Shelfari edited the themes of Flowers for Algernon Tuesday, October 12, 2010.
- Edited the description of Mistreatment of the Mentally Disabled: The fictional idea of artificially augmenting or diminishing intelligence enables Keyes to offer a telling portrayal of society’s mistreatment of the mentally disabled. As Charlie grows more intelligent after his operation, effectively transforming from a mentally retarded man to a genius, he realizes that people have always based their attitudes toward him on feelings of superiority. For the most part, other people have treated Charlie not only as an intellectual inferior but also as less of a human being than they are. While some, like his coworkers at the bakery, have treated him with outright cruelty, others have tried to be kind but ultimately have been condescending in their
charity.Afterhis operation, Charlie himself drifts into a condescending and disrespectful attitude toward the disabled to a certain extent. Charlie consciously wants to treat his new intellectual inferiors as he wishes others had treated him. When he sees patrons at a diner laughing at a mentally retarded busboy, he demands that the patrons recognize the boy’s humanity. However, when Charlie visits the Warren State Home, he is horrified by the dim faces of the disabled people he meets, and he is unable to muster any warmth toward them. Charlie fears the patients at Warren State because he does not want to accept that he was once like them and may soon be like them again. We may even interpret Charlie’s reaction as his own embodiment of the same fear of abnormality that has driven his mother to madness.Thus,while Keyes condemns the act of mistreating the mentally disabled, he also displays an understanding of why this mistreatment occurs, enabling his readers to see through the eyes of someone who has experienced such ridicule firsthand. Charlie struggles with a tendency toward the same prejudice and condescension he has seen in other people. However, Charlie’s dual perspective allows him to understand that he is as human as anyone else, regardless of his level of intelligence.
- Edited the description of The Tension between Intellect and Emotion: he fact that Charlie’s mental retardation affects both his intellectual and emotional development illustrates the difficulty—but not the impossibility—of developing both aspects simultaneously and without conflict. Charlie is initially warmhearted and trusting, but as his intelligence increases he grows cold, arrogant, and disagreeable. The more he understands about the world, the more he recoils from human contact. At his loneliest point, in Progress Report 12, Charlie shockingly decides that his genius has effectively erased his love for
Alice.ProfessorNemur and Fay indicate the incompatibility of intellect and emotion. Nemur is brilliant but humorless and friendless. Conversely, Fay acts foolishly and illogically because she is ruled entirely by her feelings. It is only with Alice’s encouragement that Charlie finally realizes he does not have to choose between his brain and his heart, the extremes represented by Nemur and Fay. Charlie learns to integrate intellect and emotion, finding emotional pleasure in both his intellectual work and his relationships. It is in this phase that he finds true fulfillment with Alice.
- Edited the description of The Persistence of the Past in the Present: Charlie’s recovery of his childhood memories after his operation illustrates how significantly his past is embedded in his understanding of the present. Charlie’s past resurfaces at key points in his present experience, taking the form of the old Charlie, whom the new Charlie perceives as a separate entity that exists outside of himself. In a sense, the past, as represented by the old Charlie, literally keeps watch over the present. When Charlie longs to make love to Alice, the old Charlie panics and distracts him—a sign that the shame Rose instilled in Charlie is still powerful, even if he cannot remember the origin of this
shame.Charliecannot move forward with his emotional life until he understands and deals with the traumas of childhood. Similar ties to the past control Charlie’s mother. When Charlie returns to see Rose, she still harbors her old resentment over Charlie’s lack of normalcy—even after his intelligence levels have increased dramatically. Rose’s attempt to attack Charlie with a knife illustrates that for her, just as for Charlie, the past interferes with her actions and concerns in the present. Rose cannot separate her memories of the retarded Charlie from the genius Charlie who comes to visit her in the flesh. The harrowing turn of events at this meeting is a tragic reminder of the past’s pervasive influence on the present.
- Edited the description of The Window: Many of Charlie’s childhood memories involve looking through a window, which symbolizes the emotional distance that Charlie feels from others of normal mental ability. Shunned by his peers because of his disability, he remembers watching the other children play through a window in his apartment. When Charlie becomes intelligent, he often feels as if the boyhood Charlie is watching him through windows. The window represents all of the factors that keep the mentally retarded Charlie from feeling connected to
society.Charlie’sincreased intelligence enables him to cross over to the other side of the window, a place where members of society accept him. However, in crossing over, Charlie becomes just as distant from his former self as the children he used to see playing outside. When Charlie regresses into disability, he maintains an indefinable sense of his former genius self, but he says, “I dont think its me because its like I see him from the window.” The window is the unbridgeable divide between the two Charlies. The only point at which the brilliant Charlie feels that he is confronting the other Charlie face-to-face is when he drunkenly sees himself in a mirror, effectively a window to one’s interior self.