Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon | Progress Report 9 | Summary

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Summary

Charlie Gordon reports how, much to everyone's surprise, he can operate the mixing machine at the bakery better than the previous assistant baker, so he has received a promotion and raise, which the other workers resent. Alice Kinnian reads his reports and warns him some people are not nice.

He is beginning to understand how others behaved to him in the past and how they treat him in the present. He remembers his mother hitting him after he picked up his baby sister; he realizes she thought he might hurt the baby because he was "so dumb." He also realizes Joe Carp and Frank Reilly only like to have him around to make fun of him. Their physical abuse of him at a party triggers a memory of similar experiences of mistreatment from his childhood; as he relates this memory he speaks of his past self in the third person, as if he were someone else. He describes his memories as pictures he can look at. He says, "A big hole opened up in the walls of my mind and I can just walk through."

Charlie stays home from work to continue to learn. He reads a book on grammar and understands what Miss Kinnian has been teaching him about punctuation. They finish reading Robinson Crusoe and discuss it. He is aware he is getting smarter.

Charlie has a wet dream and doesn't understand what has occurred until Dr. Strauss explains it to him. Strauss talks with Charlie about sexuality, and Charlie says he "always thought it was dirty"; he recalls his queasiness when a woman danced near him at the party. In the free association Strauss encourages, Charlie then makes a connection between a dream about Alice Kinnian reading dirty words in his reports to a childhood incident in which he tried to give a girl named Harriet a Valentine's gift. He asked his friend Hymie Roth to write a love note to Harriet for him, but Hymie wrote something dirty that enraged Harriet's older brothers; they then beat up Charlie. Charlie now concludes he "shouldn't have trusted Hymie or anyone." He also describes feeling ill when sexually aroused, experiencing nausea and a buzzing in his ears.

Charlie takes the Rorschach test again and grows angry when he realizes he didn't understand it the first time. He suspects Burt tried to trick him, and he is amazed to watch the video recording of the first time he took the test. His reaction proves he has reached a new level of intelligence. He also says he desires some privacy in his writing.

Analysis

Charlie Gordon's increased intelligence causes rifts in his relationships with his coworkers rather than the friendships he hoped for. His coworkers are annoyed about his new abilities and his promotion. He comes to recognize their hostility when Joe Carp and Frank Reilly abuse him at the party, and he understands what Alice Kinnian warned him about: "Everybody isn't nice." Rather than thinking of his coworkers as friends who "never did anything that wasnt nice," he becomes "sick and tired of everybody laughing at me."

Charlie is now exponentially better at assessing people's motivations. He realizes the phrase "to pull a Charlie Gordon" means to make a mistake. It is a mean joke he never understood before, but now he thinks "it's a good thing finding out how everybody laughs at me."

As he recalls more of his childhood and as his intelligence increases, Charlie disassociates from his preoperative self. He refers to himself in the third person, as if the experience happened to another Charlie. The idea that there are two separate Charlies will recur later in the novel.

Charlie's sexual awakening progresses in this report. Although Dr. Strauss assures him that a wet dream is a common experience for men, Charlie realizes he associates sex with something dirty; it makes him think of the "dirty note" Hymie gave to Harriet and his dream about Alice Kinnian. His negative associations with sex will become more pronounced as the novel progresses and questions will continue arising about his movement toward maturity, including sexual.

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