Flowers for Algernon: Beautifully Heartbreaking

flowers for algernon review

I’ve been reading a lot of books these days. I just want to read books, write poetry, listen to music and do nothing else since there is no one to distract me. I do my day job, come back from office and open my books to finish them as soon as possible. Earlier, I did not have enough time to read and now I have all the time in the world. I just want to keep my mind busy. I finished 3 books this week and this one was the best so I decided to write a few words about it (the last one I wrote about was Man’s search for Meaning). It is a psychological Science Fiction book.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes was published in the late 50s. It is the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded 32-years-old man who has an IQ of 68. He works in a bakery and attends night-school where he learns to read and write. He often wishes that he was more intelligent like his friends at work. Soon, all of his wishes come true when a team of Scientists approaches him with an offer. They tell him that there is a new Technology which can be used to increase the intelligence of a person. Alice, who is Charlie’s teacher recommends him because he is a good boy and has an eagerness to learn. They perform some tests on him to see if he really is the perfect subject for the tests. Till now, all the tests have been conducted on Algernon – A Lab Mouse and the results have been positive. Algernon is the smartest mouse in the world now and can solve mazes much faster than others. So, Charlie would be the first human whose intelligence would be artificially increased. After finding that Charlie is a perfect subject, they perform the surgery. At first, there is no visible change in him and he keeps losing the Maze races with Algernon. But then, he starts to get smarter.

flowers for algernon review
Image Source: Behance.net

This book is written in the form of first hand Progress Reports written by Charlie and the result is fascinating. In the beginning, the reports are full of writing mistakes, wrong punctuations and spellings since Charlie is not able to write well. But After his surgery, he gets better. Soon he learns punctuations, grammar and spellings. This is a brilliant way of showing his mental abilities. This way, we are able to see how Charlie’s Intellect improves with time. This approach also gives Charlie, more space to develop as a character. Charlie is probably one of the most well-developed characters I have ever seen in a book.

( There are spoilers ahead, so do not read further if you do not want me to ruin it for you.)

As his intelligence increases, he learns new things and becomes very good at most of the subjects. As first, it seems that things are finally going right for Charlie. Scientists are very happy about their work and think of it as a big success. But then, Charlie begins to remember his childhood which is filled with horrible memories involving his Mother, Father and sister. He also learns that everyone at work is using him for their own selfish purposes. He gets fired from his job since his coworkers don’t feel comfortable around him because of his increased intelligence. These things start troubling him more with time. To add more to the troubles, the scientists come to know that Algernon (the lab mouse) is behaving in a weird way. He starts losing it and becomes erratic. Algernon can no longer solve the Mazes and becomes aggressive. He also starts to harm others.

flowers for algernon ending
That is where you start seeing what’s coming next. You know what’s happening to Algernon will soon happen to Charlie. So, the ending isn’t surprising. You will see it coming from halfway and you can’t help but cry in the end. The ending is devastating. So if you do not like sad or devastating endings, this book is not for you. There are only a few books that made me feel for the protagonist as much as this book did. I wish everyone reads this book since it will make you appreciate the true beauty of writing. It is a short read and a quick page turner.
It also made me think that we all are like Charlie. There are things that we want but don’t know that it always comes with a price. Not everyone gets what he wants and even if he gets it , it may not be the same thing he wished for. So the best thing is to let the things take their own course; because life is full of surprises and that is why it is beautiful the way it is.
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