Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon | Progress Report 5 | Summary

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Summary

In this progress report, which Charlie Gordon names "progris riport 5 mar 6," Charlie says he learned his sister, Norma, gave consent for the operation, which means he can participate if the scientists accept him. Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur argue about using Charlie. Strauss says Charlie is the best candidate for the experimental surgery because of his strong motivation—a trait shared by Algernon and unusual in someone with such a low IQ (intelligence quotient). Professor Nemur says a drastic change from a low to a high IQ might damage Charlie.

Burt says Charlie is an ideal candidate, citing Alice Kinnian's recommendation and Charlie's own desire to participate, and Strauss emphasizes Charlie's good nature and cooperativeness. Nemur eventually agrees to use Charlie, providing he is made aware of the risks.

Nemur reminds Charlie that the doctors have done the experiment only on animals and don't know how it will affect humans. It might have no effect, it might be temporary, or it might leave him worse off. Charlie claims to have no fear; he says he has his lucky rabbit's foot and has never broken a mirror. Strauss tells Charlie he will be making a contribution to science by participating, regardless of the outcome. Charlie responds with gratitude and promises he will "try awful hard" to be smart after the operation.

Analysis

This report offers the important first direct mention of surgery to increase Charlie Gordon's intelligence. It is unclear whether Charlie understands what this operation will entail—or even what an operation is—but it seems doubtful given that he puzzled over the word "experiment" in the previous progress report. Professor Nemur claims the operation poses no physical danger to Charlie but admits it may leave him in worse condition; if so, he will have to move to the Warren State Home, an institution for the intellectually disabled.

Dr. Strauss, Professor Nemur, and Burt are objectifying Charlie while discussing whether to use him in the experiment. He is sitting in the room with them, attempting to record their words, yet they speak about him as if he isn't there—and as if he isn't quite human. Strauss tells Nemur that Charlie "is not what you had in mind" for the experiment; his use of "what" shows he thinks of Charlie more as an object, and a means to an end, than as a person. Strauss also compares Charlie to Algernon, a laboratory animal. The scientists are interested in Charlie because he may be a good candidate for their experiment; they are not concerned with helping him as a person. It becomes increasingly difficult for Charlie and the people running the study to communicate with or understand each other.

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