Cliff Notes™, Cliffs Notes™, Cliffnotes™, Cliffsnotes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company. does not provide or claim to provide free Cliff Notes™ or free Sparknotes™. Free Cliffnotes™ and Free Spark Notes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company and Barnes & Noble, Inc., respectively. has no relation. Free Summary / Study Guide / Book Summaries / Literature Notes / Analysis / Synopsis
+Larger Font+
-Smaller Font-

Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version



The novel has been divided into Progress Report as submitted by the narrator Charlie Gordon to researchers in the Psychology Lab at Beckman College. These reports form chapters and their form and language reflect Charlie’s state of mind.

Progris riport 1 - Martch 3


Charlie Gordon introduces himself. He is thirty-two-year-old and works at Donner’s Bakery in New York, where he is paid $11 a week. He explains that he attends Miss Kinnian’s class for retarded adults at Beckman College, where he has learned to read and write. He has been introduced to Dr. Strauss and Prof. Nemur who ‘will see if they can use me.’ Charlie wants ‘to be smart.’ Miss Kinnian tells him that perhaps the two experts can help. The readers also learn that Dr. Strauss has asked him to write down, what he thinks and what happens to him during the day. He is therefore maintaining this record for the psychologists to study.


The progress report form has been used innovatively by the author. It is organic to his subject - which is the transformation of a mentally retarded young adult into a genius, and his later regression.

The report format and the first person narrative involve the reader directly in the functioning of Charlie’s mind. This first report establishes the emptiness of Charlie’s own life and his innocence - the readers are told that he is thirty-two-years old, works in Donner’s bakery at a low wage, and is keen enough to study on his ‘time off.’ His ‘guinea pig’ status is also established when Charlie says that, they ‘will see if they can use me.’ The severe limitations of Charlie’s capacity for thought are clear in, ‘I can’t think any more because I have nothing to rite so I will close for today.’ This and the brevity of Charlie’s first report, emphasize his mental state. The simple sentences peppered with bad spelling and wrong usage contribute to this impression.

Progris report 2 - Martch 4


Burt, a doctoral student at the college, conducts Charlie’s first test. Charlie is afraid that he has failed it and won’t be ‘used.’ The lab and the white coat make him feel Burt could be a doctor, except that he doesn’t tell Charlie "to open my mouth and say ah!" Burt’s repeated suggestions that he should relax only gets him "skared becos, it always means its gonna hert." For the test, Burt shows Charlie a lot of white cards with red and black ink splattered on them. Burt explains it’s a ‘raw shok test’ (Rorschach Inkblot test) and asks Charlie to describe what he sees in the inkblots. Charlie tries desperately hard but is unable to visualize anything but an ‘inkblot.’ He is sure he has failed the test when Burt’s frustration makes him break his pencil-point. Charlie feels that, even his ‘luky rabbit’s foot’ hasn’t helped.


Charlie’s fear of the unknown and his ‘normal’ expectations of pain and bad treatment from those around him, are underlined by this chapter. He clings to ‘lucky’ objects for comfort in a hostile world. The reader gets a graphic picture of the experience in the lab, and the subject’s keen desire to please and win approval. It is a re-creation of every individual’s childhood horror story of a visit to a doctor. Charlie tries hard, putting on and off his reading glasses, trying to pump the researcher for hints, but failing. He is shown to be like a child in some ways, but he does not have the ability to imagine and fantasize, like a normal child. In spite of his anxiety, Charlie’s determination to continue and ‘get smart’ is unshaken.

3rd Progris report - Martch 5


Charlie is very worried about failing the test, and assures Dr. Strauss and Nemur that he hadn’t spilt any ink on the cards. They tell him it doesn’t matter and Charlie hopes that, ‘maybe they will still use me.’ They say he was highly recommended by Miss Kinnian as her ‘bestest pupil.’ They probe into his reasons for learning and he says, "all my life I wanted to be smart and not dumb and all my life, my mom always told me to try and lern, just like Miss Kinnian tells me, but its very hard to be smart and even when I lern something at Miss Kinnian’s class, --- I forget a lot."

Prof. Nemur warns Charlie that they have experimented only on animals so far, and are not sure of the effects on human beings. Charlie replies, "I don’t even care if it herts or anything because I’m strong and I will work hard." They inquire about his family, as they require their permission to operate on him. Charlie says he hasn’t seen his parents or his sister Norma for a long time, but he thinks they lived in Brooklyn.

The report ends with Charlie hoping that he won’t need to write many more, as he has to cut down his sleep in order to write it, and this makes him very tired for work the next morning. He has begun to make mistakes at the bakery and as a result Gimpy, his surly friend, has been angry with him. Charlie hopes that he will surprise Gimpy when he becomes ‘smart.’


This report shows the researchers trying to delve into the mind of Charlie Gordon. His single-minded desire to be ‘smart’ is shown in contrast to his severe limitations in the capacity to express himself. The other characters are gradually introduced. So far, the researchers appear as faceless men in white coats. Miss Kinnian is seen as a kindly, maternal figure and a source of hope and encouragement to Charlie.

There is a brief reference to his family, which has obviously broken off ties with him. The only is his Uncle Herman. But unfortunately, he is now dead. Charlie’s loneliness and his traumatic past are just beginning to surface in these passing references. The ‘guinea pig’ aspect is underlined by his finding the reports tiring, and the strain affecting his work at the bakery.

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes Free BookNotes Summary

Privacy Policy
All Content Copyright©TheBestNotes. All Rights Reserved.
No further distribution without written consent.
190 Users Online | This page has been viewed 23670 times
This page was last updated on 5/9/2017 8:50:21 AM

Cite this page: Staff. "TheBestNotes on Flowers for Algernon". . 09 May 2017