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Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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FREE PLOT SUMMARY / SYNOPSIS: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

Progress Report 9 (Continued)

Summary

April 16

Charlie is filled with anger when he thinks of all the times people have laughed at him. Yet, he hopes that when he doubles his I.Q of 70 as Prof. Nemur tells him he will, "people will like me and become my friends." He hears Strauss and Nemur and later, Burt, arguing about what I.Q really is. Nemur says it is a measure of intelligence while to Strauss, it "showed how much intelligence you could get ...you still had to fill the cup up with stuff." Charlie reacts with "I don’t see how if they don’t know what it is or where it is-how they know how much of it you’ve got!"

April 17

Charlie has a frightening dream in which he is unable to write any progress reports any more. He asks Gimpy to write them for him and when Miss Kinnian reads them she is furious, as they are full of foul language. She tears them up later they turn into lace valentines covered with blood. Charlie lets the associations run freely through his mind as Dr. Strauss has taught him. He is back in memories of P.S. 13 where he studied as a child, aged 11. The boys allowed him to be in the middle of the ball game, but they did not allow him to throw the ball. A little girl, Harriet, with dimples and long curls passes by. All the boys loved her, therefore Charlie loved her too, though it did not mean as much to him as it did to them. Harriet was never cruel to him and he played the fool in order to amuse her.


On Valentines Day, since all the boys wanted to give her a valentine, Charlie too decided to do the same. He wrapped up his heart shaped locket with red ribbon and asked a boy Hymie Roth to write his message on a paper. Hymie had done it, sniggering all the while. After delivering the gift, Charlie waited anxiously for Harriet’s response. She snubbed him at school next day and afterwards, to the delight of the other children, Harriet’s two elder brothers beat Charlie up in the schoolyard. It is only now that Charlie can remember and understand what Hymie had done, the obscene note he had written. At the time he had been completely bewildered, hurt, his hopes shattered, but still completely in the dark. He concludes, "I was pretty dumb because I believed what people told me. I shouldn’t have trusted Hymie or anyone." The incident had caused him to be shifted away to another school.

April 18

Charlie is subjected to the Rorschach Tests again. He realizes that, they are the same inkblots, which had caused him so much tension earlier. When Burt gives him the instructions, Charlie gets very angry, saying that the last time he was asked to find pictures hidden in the inkblots and now he is being asked to say what these cards make him think of. He becomes very angry and walks out. Nemur, who was just passing by in the hall, and Burt follow him. When Charlie refuses to believe that the instructions were the same both times, Nemur tells him that he can listen to their taped conversation. Charlie immediately says that he will believe them only when he hears the tape. They make him come back and listen to the earlier taped conversation. He is shocked at his own childish remarks on tape. He suspects the psychologists of laughing at him, but sees what they are seeing - his growing doubts, anger at the world around him, which are intensifying as his intelligence is growing. He is also amazed to see that the inkblots do suggest pictures. Even so he suspects a catch, and peeps into Burt’s notes and at the backs of the cards. The test doesn’t make sense to him-couldn’t anyone make fools out of the researchers by lying about what they saw in the inkblots?

Along with this skepticism, he also begins to resent the idea that his thoughts and feelings are being exposed to the psychologists. He decides to ask Dr. Strauss the permission to keep some of his papers private for some time. He wonders why this has begun to bother him now, when it didn’t do the same earlier.

Notes

The success of the operation is clear from the gradual, but unmistakable, changes in Charlie. The incident on April Fool’s Day is exciting but also threatening. Charlie is delighted at being able to do things he could never do before, and being able to explore knowledge he had never known about. But people’s attitude towards him change. His boorish "friends" at the bakery become increasingly hostile and suspicious. This is balanced by the increased interest of the psychologists and Miss Kinnian’s joy in his development.

Charlie is shown to be wary and self-analytical about these changes. He is defensive when Miss Kinnian suggests that his friends are less than kind. He becomes suspicious and hostile to the psychologists and is surprised at himself. The author brings in these differences gradually, so that they are quite convincing. He also makes digs at the methodology of psychological research - through Charlie’s digs at the meaning of I.Q. - his query about how psychologists know how much it is, if they aren’t quite sure what it is or where it is! He is equally critical of the validity of the Rorschach tests and whether a mischievous subject can’t fake their results. Through these reactions, the author brings in some valid criticisms of the tools of research, as well as an insight into Charlie’s growing intelligence. The earlier retarded Charlie had been passive, eager to see the best in all around him. Now, like most normal adults, he is proud, suspicious of people’s intentions towards him, and jealous of his privacy. His questioning of the research methods used stems partly from his resentment at being spied upon and being "manipulated."

On the one hand, there is Charlie’s excitement and joy at being able to explore new fields of knowledge on the other; he is plagued by memories of his unhappy past. The fearful child in him doesn’t want to remember the painful incidents of his childhood and adolescence. There is an intense pathos in the memory of his mother’s reaction to his holding his baby sister. In this, the novel goes way beyond the realms of science fiction and stirs a deep sympathy in the reader for the vulnerability of a mentally retarded person. It also has the unusual device of Charlie, now ‘normal,’ feeling empathy for his earlier self.

Most of the women in the novel - Fanny at the bakery, Harriet in his childhood and Miss Kinnian, are depicted as kind, warm and nurturing figures.


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