Flowers for Algernon is brilliantly written novel by Daniel Keyes. The story first come up as a short story published in a magazine and won the Hugo Award for best short story. Eventually the author expanded it into a full-length novel. It also hits the film, television, stage play & radio drama.
Quite often I get frustrated reading books written as if they’re actually someone’s diary, but with this book it worked out perfectly. The author weaves a perfect story, through the eyes of the main character Charlie Gordon. Charlie Gordon is a mentally challenged person but extremely motivated student. When an opportunity arise to undergo an experimental surgery as part of a neuro-psychological study to artificially increase intelligence, he happily signs on. He can’t wait to become smart. After that surgery, his intelligence quotient increased so fast, and about 8 months later he became a genius with an IQ of 180. When the most successful animal test subject, a little white mouse named Algernon, suddenly begins to experience severe adverse affects to the experimentation, Charlie is forced to accept the fact that his new-found brilliance might not be permanent, while fighting through an emotional immaturity that doesn’t go away as his I.Q. rises.
The structure of the novel was the most compelling tool of making Charlie sympathetic. The way it was written in a diary-like “progress reports” made the transformation of Charlie’s character especially powerful. It really helped me to get into his feelings and what was really going on with him in his world. The intentional use of poor grammar, lack of punctuation and atrocious spelling in the beginning is brilliant. It makes me able to see the progress that Charlie makes.
The writing style was fluid and engaging. The way the author describes the story makes me feel like I was actually there. I found myself believing that this was a real person and a real experiment. Charlie’s development is fascinating, depressing and real all at the same time. I feel emotionally attached in this book. I found myself hurting when he was hurt, being embarrassed when he was embarrassed, and feeling frustrated when he did. It’s ironic how he has learned so much but still couldn’t understand. I find myself entirely sympathetic to Charlie and wanting desperately for him to be able to find his balance. It’s easy to get surprisingly attached to Charlie and suffer with him while he suffers and grieves. I don’t think this novel could have been written better. It was perfect to me with its sadness and loss. It is sad and uplifting at the same time.
This is a wonderful book and it will definitely keep readers thinking back to it long after they finished the story.
Here are some of the ideas that are presents in the story:
- Men playing God through science.
Should we alter aspects of other humans if we have the scientific capacity to do so? Like Frankenstein, this story tells us that trying to play God will even make things worse. Sometimes we have to accept what God gave to us. We should learn how to really appreciate what we have in life.
- Mistreatment of the mentally challenged persons and Labeling People
The story is a sharp rebuke of the way that the mentally challenged are treated in our society. How harshly the world judges everyone. In the book, Professor Nemur constantly looked at Charlie as a problem to be fixed. Someone who couldn’t participate in society. Someone who was so handicapped that his quality of life meant so little. He didn’t look at Charlie as another human being. That Charlie too was living and breathing and had thoughts and feelings no matter how basic it is. We should be reminded that every human being is important no matter what their limitations are. The point of Flowers for Algernon isn’t the technology that lets Charlie become more intelligent but rather how people react to him, both before and afterwards of his operations.
- Is it better to know everything or remain naive and happy?
The book presents both sides of the argument beautifully, it really makes one think about what things in life are the most important? I could relate with Charlie in many ways. I always feel the need to be smart. During my school years I always want to show how good I am in class. I understand how the little child in us always needs to get our parents’ approval. Look at me! I am smart! I am somebody! But I come to understand that intelligence is not everything.
Flowers For Algernon is one rare book. A kind of book that proves that it doesn’t need a very complicated architecture to achieve a high level of sensitivity. It is wonderful, enlightening, thought-provoking, heart-breaking, powerful and moving. I just cannot rate this book highly enough. Flowers For Algernon is insanely well written. The book is one of the deepest works of fiction I’ve ever read. This will go down as one of my favorites. I would highly recommend this book.
“.. Miss Kinnian says dont worry spelling is not suppose to make sence.”
“The more intelligent you become the more problems you’ll have.”
“Now I understand one of the important reasons for going to college and getting an education is to learn that the things you’ve believed in all your life aren’t true, and that nothing is what it appears to be.”
“I’m like a man who’s been half-asleep all his life, trying to find out what he was like before he woke up.”
“But I’ve learned that intelligence alone doesn’t mean a damned thing.'”
“They had pretended to be geniuses. But they were just ordinary men working blindly, pretending to be able to bring light into the darkness. Why is it that everyone lies? No one I know is what he appears to be.”
“I passed your floor on the way up, and now I’m passing it on the way down, and I don’t think I’ll be taking this elevator again.”
“Why am I always looking at life through a window?”