In Daniel Keyes’ compelling novel, Flowers for Algernon, the main character undergoes both important emotional and physical changes. The book has an interesting twist, as it is described in the characters “progress reports”. This book has a science fiction undertone, and takes place in exciting New York City. As the novel begins, the main character, Charlie Jordan is thirty-two years old, but cannot remember anything from his childhood.
Charlie Jordan words at a bakery in New York City. But there is something a little different about Charlie--he is mentally retarded. He also attends evening classes at Beckman College. Here he submits his “progress reports” to the research team at the college. In these reports the reader is revealed Charlie’s experiences in the bakery where the owner has brought him from the Warren State Home, an institute for mentally retarded. He soon becomes a part of the bakery, and considers his co-workers as friends. From these reports, the team has considered Charlie a prime candidate for an experimental surgery, which if effective, would improve his intelligence.
Soon begins Charlie’s preliminary testing. For weeks and weeks on end, Charlie undergoes simple tests of ordinary tasks, and competes in racing with a mouse. He becomes depressed when the mouse beats him every time. The operations takes place soon after, and Charlie becomes more disappointed with immediate results. However, he is assured that he will progress gradually, and steadily. Over a short period of time, he begins to read more, win more mazes, and master some complex processes at the bakery. His co-workers begin to resent him, and he is completely disillusioned. He now has to spend more and more time being tested at the lab. Charlie learns that the mouse Algernon, whom he constantly competes with, has also undergone a surgery similar to his own, and accounts for his intelligence.
Charlie surges ahead in knowledge, and masters’ languages. He begins to see his supportive teacher from the college, Alice, as an attractive young woman. They become extremely close, and Charlie eventually tries to make love to her. On these several occasions, he finds that he suffers a violent physical reaction while trying and has to stop. He cannot understand why this is happening to him. At this same time, Charlie begins re-living repressed memories of his childhood, and is disturbed by images of his mother pushing him to study, or his being neglected in favor of his sister. He is upset, and even frightened, but he finds his newfound intellectual ability more thrilling and keeps working hard.
The scientists at the lab report to Charlie that he and Algernon are to be taken to Chicago for a convention, in which the head scientist will present the findings of his team. Once they arrive, Charlie and Algernon are the prime “exhibits” and Charlie is humiliated by...