Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FREE LITERATURE NOTES: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
This sets of a series of memories - one of a middle-aged woman taking a delivery from the bakery and then exposing herself to Charlie’s eyes. Then back to his father trying fruitlessly to shield him from his mother’s beatings because he had an involuntary erection while looking at a friend of Norma’s. He remembers her threat - "If you ever touch a girl, I’ll put you away in a cage like an animal, for the rest of your life." Charlie feeling still overwhelmed by the past asks Alice -
"You do it! Hold me!" But even when she does, the old panic
overcomes him and he cries himself to sleep in her arms.
Charlie’s rapid intellectual growth excites him, but emotionally he is in anguish, both at his past that he remembers and at his increasing loneliness in the present. Earlier Charlie was shown lacking the basic understanding to evaluate a relationship correctly. He was happy when Frank or Joe laughed, not knowing that they were laughing at him. They are his ‘world’ and he believes he is happy in it with his ‘pals.’ When he had felt unhappy, he hadn’t the capacity to know why or blame anyone for it.
The operation frees him from his ‘nice safe’ emotional cage in many ways. It exposes his ‘pals’ and their so-called friendship with him as an exploitative relationship. The occasional pitying and kindness is swept away by their hostility when the ‘moron’ begins to judge them and see their mistakes. They can’t bear to see him around and have no peace till they get rid of him. The whole spectrum of people at the bakery, whether Frank and Joe, or Gimpy, or even Fanny Berden, all mistrust the unfamiliar and can’t accept the ‘new’ Charlie. Even the most sympathetically drawn characters like Donner and Fanny feel that there is something wrong about him and won’t accept rational explanations. This makes Charlie’s earlier even deeper. He cannot turn to the researchers, who see him more as an experimental subject than a person. Inevitably, the only person he can turn to is Alice.
The author shows his earlier childlike dependence on Alice as a sort of kindly maternal figure, is changing with his development. From ‘Miss Kinnian’ she has now become ‘Alice,’ who is young, lovely and desirable. Charlie then tries to fulfill his own needs through Alice, but she holds back. She is aware that during such rapid change, the Charlie of today, who is closer to her, may change dramatically in the future. She tries to hold back from a deeper commitment, but she seems to be weakening.
Meanwhile, this chapter shows the background of Charlie’s fears of intimacy with a woman. It reveals to him and to the reader, his fear ridden past with his mother as, at one level, a villain. Yet, even in her depiction, there is a kind of ambiguity, as it exposes the desperation of a parent with a retarded child. It shows her determination that he should make progress, that he can be ‘normal’ and that he should do nothing to attract hostile feelings in people around him. Her attitude is in contrast to his father’s softer, more tolerant one, of acceptance of his retarded state.
His mother’s determined efforts to suppress his sexuality haunt Charlie, the emerging adult. Now after the operation when sexual activity would be ‘permitted’ for him, he finds himself paralyzed sexually. His inability to understand the reason leads him to more free association, with the aim of probing his own past, and brings before the reader a series of haunting dream-like sequences of the Gordon family. The recurring images in these sequences are of a woman bathing, of blood and a knife upheld by an unseen hand. The hand is later seen to be that of the mother. The fear she has implanted in Charlie is so strong that he becomes physically ill and almost blacks out when he comes close to having a sexual encounter. In the incident at the open-air concert, he actually feels he sees a peeping tom spying on Alice and him. Gradually it turns out that it was his own younger repressed self he had seen.
This peeping tom image is an important one in the novel. It signifies the
alienation, which Charlie has always felt from those around him. He just
exists and doesn’t see himself as really living, but only as an observer
of other’s lives. After the operation he can participate ‘directly’ in
life but the old image haunts him. He is alienated even from himself during
his moments of deepest feeling.
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. 09 May 2017