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Flowers for Algernon *SPOILERS*
The masterfully written Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was released in 1959. It is a science fiction story with a beautifully executed emotional plotline. Flowers for Algernon has the power to move the reader to tears through its strong and emotion filled themes. The story is intriguing and stimulates the mind of the reader.
The book follows Charlie Gordon, a simpleton who works in a bakery. His mental disability means that he is the perfect candidate for a new experimental procedure which is designed to help improve brain function and increase IQ. The initial results are promising; a highly successful trial was carried out on Algernon the lab mouse and Charlie is suggested as the first human “guinea pig” for the procedure. Charlie agrees to undergo the operation. As time elapses Charlie becomes more intelligent, learning new languages until he becomes a genius and surpasses the intellect of the scientists who initially performed the experiment on him. This new found intelligence allows Charlie to go out and have new experiences and enjoy his life. Charlie begins to experience poignant new feelings as his intelligence gives him a greater range of emotions and sensitivities. However when Algernon begins to deteriorate Charlie is concerned that it may be a glimpse into his own future. Eventually Algernon dies leaving Charlie alone and afraid of what will happen to him.
Written in first-person as a series of progress reports, the style of writing changes as Charlie progresses, starting with spelling and grammatical errors and becoming more fluid and correct as Charlie develops. As it is from Charlie's point of view, the book really captures his emotions, feelings, hopes and dreams. From his simple life working at a bakery through to when he is a genius, the book follows every step that Charlie takes. What the book is really following though is Charlie's journey to self-discovery and awareness, his struggle to fit into society and his constant attempts to grasp the art of human interactions and social finesse. As Charlie gets closer and closer to achieving these goals the reader too begins to hope that Charlie will succeed. This is because the reader has seen Charlie at his best and worst and they are hoping he can make the most of his newfound opportunities. Charlie's biggest hurdle is definitely his emotions.He struggles to grasp the simplest emotional concepts and when it comes to love he is completely in the dark. After the procedure Charlie falls in love with his former teacher Alice Kinnian, but whenever he is with her he is always awkward and unsure of what to do because he has never been with a woman before. Alice also falls for Charlie, however once he starts to degenerate he feels that he is not worth her love and begins to push her away. Charlie loves Alice but due to his lack of experience and emotional capacity he is unable to show it in a normal way.
After Algernon dies, Charlie is devastated. Not only is it a glimpse into the future for Charlie, but it is also the loss of a friend. As Algernon and Charlie had both undergone the same treatment, Charlie felt a connection to Algernon and because of this Charlie decides to bury Algernon and place flowers on his grave. This represents a turning point for Charlie who then slowly begins to deteriorate in the same way that Algernon did. Charlie's condition slowly becomes worse with his intelligence diminishing and as this happens he becomes more bitter and shut off from everybody else around him. Reading back through the progress reports that he has written Charlie cannot believe that he is the one who wrote them, as they show a level of intelligence that he can no longer grasp.
Flowers for Algernon also brings up ethical concerns, for example; is it right to use human “guinea pigs?” Charlie is subjected to a highly experimental procedure which has not been completely tested. Charlie certainly agreed to undergo the experiment, but in his original state did he even understand the potential ramifications? Did he really make his own decision? It also raises the question of whether or not it is right to change a person's IQ and brain function. Perhaps it is, but this kind of procedure would call for a far longer testing period and a far larger number of lab rats. One mouse would not be enough of a testing sample. To wildly attempt to change a human being's mind without correct testing is highly dangerous and Charlie should never have been allowed to be experimented on. Charlie's ability to make an informed choice is highly questionable.
Flowers for Algernon is a touching story which is well written and which captures the imagination of the reader. The book is a tear-jerker as the reader sees Charlie rise up and experience the greatest time in his life, only for him to have to slowly lose everything from Algernon to Alice to his intelligence. It also makes the viewer question whether or not Charlie would have made the decision if he had known what would happen; would he have carried on as a simpleton, never knowing what he was missing out on, or would he still have taken the risk and experienced the best few months of his life only to have everything taken away from him. Daniel Keyes' first person style also connects the reader to Charlie's character which helps to convey the emotions he experiences. Flowers for Algernon is unforgettable and is well worth reading.