Flowers for Algernon
Charlie Gordon is a man of lower intelligence living in New York in the late 50s. His IQ is so low that while he is able to live on his own and hold a job, he can barely read or write and basic human relationships are difficult for him.
Charlie strives to learn because he has been made to feel that if he gets smarter, everything will be great. He ends up being chosen as the human subject in an experimental surgery. The research is still in the early days, but the scientists involved have successfully performed the surgery on a mouse named Algernon, and are very pleased with the results thus far.
Flowers for Algernon is told through Charlie’s journal entries, so the reader is able to follow Charlie’s transformation from someone barely literate to someone that all of a sudden has more knowledge than the scientists involved in the study. Charlie has all the knowledge he could have wanted and more, but at what cost?
Thematically, Flowers for Algernon gives the reader a lot of food for thought. Charlie’s character changes very quickly as intelligence sky rockets, and it becomes clear that all of the book smarts in the world won’t speed up the emotional development he has been lacking his whole life. Watching Charlie struggle to understand the new world he is thrust into, especially the relationships he has to maneuver, was the most interesting and provocative part of the book for me.
When I started reading this book, I was a little worried about how difficult it was to read Charlie’s journal. His grasp on writing was very elementary and the spelling errors took a lot of concentration on my part. I thought there was no way in hell I could read a 300 page book styled in that way. Luckily, it improved pretty quickly. Ultimately, I think the technique of styling the book in a journal format had a great impact, and it made the ending resonate with me even more.
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