie rents a new apartment so the research team can’t find him and gets close with Fay, his across-the-hall neighbor. Fay brings over a female mouse companion for Algernon and a bottle of gin for Charlie, and she and Charlie get drunk together. The next morning, Fay explains that, when he was drunk, Charlie put on what she calls “a moron act,” and Charlie realizes his pre-surgery self is still with him. After a night out alone in the town where he sees a developmentally disabled boy get mocked, Charlie vows to worry less about himself and focus more on helping others.

Charlie visits Alice at her apartment and she’s thrilled to see him. He tries to make love to her, this time imagining that she’s Fay, but the old Charlie – the same boy he hallucinated the last time he tried to kiss Alice – won’t let him. Charlie buys some gin, goes home, and successfully sleeps with Fay.

After seeing signs that Algernon is deteriorating, Charlie returns to the lab and gives Algernon back to Nemur, Strauss, and Burt. The funders of the experiment, The Welberg Foundation, have authorized Charlie to conduct his own research and Nemur reluctantly shares the lab’s resources. Charlie notices the incinerator used to dispose of failed lab subjects and makes Burt promise that if the worst should happen to Algernon, they’ll give him to Charlie to keep, rather than disposing of him in this way. Charlie wonders about contingency plans for himself, should he regress. Nemur explains that the Foundation has arranged to send him to the Warren State Home, an institution dedicated to caring for developmentally disabled people, if it comes to that.

Charlie realizes the flaw in the experiment and writes a paper about it, naming it the Algernon-Gordon effect. Artificially-induced intelligence deteriorates at a rate of time directly proportional to the quantity of the increase – meaning the more you increase your intelligence, the quicker you’ll lose it. He sends Nemur his findings and prepares for his own regression. Algernon dies and Charlie takes him home and buries him in his backyard.

Understanding how little time he has left, Charlie seeks out his mother, Rose, who is only able to recognize him on and off because she now has dementia. Charlie’s sister, Norma, comes home during Charlie’s visit and is amazed with his intelligence. They discuss their past and Charlie decides not to share that he’ll soon regress. In a scene reminiscent of Charlie’s final night at home as a child, his mother jumps up and threatens her son with a knife, warning him not to touch his sister.

After an out of body experience during a therapy session with Strauss, and a particularly bad series of tests with Burt, Charlie decides he won’t be going back to the lab anymore. Alice comes to visit Charlie at his apartment – they sleep together and decide to be together as long as they can. After Alice lives with him for some time, Charlie deteriorates more, and he asks Alice to leave.

Charlie gets his old bakery job back and a new employee pulls a mean trick on him, but the coworkers who used to tease Charlie come to his defense. Charlie mistakenly attends Alice’s class, forgetting he’s no longer a student there, and the extent of his regression upsets her. He decides to commit himself to Warren State Home. The last thing he asks is that people continue to put flowers on Algernon’s grave.

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Flowers for Algernon Questions and Answers

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Flowers for algernon

Charlie dislikes being pitied. He was once "smart" and now he is no longer. He does not want to be around people's condescending judgments of him any longer. Sad and disillusioned, Charlie feels that he needs normal, familiar surroundings, so he...

Emotional is to rational as physical is to?

Study Guide for Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon study guide contains a biography of Daniel Keyes, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.

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Essays for Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

  • Language, Shame, and Charlie Gordon
  • Freedom of Choice in Human Engineering: Charlie's Lack of Autonomy in 'Flowers for Algernon'
  • The Use of Point of View to Promote Estrangement in “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang and “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes

Lesson Plan for Flowers for Algernon

  • About the Author
  • Study Objectives
  • Common Core Standards
  • Introduction to Flowers for Algernon
  • Relationship to Other Books
  • Bringing in Technology
  • Notes to the Teacher
  • Related Links
  • Flowers for Algernon Bibliography

Wikipedia Entries for Flowers for Algernon

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California Today

California’s Fast-Food Workers Just Got a Pay Bump

They now must be paid at least $20 an hour, near the top of what minimum-wage earners make anywhere in the country.

Soumya Karlamangla

By Soumya Karlamangla

A man in a black shirt, blue jeans, a brown knit cap and a black mask mops a red-and-white-checkered floor in a restaurant.

Wages went up today for roughly half a million of the lowest-paid Californians.

In the fall, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a bump up in the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 an hour, significantly above the general statewide minimum of $16 an hour.

The law takes effect today, propelling California fast-food workers to near the top of what minimum-wage earners make anywhere in the country, second only to the $20.29 -an-hour minimum for many employees in Tukwila, Wash., a small city outside Seattle.

Though there have been questions about exceptions for some workers , California’s new law generally applies to fast-food locations in the state that are part of chains with more than 60 locations nationwide.

My colleague Kurtis Lee wrote about the winners and losers under the law, which supporters hope will be replicated nationwide: “To backers, it is a step toward fair compensation for low-wage workers who faced significant risk during the pandemic. To opponents, it is a cataclysmic move that will raise food prices, lead to job losses and force some franchisees to consider closing.”

Read Kurtis’s full article on how the law is affecting workers and employers.

The fast-food workers’ minimum-pay bump was approved last year along with another law that will raise the minimum wage for all health care workers in California to $25 an hour by 2029. Those two laws were California’s first statewide minimums for specific economic sectors, and experts say they are a testament to both the high cost of living in California and the current popularity of organized labor.

California’s current overall minimum wage, which increased to $16 from $15.50 on Jan. 1, already exceeded that in most other states — only Washington State’s and the District of Columbia’s are higher . Californians will vote in November on whether to push it up more , to $18 an hour.

There are dozens of cities and counties in California with higher local minimums. The highest in the state is West Hollywood ’s, at $19.08 an hour. Mountain View, Emeryville, Sunnyvale, Berkeley and San Francisco, which all require at least $18 and change, are next on the list.

If you read one story, make it this

Why school absences have exploded almost everywhere.

The rest of the news

An Israeli couple who made a name for themselves as well as a fortune in the tech industry were killed when their plane crashed on approach to Truckee Tahoe Airport over the weekend, The Guardian reports.

A San Francisco lawmaker wants California to give workers the right to brush off business calls after hours .

Southern California

Los Angeles recorded two to four inches of rain as of yesterday morning. Parts of Santa Barbara County got more than six inches of rain, the National Weather Service said.

Northern California

The city of Oakland is asking the A’s to sign a five-year lease extension on the Oakland Coliseum, with an opt-out after the third year and an average annual rent of $19.4 million, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

After a lush winter, flowers are in bloom across California. Send us your best photos of the glorious springtime display to [email protected] , and we may publish them in the newsletter. Please include your full name and the city in which you live.

And before you go, some good news

A new women’s sports bar is scheduled to open in Long Beach in the next few months, part of a growing network of sports bars in the country that primarily show women’s sports, LAist reports.

The bar, called Watch Me, is the passion project of Jax Diener and her wife, Emme Eddy, who say they have dreamed for years about opening a bar that has an inclusive environment and shows women’s sporting events.

The bar will feature food options for all dietary restrictions and already has partnerships lined up with local teams, including the Los Angeles women’s soccer team Angel City F.C. and the women’s basketball team L.A. Sparks. It will also, of course, have games around the clock to satisfy Southern California’s die-hard women’s sports fans.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword .

Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected] .

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox .

Soumya Karlamangla reports on California news and culture and is based in San Francisco. She writes the California Today newsletter. More about Soumya Karlamangla


  1. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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  1. Flowers For Algernon

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  5. Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 17

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  1. Analysis of Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon

    By NASRULLAH MAMBROL on May 24, 2021. "Flowers for Algernon," first published in 1959, is considered a landmark work in both science fiction and disability literature. It was expanded into a novel of the same name, which was published in 1966. Both the short story and the novel consist of a series of progress reports that track Charlie ...

  2. Flowers for Algernon: Study Guide

    Overview. "Flowers for Algernon" is a science fiction short story by Daniel Keyes that was first published in 1959. The novel is presented as a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental procedure to increase his intelligence. The story explores themes of intelligence ...

  3. Flowers for Algernon: Suggested Essay Topics

    3. Does the novel make a definitive statement about the role of intelligence in human life, or does it simply explore this idea as an open-ended question? 4. Compare and contrast the characters of Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss. How do their reactions to Charlie's intelligence differ?

  4. Flowers for Algernon Theme Analysis

    Conclusion: "Flowers For Algernon" is a profound exploration of the complexities of human intelligence, identity, and the human condition. Through Charlie Gordon's journey, readers are challenged to question the true nature of intelligence, the sacrifices made in its pursuit, and the impact it has on personal relationships and self-perception.

  5. "Flowers for Algernon" Thesis Statements

    Watch Mrs. Barrett review seven different thesis statements for this question: "Does Charlie benefit from his brain surgery?" Also, ignore the video is verti...

  6. Flowers for Algernon: Mini Essays

    Throughout the novel, Charlie's gradually recovered memories of childhood tell a story that parallels the story that unfolds over the course of the experiment. As Charlie struggles to become emotionally independent and tries to form a deep bond with Alice, his memories shed light—for him and for us—on why this development is so difficult ...

  7. Flowers for Algernon Critical Essays

    PDF Cite. Although protagonist Charlie Gordon is an adult, Flowers for Algernon is a coming-of-age story with which both children and adults readily identify. As his intelligence increases, he ...

  8. Flowers for Algernon Study Guide

    Flowers for Algernon was originally published as a short story in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction, the highest prize for a short story in the science fiction field. Keyes says that the story was inspired by the experiences he had teaching English to special needs students, with a particular incident taking place in 1957.

  9. Themes in Flowers for Algernon

    Another theme that is essential to Flowers for Algernon is one of friendship. This theme encompasses all aspects of friendship: expectations, perceptions, and the importance of it. Charlie's friends at the bakery — Gimpy, Frank, and Joe — are the ideal studies in the perception of friendship. Before the surgery, these men were Charlie's ...

  10. Flowers for Algernon Essays and Criticism

    Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, like Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, is a powerful story of alienation, of an individual who is at odds with his society and who ...

  11. Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Flowers for Algernon

    After the short story "Flowers for Algernon" received a Hugo Award in 1960, the tale of Charlie Gordon was embraced by a wide mainstream audience. In the early 1960's, a television ...

  12. Flowers for Algernon: an Analysis

    The novel "Flowers for Algernon" written by Daniel Keyes, explores questions about intelligence and identity through the story of Charlie Gordon. Gordon is a cognitive developmentally delayed man who experiences a cognitive surgery to become a genius; the novel provides a unique perspective on how human relationships are influenced by ...

  13. Flowers for Algernon

    Introduction to Flowers for Algernon. Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction written by Daniel Keyes, evolved from a short story of the same title the author penned in 1959. Hugo won an award for the same, encouraging him to expand it into a novel under the same title. The novel was published in 1966, proved an instant hit and won another award for the author, the Nebula Award.

  14. Flowers For Algernon Summary and Study Guide

    Daniel Keyes's science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon (1966) is the story of a man's journey from having an intellectual disability to gaining extraordinary intelligence—and his regression when an experimental procedure to "correct" his disability goes wrong. Keyes first published a short story titled "Flowers for Algernon" in 1959, which won the Hugo Award for best science ...

  15. Flowers for Algernon Themes

    In Flowers for Algernon, Keyes establishes a tradeoff between intelligence and happiness, and at the same time makes a different point about the relationship between intelligence and wisdom.By the novel's midpoint Charlie Gordon is a genius: his brain holds a staggering amount of information about the world. And yet in spite of Charlie's vast knowledge and voracious reading, he finds ...

  16. Flowers for Algernon

    Flowers for Algernon is a short story by American author Daniel Keyes, later expanded by him into a novel and subsequently adapted for film and other media.The short story, written in 1958 and first published in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960. The novel was published in 1966 and was joint winner of that year's ...

  17. Flowers for Algernon Themes

    Essays for Flowers for Algernon. Flowers for Algernon essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Language, Shame, and Charlie Gordon; Freedom of Choice in Human Engineering: Charlie's Lack of Autonomy in 'Flowers for Algernon'

  18. Free Flowers For Algernon Essays and Research Papers on

    2 pages / 752 words. Introduction The novel "Flowers for Algernon" written by Daniel Keyes, explores questions about intelligence and identity through the story of Charlie Gordon. Gordon is a cognitive developmentally delayed man who experiences a cognitive surgery to become a genius; the novel provides a unique perspective on...

  19. What is the theme of Flowers for Algernon?

    One theme of "Flowers for Algernon" is the cruelty in taking advantage of the mentally challenged.Before the surgery, Charlie is a happy man, and he believes that he has friends. Frank Reilly and ...

  20. Thesis For Flowers For Algernon

    Decent Essays. 350 Words. 2 Pages. Open Document. Flowers for Algernon Flowers for Algernon is a story with hope, humor, defeat, sadness, and disappointment. Charlie is your average joe with a mental disability. He writes through a series of journal entries about his journey of coming out of the darkness of ignorance and into the bright light ...

  21. Flowers For Algernon Thesis

    In this thesis/research paper it will talk in favor of the idea of sacrificing one for the many for multiple reasons. This essay will be defending that ideology, with the dialect, and general tone of the story Flowers for Algernon, also including juxtaposition of the given character to real life examples..

  22. Flowers for Algernon Video

    Essays for Flowers for Algernon. Flowers for Algernon essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Language, Shame, and Charlie Gordon; Freedom of Choice in Human Engineering: Charlie's Lack of Autonomy in 'Flowers for Algernon'

  23. Thesis For Flowers For Algernon

    In the story, Flowers for Algernon, Charlie is a grown up man with an IQ of 68. Doctor Nemur and Strauss asked him if he wanted an opportunity to triple his IQ in a few months. However, it can be debated, whether the doctors had the right to perform the surgery on a mentally unstable adult or not.…. 620 Words.

  24. Gloriously Crispy Chicken for Tonight

    Flamboyant displays of fake flowers at restaurants have turned into a maximalist design movement, with one man as a chief trendsetter.. Perloo, a supremely comforting one-pot rice dish, is a ...

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    Amid renewed concerns about his health, Pope Francis presided over Easter Sunday Mass, and with a hoarse but strong voice, he delivered a major annual message that touched on conflicts across the ...

  26. California's Fast-Food Workers Just Got a Pay Bump

    Wages went up today for roughly half a million of the lowest-paid Californians. In the fall, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a bump up in the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 an hour ...