Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FREE PLOT SUMMARY / SYNOPSIS: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
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.
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.
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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. 09 May 2017