One year ago when I was still an avid reader of YA/romance fictions, a friend of mine recommended a book titled Flowers for Algernon. When I read the title, I was excited because I thought it was a book about love story or something like that. So I typed ‘Flowers for Algernon’ on Google search tab; turned out it was a science fiction book. Oh, no! Well, let me admit something: at that time, the stupid innocent me thought that sci-fi only revolved around alien invasions, spaces, etc., which implies that the plot will be boring. So I said no to that book and continued to read another lovey-dovey fictions #shaaame.
Long story short, I was finally so fed up with love stories then I decided to book-hop into another genre. This way, I also challenged myself to read different kind of book. Then I remembered my friend’s recommendation, the Flowers for Algernon. Without further research about the plot, I started to read it with no expectation.
The opening was “progris riport 1” followed by entries written in broken-English. I was like “wut???” but I kept on going until the “P.P.S. Please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard …” came out—a part that made me shed a tear.
The Plot Summary (May Contain Spoilers)
Flowers for Algernon is a bundle of Charlie Gordon’s progress reports before and after the brain surgery he went through. Who is Charlie Gordon? Charlie is a 37 years old man whose IQ was 68. Based on IQ Classifications in Psychiatric Use, his IQ was classified as Borderline Intellectual Functioning. Cited from DisabilitySecrets website: “Borderline intellectual functioning is a cognitive impairment that applies to people who have lower than average intelligence but do not have intellectual developmental disorder or mental retardation.” However, Charlie was not surrender. He wanted to be smart and in order to be smart, he joined Miss Kinnian’s night class for adults.
I told them becaus all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb. But its very hard to be smart. They said you know it will probly be tempirery. I said yes. Miss Kinnian told me. I dont care if it herts.
On his progress report, Charlie claimed himself as Miss Kinnian’s best pupil. That’s why Miss Kinnian ‘recommended’ him to Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur—two researchers who were responsible in Charlie’s life-altering surgery. Before the operashun—that’s how he wrote it, he had to come to the hospital to do several check-ups and tests. Also on the hospital, Charlie met Algernon, the white mouse who’s used for the similar experiment.
Dr. Strauss said I had something that was very good. He said I had a good motorvation. I never even knew I had that. I felt proud when he said that not every body with an eye-q of 68 had that thing. I dant know what it is or where I got it but he said Algernon had it too.
Algernons motor-vation is the cheese they put in his box. But it cant be that because I didn’t eat any cheese this week.
Before talking any further, the excerpts above were written before he underwent the surgery. As you can see, everything was indeed a mess and misspelled. I sometimes had a hard time in understanding what he really meant. Worry not! That horrible spellings would eventually get better after the operation.
The operation itself took place ten days after Charlie worked on his first progress report. They found no obstacle during the operation—it went really well. After the operation, Charlie still had to visit the doctors to have some therapies and to compete with Algernon. Algernon, the white mouse, always won against Charlie in the race, but as his cognitive gradually improved, Charlie finally got the chance to beat him. Not only that, Charlie also learned how to write properly. It’s shown on his following progress reports, he spelled the words and used the punctuation correctly. Charlie also became smarter every day—even smarter than his former teacher, Miss Kinnian, and his doctors. The stupid Charlie finally became a genius man!
As an extraordinary man, it’s difficult for him to continue the ordinary life he had been living for the previous 37 years. Charlie formerly worked at Donnegan’s Plastic Box Company where everybody made fun of him—but he thought that everyone was had fun with him. He realized the truth when he came back to the factory after the surgery. The smart Charlie scared his co-workers. Almost everyone forced Charlie to quit his job by signing the petition. Among the 800 names on the paper, Charlie could easily spot who didn’t make a sign there at one glance. Stellar! It might not explicitly explained there, but the way he did it proved that his intelligence had increased beyond limit.
I feel a lot better today, but I guess I’m still a little angry that all the time people were laughing and making fun of me because I wasn’t so smart. When I become intelligent like Dr. Strauss says, with three times my I.Q. of 68, then maybe I’ll be like everyone else and people will like me.
As he became smarter, the way he saw things that surrounded him had changed without him realizing that. Charlie tended to underestimate people whose knowledge was not as outstanding as his—including Dr. Namur and Dr. Strauss. He also thought that he has given everyone an inferiority complex. Uh, bring me the old Charlie back! The ingenious Charlie continued his life by being drawn into music and books—because no one understood what he said, thus he couldn’t find any discussion partner. He then spent most of his time alone in his apartment.
On May 13, two months after the operation, Charlie was bitten by Algernon when he visited the lab. On the following days, Algernon showed some regression. That white lab-rat (literally) became less co-operative, refused to run the maze any more, and his general motivation had decreased.
Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur have asked me not to come to the lab any more. I know what they’re thinking but I can’t accept it. I am going ahead with my plans to carry their research forward. With all due respect to both of these fine scientists, l am well aware of their limitations. If there is an answer, I’ll have to find it out for myself. Suddenly, time has become very important to me.
Being upset and frightened by Algernon’s sudden changes, Charlie insisted to go ahead with his own research. A week later, he sent a report titled, “The Algernon-Gordon Effect: A Study of Structure and Function of Increased Intelligence”. He also came to a hypothesis that: Artificially increased intelligence deteriorates at a rate of time directly proportional to the quantity of the increase. This is when the story became poignant.
Reading Charlie’s letter to Dr. Strauss regarding his experiment saddened me. Try to walk in his shoes: finding out (all by yourself) that the operation you underwent ended up as a failure, what’s sadder than that? It became distressing when Algernon died, even more when Charlie had to put Algernon’s body in a cheese box (I can’t believe I got so emotional over this) and buried him in the back yard. OH MY GOD THIS IS SO SAD. I CAN’T HANDLE TOO POIGNANT STORY BETWEEN HUMAN AND ANIMAL. The rest of the story told Charlie’s life as his artificially increased intelligence was finally back to its former state. Too sad.
So, Flowers for Algernon, what can I say?
MY HEART FRACTURED. I’ll give 9.3 out of 10 for Daniel Keyes. Within this novel, Daniel Keyes did not only try to tell a poignant story, but also reviewed about animal testing and people’s behavior towards men with low intelligence.
The use of animals in medical experiment is not something new—even a novel published in 1959 paid attention to this problem. Not only using non-human animals, this novel also highlighted the use of an innocent man as a lab rat—in this case: Algernon and Charlie Gordon. Algernon was used as the object to tryout Dr. Nemur and Dr.Strauss’ experiment before applying it to real human, then after it showed no harm on the mouse they tried to apply it on human. **Well, this short story doesn’t give me the detail whether Charlie was manipulated or not, maybe I need to recheck this on the novel. But, if the researchers happened to misuse his ingenuousness and his wishful dream—to be smart and not dumb—in order to prove their current big project, that’d be the cruelest thing human ever done.
This novelette also provided the life of low intelligence men, not only Charlie’s life before the operation, but also a mentally retarded dishwasher whom Charlie unintentionally came across. Watching how the customers treated that poor boy, Charlie’s mind flew back to his previous days. He came to an idea—that instantly becomes my most favorite line from Flowers for Algernon:
How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes—how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.
To sum everything up, it’s safe to say that Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is a perfect book for everyone. Seriously, everybody HAS TO read this heart-wrenching book because after hours of reading, the way you see things will alter—in a good way.