Flowers For Algernon
“Only a short time ago, I learned that people laughed at me. Now I can see that unknowingly I joined them in laughing at myself. That hurts the most.” (p.299) In the short story, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Charlie Gordon is an adult who is classified as mentally retarded. He is given a chance to enhance his IQ by three times, and he accepts. But as he grows smarter and smarter, he realizes how his friends have actually been treating him, and that even though he didn’t have very good grammar, he still had a group of friends with him. He says that “its easy to make frends if you let peepul laff at you.” In Flowers for Algernon, being smarter is not always the key to happiness and acceptance.
Charlie goes to a night school for adults with special needs, and he works extremely hard to get smarter. His teacher, Ms. Kinnian, offers him the chance to be the first human being to undergo an operation to artificially increase his intelligence; he takes it, because all his life he has “wantid to be smart and not dumb.” (p. 286). Charlie is told to keep a journal of “progris reports” which we are reading throughout the story. We see Charlie’s growth after the surgery from a noticeable improvement in his grammar and spelling. Although he has become what he always wanted to be, his “friends” push him away farther. They always looked down on him because he was less capable than them and that made them feel better about themselves. But as Charlie became smarter, and understood how they were treating him, they felt embarrassed and pushed him away. This leaves Charlie more isolated after the surgery than he was before.
This book is a little bit dated because they use the term, “mentally retarded” which was changed to “intellectual disability” because the term mentally retarded was thought of as hurtful to a lot of people. Other than this, the story has aged really well. This book might also be a little hard to get into because of the unusual writing style, and the lack of grammar for most of the story. But after I read the first few pages I knew I would really like this story because of the unique writing style and how realistic it was. The story reinforces the idea that the world is not a safe place or “utopia” but that some things are not always what we want them to be, and sometimes we have to accept it.
If I had to rate this book from 1-10, I would give it an 8. Charlie has a very strong and meaningful internal dialogue; the characters are very realistic, and the story does not have a happy ending. It doesn’t need one, because life is not always fair.