Flowers For Algernon Summary

Daniel Keyes

Flowers For Algernon

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Flowers For Algernon Summary

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Flowers For Algernon is the heartbreaking story of a man’s journey from a nearly helpless state of mental incapacitation to one of the most intelligent men in the world and back again. It was written by Daniel Keyes first as a short story in 1958 and then as a full-length novel in 1966.

Charlie Gordon is a thirty-two-year-old man with a severe mental handicap resulting in an IQ of 68. He works a menial job that his uncle found for him at a bakery so he wouldn’t have to be in a state institution. He spends his days working, and at night, he attends reading and writing classes at Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. His teacher is Alice Kinnian, a kind woman whom Charlie is fond of.

When the opportunity arises for a pupil of the school to undergo a surgery that could vastly improve intelligence, Charlie is chosen. The surgery dramatically improves his IQ to 185. However, the higher his intelligence, the worse his relationships become. He finds that the complicated nature of people is more apparent now that he is more intelligent.

His coworkers are scared and resentful. He confronts the scientists for treating him like a lab rat. All the while, he cares for and records the progress of a rat named Algernon that was the first test subject of the surgery.

Charlie discovers a fatal flaw in the procedure, and his theory is proven correct as, over time, Algernon begins behaving erratically. After some time, Algernon loses all the gains made in his intelligence, and he eventually dies.

The same begins to happen to Charlie. He loses some of his more extraordinary abilities at first, but over time, regresses back to his former self. Although he is now back to where he started, he remembers being a genius and cannot bear for the people around him to feel sorry for him. He decides to live in a state-sponsored home where no one knows about his operation. He writes a final postscript to his records of Algernon. It is ostensibly addressed to Alice, and he asks her to put flowers on the grave of Algernon in his former backyard.

The writing style of the novel is particularly important to the story. It is written as a series of letters and progress reports from Charlie himself, and in the beginning, the writings are elementary and full of spelling and grammatical errors. As Charlie’s intelligence increases, these errors disappear into a fluid, intelligent, and complex form of writing. As the surgery wears off and Charlie begins to lose his intelligence gains, the errors appear, and the writing simplifies until it resembles the writing in the beginning pre-surgery.

The main theme of the book is the act of playing God. Just before Charlie undergoes surgery, the nurse tells him that if God wanted him to be smart, he would have made him smart. Throughout the book, Charlie struggles with relationships and the difficulties of a surgery that was supposed to make his life easier.

It turns out that becoming more intelligent doesn’t make Charlie’s life easier. Although he is able to understand things in a way that he never had before, he is subject to the trials of human complexity in a way that he wasn’t able to comprehend previous to his surgery. Rather than making him happy, it causes him to feel lonely and depressed.

Another theme is friendship. In the beginning, the reader recognizes that the men at his work whom Charlie considers his friends are actually making fun of him, but Charlie doesn’t recognize this until he progresses in intelligence. Although the friendship ends during that time, when Charlie regresses again, it is actually these men that accept him back rather than being upset.

Another of Charlie’s friends is the mouse, Algernon. The mouse’s friendship is unconditional, and Charlie is able to see echoes of his own path in Algernon’s. The turning point in the novel is Algernon’s regression and death, and we are able to see the end path for Charlie.

Charlie expects that his increase in intelligence will please those around him, allowing him to make more friends, but the opposite turns out to be true. As Charlie’s intelligence grows, he becomes like those who condescend to those of less intelligence, and this awareness renders him even more incapable of making friends.

Overall, the novel is a heartbreaking testament to how we treat those who are different from us, and our tendency to reduce people of lesser intelligence to something subhuman. It is a touching story that reminds us of what is important. Instead of intelligence or accomplishment, it is our connection to others that accept us for who we are that is the ultimate lesson of the novel.