Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon | Progress Report 14 | Summary

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Summary

Charlie Gordon writes that the story of his disappearance with Algernon has made the newspapers. The news stories include information about Charlie's family; this rouses his old feelings of hatred and resentment toward his mother, who withdrew her love after Norma Gordon proved to be the "normal" child she really wanted. Charlie wishes he could make his mother understand how much pain she caused him but decides it is still too soon to visit his mother. That will come later.

Charlie gets an apartment in New York; in Algernon's room Charlie builds a maze, which Algernon "appears to learn for the sake of solving the problem." Charlie meets his neighbor Fay Lillman; they become friends, and Fay gives Algernon a female mouse, Minnie, for company. Fay tells Charlie he acted strange when he was drunk and describes his behavior, asking for peanuts and dancing; Charlie recognizes "the old Charlie Gordon hidden deep in my mind" who "was ... watching and waiting."

Charlie goes to visit his father, Matt Gordon, who does not recognize him. The visit triggers a memory of Charlie's final night at home, when his mother argued, "we can't destroy [Norma's] chance for a normal life because of [Charlie]." Although Charlie realizes Matt is the father of "another Charlie," he still wants his father's approval.

At a restaurant, Charlie sees a waiter with intellectual disability break some dishes, and the owner yells at him. Charlie is amused at first but quickly becomes angry and yells, "He can't help what he is." Charlie then decides to use his intelligence to help others by asking the Welberg Foundation about doing his own research. He feels a sense of urgency because he doesn't know how much longer his intelligence will last.

He contacts Alice Kinnian and tells her another aspect of Charlie Gordon is watching him and responsible for his inability to make love to her; preoperative Charlie is still a part of him. He tries to have sex with Alice while imagining Fay, but he can't. Instead, he goes home and has sex with Fay during which he pictures himself watching them through the window. He tells the younger Charlie outside the window of Fay's apartment, "Go ahead—you poor bastard. Watch." Charlie and Fay go out dancing frequently, and on one night preoperative Charlie "[makes] his appearance" when he is drunk, tap dancing on a stage. The line between himself and his younger self is blurred as he realizes "the old Charlie can't be destroyed. He exists ... in me and around me."

Algernon's behavior becomes unpredictable and urgent. He bites Fay and viciously attacks the female mouse.

Analysis

Suspense and foreshadowing heighten tension as the story begins to near its climax. Charlie Gordon feels increasingly anxious to learn more about the experiment's flaw and contribute something to the field of human intelligence. Even Algernon exhibits "a strange sense of urgency in his behavior." Yet Charlie seems to waste time by partying with Fay Lillman and having an "anti-intellectual binge." Meanwhile, Algernon's increasingly erratic and violent behavior foreshadows Charlie's fate. After Algernon attacks his female companion, readers are left to wonder what is wrong with Algernon and whether it's related to the surgery; if so, is something similar in store for Charlie?

In this significant report, Charlie demonstrates growth in two ways. At the height of his intelligence, he decides to help others rather than focus solely on understanding himself. He is no longer motivated by figuring out his personal story. He comes to the conclusion that he is uniquely suited to the work because he has "lived in both worlds." Second, whereas Charlie had previously disassociated from his younger, preoperative self, by the end of the report, the two begin to become somewhat integrated. Charlie is able to overcome the sexual anxiety created by years of negative conditioning from his abusive mother when he accepts that preoperative Charlie will be "watching" him in some sense he cannot control because they both 'belong'. This is different from the distinct two selves readers have seen before, as when he spoke of his father, Matt Gordon, as "another Charlie's" father. By the end of the report, the two Charlies begin to integrate.

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