Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon | Progress Report 8 | Summary

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Summary

Charlie Gordon is frustrated with his lack of progress and dislikes the testing he must undergo after the operation. He has grown to resent Algernon, who, he learns, had the same operation as Charlie. He says, "I never new before that I was dumber than a mouse."

Burt introduces Charlie to students in the college restaurant; they are discussing topics Charlie wants to understand. Burt has told Charlie not to mention his operation to them, saying Professor Nemur doesn't want anyone to laugh at Charlie if the operation fails. In truth, Nemur is concerned about jeopardizing the project's grant from the Welberg Foundation. Dr. Strauss and Nemur tell Charlie he can return to his job at the bakery and come to the lab each evening.

Charlie laughs with his friends at the bakery about his operation scars and talks with Mr. Donner about his history at the bakery. He remembers Fanny Birden, his bakery coworker, was the person who told him about the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. He describes how his fellow workers Joe Carp and Gimpy use the phrase "pull a Charlie Gordon" when someone makes a mistake. A new boy, Ernie, is hired as Mr. Donner's apprentice, and Charlie is to assist him. Frank Reilly and Joe take Charlie to a bar, get him drunk, make fun of his job, and laugh at him; nevertheless, Charlie refers to them in his report as his "best friends." Frank and Joe then tell Charlie to look around a corner to see if it is raining, and when he returns they are gone. He wakes up with a headache and a bruise, and his landlady says a police officer brought him home.

Strauss and Nemur give Charlie a television-like device to play while he sleeps; they say it will help him learn. He asks Miss Kinnian to teach him to read. As he begins to remember things, Nemur tells him to undergo talk therapy with Dr. Strauss. Strauss tells Charlie about the conscious and subconscious minds and their role in dreams; Charlie looks up the words in the dictionary. He finally beats Algernon at the maze, and he determines it is wrong to reward Algernon only as a reward for performing tasks, saying, "I don't think its right to make you pass a test to eat." Charlie begins to remember more about his childhood, and Alice Kinnian continues helping him improve his reading and writing.

Analysis

This report reveals Charlie Gordon's bakery coworkers treat him badly, but he doesn't realize it and thinks of them as his friends. Even after his coworkers convince him to dance on a bar with a lampshade on his head, Charlie writes, "they are all good frends to me." After they abandon him in the middle of the night, he writes, "maybe they went to find me." The bruise on his head the next day suggests Joe Carp and Frank Reilly's abuse extends beyond words and how very little Charlie knows about friendship.

This report sheds light on Professor Nemur's character by introducing Nemur's financial obligation to the Welburg Foundation and making it clear the experimental project is crucial to his reputation. Burt tells Charlie that Nemur is afraid people will laugh at him if the operation doesn't work, so he wants the experiment kept a secret. Nemur's fear of being laughed at stands in stark contrast to Charlie's obliviousness when his bakery coworkers laugh at him.

The television-like device Charlie must use at night, the talk therapy, and Dr. Strauss's explanation of the conscious and subconscious minds all typify psychological treatments popular in the mid-20th century. Psychoanalysis, based on the work of preeminent analysts Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer, emphasizes accessing subconscious mental processes to understand and control conscious thoughts and actions. Psychoanalysis frequently uses hypnosis, dream interpretation, and free association to access the subconscious.

This progress report gives ample evidence of Charlie's increasing intelligence. He is reading Robinson Crusoe with Alice Kinnian and looking up words in the dictionary; he couldn't have done either of these things before the surgery. He now is faster than Algernon at the maze, which leads him to consider the ethics of Algernon's situation. Charlie also can recall more of his dreams and memories. Even though he says, "I don't feel different," his intellectual abilities clearly have improved.

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