Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is one of those books which every literate person should be familiar with, at least to the extent of knowing the basic plot. It has been taught in schools, and has been challenged for being inappropriate. Flowers for Algernon has won awards and been adapted for the television, radio, and film. There aren't many science fiction novels which have had the kind of influence that Flowers for Algernon has had. The plot is straightforward enough. Charlie Gordon is a thirty-two year old retarded man who works in a bakery. All his life, he has desperately wanted to be smart. He gets his chance when he is selected to be the first human subject for an experimental technique for raising intelligence. This new procedure has already proved to be effective on a mouse named Algernon and the scientists have good reason to believe that it will be just as effective on a human being. The procedure is successful and soon Charlie is as far above average in IQ as he was below. Charlie discovers, however, that high intelligence is not without its own problems. He becomes bitter and anti-social when he learns that his "friends" at the bakery only liked him because they laughed at him and took advantage at him. The scientists he believed were geniuses turn out to be knowledgeable only in narrow fields. Charlie is as much as outsider with a genius level IQ as he was when he was retarded and this time he knows it. Worst of all, Charlie's own research reveals that the success of the procedure is only temporary. He will lose his intelligence as quickly as he gained it. In the end, Charlie is back to the level he was at the start of the book, except perhaps a little wiser than he was even at his height. He can no longer understand the contribution he made to science but he at least regained the humanity he came near to losing, and he understands what it is to be smart a little better. Daniel Keyes did a wonderful job conveying Charlie Gordon's growth and decline through the medium of Charlie's journals or progress reports that he is required to write as part of the experiment. The earliest entries show a naïve and simple Charlie with misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Charlie really doesn't understand what is going on around him, yet he wants to be liked. People do like him, even his friends who laugh at him, because of his determination to learn as much as he can despite his limited intelligence. As Charlie gains in intelligence, his spelling and punctuation become more correct and he begins to use a more advanced vocabulary. He also begins to be less likable and more arrogant. As Charlie begins to revert to his earlier state, the language he uses in writing the progress reports also deteriorates. This last section of the book is heartbreaking and more than a little terrifying. There are few things that most people dread more than losing their minds. Even death is seen as preferable and fear of death is often really fear of oblivion or mindlessness. Keyes is very good at expressing Charlie's dread and fear as he sinks back into subnormal intelligence. One hopes that people like Charlie Gordon are somewhat better treated today....Continua
Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. He works at a bakery and he goes to nightly classes for special needs adults, but he is discouraged by his inability to understand other people’s conversations and moreover he can't learn to read and write.
He doesn't like his condition and he is frustrated.
For this reason, he accepts to be the first human being to be operated in order to become smart.
As the doctors says to him, he starts to write his thoughts and after the operation he annotates his progresses.
He learns fast, but the more intelligent he becomes the more problems he has.
His intellectual growth is going to outstrip his emotional growth. The important thing is to find out what those people in his memories are saying. It's all about him when he was a boy and he's got to remember what happened.
He is still angry that all the time people were laughing and making fun of him.
He hopes that now he is intelligent with much more than twice his I.Q. of 70, maybe people will like him.
Suddenly people at the bakery notice he is changing. He can feel the hostility. They don't understand what has happened to him, and he can't tell them. People are not proud of him the way he expected—not at all.
And he is fired from his job. He knows it was foolish of him to hang on to the past, but there was something about the place with its white brick walls browned by oven heat ... It was home to him.
What did I do to make them hate me so? He asks himself.
He begins to see that by his astonishing growth he has made them shrink and emphasized their inadequacies. He has betrayed them, and they hate him for it.
This intelligence has driven a wedge between him and all the people he knows and loves,. Now, he is more alone than ever before.
He knows there's no reason for him to be ashamed, but it's an empty feeling not going in to work every day—not seeing the shop, the ovens, the people. It's too much.
Those people—for all those years—were his family. It was like being thrown out of his own home.
This has become a symbolic repetition of experiences Charlie had as a child. Being rejected by his parents, being sent away.
That terror at being kicked out of the bakery is vague, a fear he doesn't understand.
He is a new swimmer forced off a diving raft and terrified of losing the solid wood under his feet.
He is like an animal who's been locked out of his nice, safe cage.
They're pushing him too fast. He is confused. He wants to be an adult, but there's still a little boy inside him . Alone and frightened.
Rapidly the window reflecting his image becomes bright, and as the glass turns into a mirror, he sees little Charlie Gordon—fourteen or fifteen—looking out at him through the window of his house, and it's doubly strange to realize how different he was.
There was something in him before the operation , a warmth, an openness, a kindness that made everyone like him and like to have him around. Now, with all his intelligence and knowledge, there are differences.
On the other hand the doctors who have worked on that project at Beekman University have the satisfaction of knowing they have taken one of nature's mistakes and by their new techniques created a superior human being. They think that when Charlie came to them he was outside of society, alone in a great city without friends or relatives to care about him, without the mental equipment to live a normal life. No past, no contact with the present, no hope for the future. It might be said that Charlie Gordon did not really exist before that experiment.
Charlie, on the contrary, wants to show everyone what a fool they are; he wants to shout at them that he is a human being, a person—with parents and memories and a history—and he was before they ever wheeled him into that operating room!
Like Algernon, the mice which has been operated like Charlie to become smarter, he finds himself behind the mesh of the cage they had built.
Solitude gives him a chance to read and think, and now that the memories are coming through again—to rediscover his past, to find out who and what he really is. If anything should go wrong, he'll have at least that.
He has broken down the conscious barriers that kept the old Charlie Gordon hidden deep in his mind. As he suspects all along, he was not really gone. Nothing in our minds is ever really gone. The operation had covered him over with a veneer of education and culture, but emotionally he was there—watching and waiting.
In spite of the operation Charlie is still with him, Charlie is watching him.
He has often reread his early progress reports and seen the illiteracy, the childish naïveté, the mind of low intelligence peering from a dark room, through the keyhole, at the dazzling light outside. In his dreams and memories he has seen Charlie smiling happily and uncertainly at what people around him were saying. Even in his dullness he knew he was inferior. Other people had something he lacked—something denied him. In his mental blindness, he had believed it was somehow connected with the ability to read and write, and he was sure that if he could get those skills I would have intelligence too.
Even a feeble-minded man wants to be like other men.
A child may not know how to feed itself, or what to eat, yet it knows hunger.
He can't help feeling that he is not him. He has usurped his place and locked him out the way they locked him out of the bakery. What he means to say is that Charlie Gordon exists in the past, and the past is real. You can't put up a new building on a site until you destroy the old one, and the old Charlie can't be destroyed. He exists.
All he wants to do is prove that Charlie existed as a person in the past, so that he could justify his own existence. But he has discovered that not only did Charlie exist in the past, he exists now.
In him and around him. He's been coming between them all along. He thinks his intelligence created the barrier— his pompous, foolish pride, the feeling they had nothing in common because he had gone beyond the old Charlie.
The doctors put that idea into his head. But that's not it. It's Charlie, the little boy who's afraid of women because of things his mother did to him.
All those months while he has been growing up intellectually, he has still had the emotional wiring of the childlike Charlie. And every time he came close to Alice, the woman he loves, or think about making love to her, there was a short circuit.
Somehow he has become separated emotionally from everyone and everything
He has learned a lot in the past few months. Not only about Charlie Gordon, but about life and people; he has discovered that nobody really cares about Charlie Gordon, whether he's a moron or a genius. So what difference does it make?"
He is an individual now, and so was Charlie before he ever walked into that lab.
Charlie is there, but not struggling with him. Just waiting. He has never tried to take over or tried to prevent him from doing anything he wanted to do. The humble, self-effacing Charlie is just waiting patiently.
He s has learned that intelligence alone doesn't mean a damned thing. There in their university, intelligence, education, knowledge, have all become great idols. But he knows now there's one thing they've all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn.
Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love. This is something else He has discovered for himself very recently.
Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis.
When he was retarded he had lots of friends. Now he has no one. He knows lots of people. Lots and lots of people. But he doesn't have any real friends. Not like he used to have in the bakery. Not a friend in the world who means anything to him, and no one I mean anything to.
That's when he sees Charlie watching him from the mirror behind the washbasin. He doesn't know how he knows it was Charlie and not him. Something about the dull, questioning look in his face. His eyes, wide and frightened, as if at one word from him he would turn and run deep into the dimension of the mirrored world. But he didn't run. He just stared back at him , mouth open, jaw hanging loosely.
He looks down and he looks at his hands to see what he was looking at. "You want these back, don't you? You want me out of here so you can come back and take over where you left off. I don't blame you. It's your body and your brain—and your life, even though you weren't able to make much use of it. I don't have the right to take it away from you. Nobody does. Who's to say that my light is better than your darkness? Who's to say death is better than your darkness? Who am I to say?...
He is seeing himself as he really has become: an arrogant, self-centered bastard. Unlike Charlie, he is incapable of making friends or thinking about other people and their problems He is interested in himself, and himself only. For one long moment in that mirror he has seen myself through Charlie's eyes—looked down at himself and see what he has really become. And he is ashamed.
What has happened to him? Why is he so alone in the world?
P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard....Continua
E’ una storia struggente, soprattutto per il modo in cui è narrata, direttamente descritta dal protagonista che tiene un diario per descrivere i progressi dell’esperimento che ha subito.
Scritto negli anni ’60, capace ancora di far riflettere senza essere didascalico e di commuovere senza sentimentalismi. Un libro che non lascia indifferenti e non si dimentica facilmente. Letto d’un fiato, ho riso e pianto.