When brain surgery makes a mouse into a genius, dull-witted Charlie Gordon wonders if it might also work for him. With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance, until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie? An American classic that inspired the award-winning movie Charly.
Original publication date
Told in the form of progress reports written by Charlie, the reader gets to see and feel the emotions and change of character as the experiment takes hold and Charlie's intelligence increases to that of genius level. How is he affected when he realises those he thought of as friends who were always laughing around him were actually laughing at him and not with him. We get to learn of his childhood as long buried memories rise to the surface and we get to follow along as he builds up new relationships with those around him. How will Charlie cope when Algernon shows signs that the experiment might not be quite so lasting after all and that the same fate may await him?
Not a hard science fiction book but one that examines society's actions to some of its less fortunate members and the psychological effects on the test subject himself. This is a well-crafted story that tugs at the emotional heart-strings and if you don't want to be seen blubbering in public then make sure you read the end while you are safely ensconced in a private place.
This is an extremely moving story about a man with a low IQ who takes part in experimental surgery and becomes a genius. The operation had previously only been tried on animals and showed especially promising results in a mouse named Algernon.
After some time, however, Algernon begins to behave strangely and to lose most of what he's learned. Tragically, Charlie understands that the same thing will happen to him.
I decided to re-read Flowers for Algernon after all these years because of how much I loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Both books are narrated by the main characters -- an autistic child in Curious Incident, and Charlie himself in Flowers.
Reading Charlie's progress reports carries you along with him on his journey: his burning desire to better himself; his growing intellectual capacity; his increasing understanding of human relationships. Watching Charlie realize that "friends" were actually laughing at him, and that his mother sent him away broke my heart. Watching him struggle to "stay smart" was both sad and inspirational.
The book tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a 32 year old who is 'retarded' (a word I dislike but this is 1966, its language of its time and fits the book's era) with an IQ of 68. Charlie is recruited into an experiment which aims to increase his intelligence to that of a genius. The 'Algernon' named in the title, and whom the flowers are for, is a white mouse who has undergone the experiment prior to Charlie.
The story is told from Charlies' perspective in the form of 'Progress Reports'. He has to complete these as part of the experiment in order that any changes in his intellectual development are documented and evidenced. An exert of the first progress report shows us where Charlie begins the experiment;
"progris riport 1 martch 3
My name is Charlie Gordon I werk in Donners bakery where Mr Donner gives me 11 dollers a week and bred or cake if I want. I am 32 yeres old and next munth is my brithday. I tolld Dr Strauss and perfesser Nemur I cant rite good but he says it dont matter he says I shud rite like I talk.....Dr Strauss says to rite a lot evrything I think and everything that happins to me but I can't think anymor because I have nothing to rite so I will close for today...." (p.1).
Over the months we become privy to his observations, deepest thoughts and emotions as he looks back on his childhood and recent life with an ever-changing outlook and increasing intelligence. Situations, events, family and friends are all seen through new eyes and at times these observations are incredibly moving. As the reports progress, we witness not only his spelling and grammar improve, but also his thought processes and observations;
"Progress Report 13
....I have thought about death often in recent weeks, but not really about God. My mother took me to church occasionally - but I don't recall ever connecting that up with the thought of God. She mentioned Him quite often, and I had to pray to Him at night, but I never thought much about it. I remember Him as a distant uncle with a long beard on a throne (like Santa Claus in the department store on his big chair...) (p.93).
In Charlie Gordon, the author has managed to develop a character who demands and receives our empathy, understanding and affection. Even at his most obnoxious, the writing is such that we always seek to understand Charlie's motivations and reasoning for speaking and behaving as he does. I believe that the book is more about the way in which society views, or, more accurately, has viewed, a person with a learning disability through the eyes of that person. It is also an emotional study into how a person may react to the possibility of the onset of dementia and how he perceives those around him.
If you have never been interested in the science fiction genre, please don't let the tag put you off. Yes, Flowers for Algernon has won awards for science fiction and yes it is in the SF Masterworks list but ultimately it is a story of humanity and a person struggling to gain acceptance for who he really is not for who others want him to be.
Keyes has done a fabulous job with the voice of Charlie. His character felt very genuine and honest. Also, I'm impressed with Keyes ability to make this story flow and to blend the science fiction with reality. The story of Charlie and Algernon is quite a thought provoker; therefore, making this a great choice for discussion groups. (4/5)
Originally posted on: "Thoughts of Joy...
The novel is told through Charlie Gordon’s progress reports - so we only have his view of the world and life seen through his eyes. I knew this would be a sad story. The rise and fall of Charlie Gordon (intelligence vice) - but in many ways it’s also a gentle and uplifting story as we follow a process of self-discovery - the descend is actually more “uplifting” than the rise. An exploration of intellectual pride and superiority vs the gentle and naive heart of a retarded - it’s not what you know, but what you are - that seems to be the morale. It’s also a reflection upon the way society treat and look upon people with mentally handicap.
A very good narration by Jeff Woodman.
In case you don’t know what the book is about, here is a brief synopsis. Charlie was a mentally challenged young man who wanted nothing more than to be smarter than he was. He volunteered for an experimental surgery that was supposed to increase his intelligence. The surgery had previously only been done on mice, and Algernon the mouse was the result of an earlier operation. When Charlie saw how Algernon navigated a maze with ease, he was convinced that the operation would be successful.
Charlie’s surgery was also a success, but his ever increasing intelligence caused difficulties in his relationships. His “friends” at work found out very quickly that he was no longer a target for their teasing, to which he had always been oblivious. They were so uncomfortable that they complained to the owner of the bakery he had been working at for years. He was let go.
He tried having relationships with women, but his emotional intelligence had not progressed on the scale of his intellect. The teacher who had taught him for years ultimately ended their budding relationship, because he was so far ahead of her intellectually, she could no longer keep up.
He reached a point at which he understood that his improvement was only temporary. He watched Algernon regress until all his progress was gone. Then Charlie himself began that backward slide.
I was heartbroken to see his realization that the people he thought were his “friends” were being cruel to him all along. Increased awareness and understanding brought him nothing but pain. I was almost thankful at the end when he reached a point of being somewhat stable, even though he may not have been even as intelligent as he was when he started.
I asked myself if he would have truly consented to the surgery if he had known what would happen to him afterwards. Did he actually have capacity to consent?
I don’t know if I was supposed to wish that increasing intelligence was a possibility for people with mental challenges, but I finished the book with a feeling of discomfort that his life was seen on the same level as that of a mouse in the eyes of the people performing the experiment.
It was ultimately a book that raised a lot of questions in my head and heart. There aren’t many answers to be found–just more questions.
Charlie is easy to emphasise with at first, because his emotional life is simple and clear, contentment and anxiety are well-evoked by Keyes. A target for mockery, even friendly mockery, his lack of understanding does nothing to impede its impact upon the reader. Intelligent, frustrated Charlie is less pleasant to know, but the reader is drawn along with the feeling that this is all familiar, and so it is; Charlie is experiencing emotional life, from childhood to adolescence, to adult fear of regression, in a condensed, compressed timeframe. His experiences of sexual love, his growing understanding of his family’s reactions to his mental retardation, his growing intellectual superiority to those who have ‘gifted’ him with this change, all echo the natural progress of life.
There’s a temptation, at the end of this story (once the reader has stopped bawling like a four year-old) to conclude that the message of the book was that endeavouring to ‘better’ Charlie was hubris and resulted in nothing but misery and failure and dead mice. But it’s not the destination in this case, but the journey that is important. There is optimism in the way that Charlie intellectually outstripped those who believed themselves his ‘makers’, and then works for the progress of that scientific field, even in the way he comes to understand his own history. Not going to lie, though, there’s simply no way to feel better about Algernon.
I've watched two different film adaptations of this book: 1968's Charly, starring Cliff Robertson (who won an Academy Award for his performance in the title role), and 2000's Flowers for Algernon, starring Matthew Modine.
Both films opted to make a kinder, gentler version of Daniel Keyes' book.
The book is written as a series of progress reports, and they provide a vivid picture of Charlie's mental and emotional intelligence. The sections in which Charlie was mentally challenged were literally painful for me to read because my eyes simply did not want to translate so many misspelled words. This reaction did surprise me, and I was certainly glad when Charlie's reports began to improve post-surgery.
I think the thing that surprised me the most in a comparison between the book and the movies was Charlie's anger. Post-surgery, Charlie realizes that all his good friends at the bakery, all those guys he had so many laughs with, were really making fun of him all along. Charlie's past has also been hiding some extremely painful episodes. And as his intelligence increases to genius level, he becomes very impatient with everyone around him because they can't keep up. Obviously, the filmmakers decided that much of this (understandable) anger could not be shown because it could jeopardize audience sympathy for the character.
Since the book is written as a series of progress reports, the tone often seems very dispassionate, as if I were being kept at a distance. I'm not sure if I care for this or not. What I do know is that I'm glad I read Daniel Keyes' book. I feel as if I really know Charlie Gordon now, and even though I may have a sentimental preference for the movies, I like him just as much now as I did before. Daniel Keyes created a marvelous character study in which he proves that emotional intelligence is every bit as important as mental intelligence.
I thought this was a sad book. It would have been better if Charlie had stayed the way he was before the operation. I think he was better off that way. He was happier, and sure, he wasn’t as smart as most people, but he was never upset about anything. After the operation, he just became more and more frustrated. I could see how things were upsetting him. The book doesn’t say if Charlie died or lived somewhere else. That’s one thing I didn’t like about the book. I wanted to know what happened to Charlie.
I bawled during the last ten pages or so, sharing his horror and deep sadness that he would soon forget who he was and who he had been. After a few moments of reflection, I began to wonder if the rise and fall of Charlie's intelligence was not overshadowed by his emotional journey. As a "retarded" adult, he was happy just knowing that he made others happy. As a genius, he was miserable in the thought that others were laughing at him. Finally, in the end, he again is able to recognize that happiness comes from making others happy. But he also has the knowledge of himself that he did not have at the beginning of the story.
Is he really better off having experienced the intellectual and emotional journey? Does his achievement of emotional enlightenment at the end balance his descent into intellectual darkness?
I have been drawn to the mental health population for years, although I'm not sure why. Once I learned to get over my own discomfort, I began to realize the value in what these individuals can offer the rest of us. This novel is a great reminder to me that even today, there is still a long way to go before mentally ill or disabled individuals are valued for who they are, not who they may become with treatment. Although I really enjoyed the allusions to Plato's The Cave, Charlie himself was the best teacher. His voice is powerful, sincere, and incredibly human.
I thought that this book was alright this isn't the best book that i have ever read. In the version that i read it didn't really show the realationship between Charly and Miss Kinian at all. In the movie that was one of the main focuses throughout the film. I thought that it was interesting at the beginning that a mouse could beat a human at a maze I guess that proves that animals are a lot smarter than we think that they are sometimes. I liked the things that this book explained about people that didn't know anybetter because they have a lower IQ than most people. When someone made fun of Charly he didn't mind it because he didn't know anybetter at the beginning, but later he realized that they werern't real friends if they treated him like that. In the book one of the people that made fun of him before sticks up for him later on in the book because he knows what Charly has been going through. I think that Charly should stay where he is known by people so they can help him if he needs it and so he doesn't have to start over and try to get a job and a new life in a new city.
Charlie Gordon isn't very smart... he has a severely low IQ and as a product of his time, was often referred to as retarded. His story is told through a series of journal entries (or progress reports) about his life cleaning in a bakery, attending classes for the mentally challenged, and the prospect of an experimental surgery that will make him smart. He's 32 and all he want in life is to be well liked, he figures if he can get smart he will be able to achieve that and so much more. The scientists have already operated successfully on a mouse named Algernon, and they seem fairly confident that the same results will apply to Charlie. He happily allows them to operate on his brain and is initially frustrated because he doesn't perceive anything as happening, but slowly his mind starts expanding and his entries become more and more eloquent and hopeful, until one day ... they aren't hopeful and happy anymore. Groundbreaking and wonderfully believable. Charlie's journey from "dumb" to "smart" is a revelation and brilliantly told. I loved this book even though it made me an emotional wreck.
The best element of the book is that it explores the social consequences of intelligence. Charlie is confused at first by the jealousies and offenses he inadvertently creates. But he also has all of the arrogance and frustration that you see. Having gone to Tech I certainly have seen both in evidence. I learned how to hide my smarts in high school in order to avoid notice, but I also remember being told by my super-intelligent beau that a problem (in quantum mechanics, say) was "trivial". This book elegantly covers it all.
In certain ways the author can't help but fail. How do you describe someone smarter than all the other beings you've ever known? Well, Charlie learns faster and has little patience for ignorance but he doesn't learn or interact in any particularly different ways. Having everything told in first person becomes a problem when he's reached super-intelligence. Inevitably this is an inadequate description, but there's no better way to do it. I understand that this was initially a short story and I almost wish that I had read that instead of the novel. As a concept it just fits a short story or novella. As a novel Keyes gets trapped in trying to explain too much.
Still, this is a good book and I was happy to finally catch up with everyone else who had read it in high school.
I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded with Charlie so eagerly wanting to be smart, then slowly learning all the people he thought were his friends were really just laughing at him and making fun of him, then as further revelations follow the story comes to a rather emotional end where you can't help but feel terribly sorry for Charlie and it really tugs at the heart strings.
Flowers for Algernon is a very emotional story. It's especially sad to see Charlie as his intelligence deteriorates. Though it's sad, it is also very good. It's a very interesting to see life through Charlie's eyes.
Charlie is an "exceptional" man with an I.Q. of 70. He is living independently on the mercy of other people, a bakery owner who loves him as a son after his uncle (who was his primary care taker) dies, and going to school for retarded adults. He is selected to undergo an operation that will, hopefully, more than double his I.Q. and be the first of many mentally disabled adults and children who will be "normalized." The operation has had tremendous success with animal trials including a mouse named Algernon who is used as a parallel throughout the book. The operation is a huge success and charlie's I.Q. is mentioned to have reached 185, though it appears that it may have peaked after this number is mentioned. Charlie is confronted with a new sense of self-awareness and realizes that people make fun of him and it bothers him for the first time in his life. He also becomes aware of the ways in which the scientists remark that he was less than human and of little value to society prior to the surgery causing more than a little animosity between Charlie and the scientists. He also discovers what it is to love someone in a sexual way. Things seem to be continuously trending upward for Charlie when strange behavior displayed by Algernon cause the scientists and Charlie to wonder if he will also begin to deteriorate.
Review: **There are spoilers below**
I didn't have to read this for high school, but every one of my friends had and I only picked it up because my wife wanted me to read it with her. That being said I thought the book was lovely, and really confronted they way that we approach those who struggle with having intellectual and emotional deficits. I had a slew of mixed feelings at the end of this book seeing the progression that Charlie made from his new found self awareness to his struggles being far more intelligent than his peers and even the doctors and scientists who performed his surgery and eventual digression back toward his state before the operation. I want to feel bad for Charlie because he isn't the genius he was, but then am I, like the doctors and psychologists of the book, devaluing Charlie because of this deficit? Charlie even makes the argument in the book that in ways he was better off before having the surgery, he had friends and he loved people and people loved him and now he feels isolated and alone and unable to connect with people on an emotional level. Even now I find it difficult to articulate the way that this book made me feel, mostly because of the internal conflict of thoughts and emotions that I haven't hashed through yet. While this was a very simple read I feel like there was a sense of depth to it that makes it enjoyable for all ages of readers.