Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FREE LITERATURE SUMMARY: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON
He remembers a scene when his sister had come home triumphant after getting an ‘A’ in a test. She demands a puppy, as promised by her mother. Her father refuses, as they have refused to buy a puppy for Charlie earlier. Charlie supports Norma’s demand and says that he will help her look after the pup. At this Norma throws a tantrum saying that the puppy will be hers alone and she will not share it with Charlie. She refuses to play with her brother, calling him a "dummy" and becomes hysterical. Bewildered, Charlie wets his pants, his common response to frightening events in his world. Charlie now remembers another fragment when Norma tells a friend, "he is not my real brother! He’s just a boy we took in because we felt sorry for him!"
These memories arouse an intense mixture of anger and sorrow in Charlie.
Charlie quarrels with Alice. He waits for her outside her class and
can’t resist going in to see the students. Some remember him from the
past. After they leave he realizes that Alice is angry. She lashes out
at him for his changing attitude to people, and for losing his ‘warmth,
openness, a kindness that made everyone like you.’ She also says he had
undermined her own self-confidence and that he ‘takes liberties with other
people’s minds.’ Finally, she cools down and says she doesn’t want to
disturb him before the all-important Chicago convention. Charlie leaves,
angry and disappointed. Suddenly he has an astonishing insight. He realizes
that his feeling for Alice has moved from ‘worship to love, to fondness,
to a feeling of gratitude and responsibility.’ He sees that he has clung
to Alice out of fear of being forced out on his own and "cut adrift."
Lonelier than ever, Charlie roams the streets at night "wanting
someone to talk to and yet afraid to meet anyone." He finally stops
at Central park, where he meets a woman sitting alone on the park bench.
They start talking and she tells him about her husband and her family.
While they are talking, Charlie realizes the kind of woman she is. He
is quite eager to take her to his room, until she reveals that she’s pregnant.
He is shocked and angry, this frightens her and she screams. Seeing people
coming towards the screaming woman, Charlie flees. The People start hunting
for him, believing he tried to rape her. At one level, Charlie feels he
wants the people to catch and punish him. Why? He is frightened of his
own feelings of guilt. At the same time, the incident of the pregnant
woman sets off the memory of his mother, when she was pregnant with Norma.
"When she was holding me less, warming me less with her voice and
touch, protecting me less against anyone who dared to say I was subnormal."
This chapter builds up the tension regarding the all-important Psychological Convention. It shows Charlie getting increasingly restless and disturbed with his environment. His exile from the bakery gives him nightmares. In the course of his too-rapid progress from pre-adolescence to adulthood, his dismissal from the bakery is necessary for his development yet it leaves him feeling naked and unprotected.
Interspersed with his bad dreams, are vivid, hurtful scenes from his childhood. Here the author brings in the character of Charlie’s younger sister Norma. Bright and pampered, she had become the focus of the mother’s attention. Her earlier obsessive concern for Charlie has obviously faded into indifference. The father is always shown struggling to be fair to his son, always kind, but having little influence on anyone in the family. The scene with the young sister reveals a harshly convincing picture of the way a retarded child is regarded as a liability, even by another sibling. The only company and friendship available to him is also withheld and her stinging rejection hurts him afresh even after so many years. His rejection by various people in childhood not fully realized then, but vividly so in the present, causes him intense pain.
This chapter shows a fresh stage in Charlie’s relationship with Alice. She exposes her insecurity with him and her mistrust of the person he is becoming. Charlie also realizes that he is outgrowing her intellectually, and his feelings have altered with his changing needs. Alice also comes out of the stereotype she seemed earlier. She comes across as a normal, intense human being, worried about whether she can deal with the unusual situation of Charlie. She has a strong attachment to him, but it doesn’t meet her needs. It is clear to both of them that their relationship cannot lead to marriage, children, and settling down.
The gradual withering of his earlier ties with people leads Charlie to prowl around, seeking human contact, but unsure how to deal with it. He tries to have to sexual fling with no ties, only to find the past too haunting, it’s influence still too dominant.
The brief sketch of the woman in the park bench is vivid-she is seen through
Charlie’s fresh viewpoint, not as a stereotyped pick up. There is an odd
contrast between her aspect as, ‘the kind of woman who had been around’
and her assertion that "I’m going to keep the baby." Her confidences
about her marriage to this stranger make her seem naïve, in contrast
to his sudden outburst and the chase that follows.
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. 09 May 2017