Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon | Progress Report 7 | Summary

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Summary

Charlie Gordon writes his first postoperative report, "Progress Report 7 March 11," three days after surgery because his head and eyes have been covered in bandages. A nurse has corrected the spelling of the progress report's title. Charlie recalls how frightened he was entering the surgery room. Dr. Strauss had identified himself from behind his surgical garb and told Charlie he would go to sleep for the surgery. Charlie says he was still frightened, however, and didn't understand Strauss when he explained the surgery to others in the room. He recalls wondering if he would understand everything better after the surgery before falling asleep.

When he wakes up he is confused; Burt laughingly explains the operation is finished but Charlie can't see because his head is covered in bandages. Burt tells Charlie the progress reports will help the scientists understand what happens in his mind. Charlie says he understands writing the reports is part of science and his efforts will help him be smart. He hopes he can have discussions with his coworkers, be friends with them, and not feel so lonely.

Charlie tells how his nurse, Hilda, had wondered about the religious implications of his surgery and suggested it was against God's plan. Hilda also corrected his spelling of "progress report." Hilda was subsequently transferred because of her unwelcome interference to the maternity ward and replaced by Lucille, who is embarrassed when Charlie asks her about babies.

Alice Kinnian visits Charlie and says getting smarter will take time and effort. Charlie is disappointed; he thought the surgery would work quickly and easily. He tells Miss Kinnian what he hopes to do when the operation makes him smart, including having discussions with coworkers and visiting his family. She tells him she had faith in him and was confident he would work hard.

Analysis

Hilda, the nurse, raises what in fact could be important questions about the surgery's religious implications and ethical ramifications, questions common to controversial scientific experiments. She suggests the surgeons are playing God by altering Charlie's brain and argues God made Charlie as he is, and doing anything to change that goes against God's plan. Charlie grows anxious when she suggests he ask for forgiveness from God for allowing the scientists to go "tampiring with things they got no rite to tampir with." Charlie says, "I don't want to make god angrey with me."

This progress report shows how little Charlie understands about the surgery. He calls anesthesia "a funny thing. They did it while I was sleeping." He also tells Alice Kinnian he "kind of feels bad because I thot I was going to be smart rite away." It's not clear whether he is confused because no one bothered to share details about the surgery or because he has a limited capacity for understanding, but readers can see a hint of disillusionment. Charlie wonders "if I got to werk hard anyway what did I have to have the operashun for." He still promises Miss Kinnian he will try his best.

The report shows Charlie's ignorance about sex, reproduction, and anatomy. When he asks Lucille how women have babies, she is too embarrassed to respond. His innocent, childlike question shows he has not advanced much beyond his limited cognitive and educational level.

The report, however, gives subtle clues about Charlie's burgeoning intelligence and ability to learn. After Hilda corrects the spelling of his report title, Charlie recognizes when he misspells those words again and corrects them.

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