Flowers for Algernon is a fiction book written by Daniel Keyes. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Keyes took Psychology where he received his BA degree from Brooklyn College. In 1966, he joined the faculty of Ohio University and became a Professor of English and Creative Writing and was honored with Professor emeritus status in 2000.
The book started with a journal entries or a “progress report” done by Charlie Gordon, the main character of the story. Charlie, a 32-year-old mentally retarded boy, who works at Mr. Donner’s bakery as a janitor and delivery boy was subjected to an experimental surgery. As a boy of low IQ, Charlie has become the apple of the eye of the bullies and he was always laughed at by people around. His mother does not want him because of his situation, and his sister hates him. He was sent to Warren State Home and Training School to be out of the house and out of the sight of his unloving mother and to be with the ones who are just like him. His Uncle Herman told his friend, Mr. Donner, the owner of the bakery where Charlie works, to take care of Charlie and give him home and so Mr. Donner took Charlie away from Warren. Charlie’s only wish is to become smart just like other people so that his mother will accept him and he can join with the conversation of the people around him. Charlie was subjected to an experimental surgery, a surgery that aims to increase his IQ, and was only tested on a lab mouse named Algernon. Apparently, Charlie is the first human to undergo in this kind of surgery. The story revolves around the unprecedented journey towards scientific development of Charlie Gordon. How he was before the surgery, how he changes and become another person after the surgery and how he was able to explore his past by the advancement that he experiences in the present are the highlights of the story.
The book was written in a first person point of view which makes its reader to easily identify with the emotions and thinking of Charlie. On the first part of the story, where Charlie is writing down his progress report, I really feel sorry for him. His journals were fun to read because of his honesty and genuineness about his feelings although he seemed oblivious with other things. I like how the story progresses from a present situation and a flashback of some events where Charlie ought to find answers about his past and his relationship to his family that made him the person he is at the present. A line said by Charlie struck me, “I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being – one of many ways – and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.” I think Charlie wants to point out that as a human being subjected to an experiment will not make him less of a human. The experiment will not reduce him to a mere object for the sake of scientific development but the experiment will help him to become whole, to put back the broken pieces, to make sense of the world and to understand his life more clearly as he never understood it when he was that dumb Charlie.
This book also deals with friendship and acceptance. I like how Keyes described Psychologists and other people who work at the Warren as “men who aren’t afraid to give away a part of themselves to people”. As a psychology student, I have learned in this book to be more understanding and accepting because people are diverse. Some people are intelligent and some are not, but that does not mean that they should be treated as trash or a burden as what Charlie’s mother treated him. There may some that looks us down and there are some that really needs our help, it is just a matter of accepting what others think.
This book is a good read. It showed us how to live in opposite world – the dumb’s and the genius’. Surely Charlie had lived a wonderful and exciting life because he was able to experience the best of both worlds.