Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is a heartbreaking story of a mentally retarded man who is the first human subject for surgery to increase his intelligence. 

First written as a science fiction short story in 1958, it was published in 1959, and won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960.

The novel, published in 1966, was joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in the same year.

This story is about Charlie Gordan, who is 32 years old and has an IQ of 68.

Charlie does menial work at a bakery owned by a friend of his uncle. He likes his job, and believes he has friends there, but he longs to "be smart", and attends classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults.

His teacher is a young woman named Alice Kinnian, who is impressed with his intense desire to learn. So when two researchers at Beekman are looking for a human on whom they can test the surgery, Miss Kinnian recommends Charlie.

This procedure has been successful when tested on a white laboratory mouse named Algernon.

Charlie has no contact with his family, but his sister (who had thought he was dead) is located and gives permission for the surgery.

Eager to be smart, Charlie is excited about his operation.

The doctors do their best to explain to him all that will be done, what they expect to happen, and what the risks are, though he doesn't fully understand.

The operation is a success, and Charlie's IQ increases rapidly.

He is asked to keep a "progress report" beginning a few days before the surgery, and the story is told in Charlie's ongoing record of events.

He is happy to be "getting smarter", but it's not without its drawbacks.  As his understanding increaces, he realizes that some of the "friends" he works with have been making fun of him all along.

Charlie falls in love with Alice Kinnian, and they have a troubled love affair.  When Charlie's intelligence exceeds that of Alice and his doctors, it causes even more problems.

Algernon begins to decline, and soon dies.

Charlie now knows the success of the operation is temporary. He finds a flaw in his doctors' theories, and rushes to record all he has learned about it before it's too late.

His regression shows in his progress reports, as his entries begin to look more and more like they did in the beginning, with bad grammar and misspelled words.

When you get to that last entry, "nov 21", you might want to have a box of tissues handy.




I have always loved this story. It's a great lesson in compassion. But it seems some people are more concerned about Charlie trying to express and understand his sexuality than they are in any 'lesson in compassion'.

That's what most reasons for challenges are about. Complaints include profanity, "explicit, distasteful love scenes", and "references to sex and drinking".

Often challenged, sometimes banned, Flowers for Algernon is still regularly taught in schools.


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