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Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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FREE LESSON PLANS / ANALYSIS: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

Progress Report 13

Summary

June 10 Charlie is flying to Chicago for the convention. He has been asked to tape his thoughts instead of writing them. The new experience disturbs him, and he keeps thinking of a crash and this reminds him of God and his motherís teaching. God has no particular relevance for Charlie. He has always vaguely imagined him as a departmental store-Santa Claus! He cannot distract his mind away from this fear of flying. Suddenly he remembers another fearful experience in childhood - a visit to a Dr. Guarino who was "going to help you get smart." This is one of his motherís attempts to get him to be Ďnormal, whatever we have to do whatever it costs.í His parents have their usual tug-of-war before the visit-Matt his father distrusts the doctor and anticipates exorbitant fees. The doctor snubs him when he asks him about his charges. Rose shows her eagerness and sweeps away any resistance. Charlie remembers the doctor as being kind but he had been terrified at being strapped on to the table. Mechanical sounds and flashing colored lights upsets Charlie and he wets himself. Dr. Guarino didnít lose his temper and assures him that heíll be Ďthe smartest boy on your blockí before long. Later he let slip that "youíll stay just the way you are-a nice kid." The parents quarrel all the way home, with a trembling Charlie trying to shut out their voices. As usual, his father walks off at the end.

Charlie comes back to the present. He feels now that his mother was the catalyst for his unusual motivation to become normal. "Only after Norma proved to her that she was capable of having normal children, and that I was a freak, did she stop trying to make me over. But I guess I never stopped wanting to be the smart boy she wanted me to be, so that she would love me."

Charlie remembers the charlatan Guarino with tolerance - "He treated me-even then-as a human being." He contrasts this with Nemurís attitude to him as a guinea pig. "He doesnít realize that I was a person before I came here."

June 11


They arrive in Chicago. Things donít begin well for Nemur, as everyone pays attention to Charlie, questioning him about everything, including his own condition. When the opportunity appears Charlie draws Nemur into the informal technical discussion on his condition. He suddenly realizes Nemur is unaware of research into the subject in India and Japan. When Charlie questions him, Nemur brushes him off. On appealing to Strauss, he finds that he knows even less. Charlie is horrified and thinks they are frauds. Burt disagrees with him-pointing out that Nemurís "just an ordinary man trying to do a great manís work, while the great men are all busy making bombs." He also informs Charlie that while he has himself developed a superb mind now, he hasnít got understanding or tolerance. He also tells him of Nemurís ambitious wife, who is always pushing him into influential positions and the public eye.

This incident frightens Charlie - he realizes that "my fate is in the hands of men who are not the giants I once thought them to be, men who donít know all the answers."

June 13

Itís Nemurís big day, when he makes his presentation. Charlie and Algernon are on stage, along with Strauss, Nemur, and Burt. Burt begins the presentation with his report on the intelligence tests he has put the white mouse through. Here a disturbing fact is revealed - that Algernon has been recently rejecting his food reward, hurling himself against the cage after the test and has been behaving Ďerratically.í Charlie has not been told about this. To add to this, the psychiatrists show films on Charlieís early behavior in the lab, making the audience roar with laughter. His change of expression in later films is discussed as if he were "a newly created thing." "Charlie and Algernon" are constantly bracketed together-"two experimental animals with no existence outside the laboratory."

Charlie seethes, but the final straw is when Straussí report reveals to him that they have not waited long enough before presenting their work. Charlie feels like jumping up and declaring this but he canít. He then hears himself described as "a feeble-minded shell, a burden on the society," who has now become "a man of dignity and sensitivity." Charlie has been flirting with the idea of freeing Algernon from his cage. Now he canít resist the temptation any more. Unseen, he pulls down the latch, and Algernon darts across the white tablecloth and disappears. Women scream and a confused mouse-hunt is launched! Women stand on chairs screaming and are knocked down by the mouse-hunters! The dignified gathering is reduced to a frantic rabble chasing "a white mouse smarter than many of them." The mouse enters the Ladies Room. While others hesitate Charlie slips in and puts Algernon into his jacket pocket and escapes to New York. Charlie feels heís running out of time, after the momentous realization he had had about the experiments on him. He decides to find a hotel room and to meet his parents.

Notes

This is a climactic chapter in the novel. Charlieís mental growth has reached a peak, he knows a dozen languages and can understand a variety of technical subjects. But this only brings home a bleak awareness. First, he remembers more of his early life and the driving force his mother was to make him "smart." However, the birth of his Ďnormalí sister and her growth, had made his mother reject him completely and turn her attention to the other child.

The episode with Guarino reveals the way quacks take advantage of desperate families with handicapped children. Yet, Guarino is shown as a sensitive person kind to an innocent boy. His comments on parents who want their Ďnormalí children transformed into geniuses reflect back on society. Guarnio is juxtaposed against Nemur who regards Charlie as a laboratory animal and not a person. He is unable to take it when his "creation" knows more than he does. Algernonís erratic behavior signals the beginning of the end, and Charlie foresees his doom.

The author reflects on the pettiness of so called Ďgreat mindsí, with the rider that the Ďreally great mindsí are making bombs. In the midst of these horrifying discoveries by Charlie, there is a wry humor in his report of the conference. Algernonís escape makes the whole thing farcical. The climax for Charlie is very much an anti-climax for Nemur and his associates.

The parallel of Algernon and Charlie is drawn further, and obviously Algernonís negative responses reveal the chinks in Nemurís work and Charlieís own dismal future. The bond between the two is cemented when Charlie determines to escape along with the mouse - "two man-made geniuses on the run."

Charlie, the retarded child and man, is the ultimate Ďobjectí for others to act upon as they wish. The treatment of a vulnerable person as a non-person, even by those who claim to be working for Ďhis goodí is exposed here. So too is the nightmarish situation in many families, with one mentally retarded member. His mother struggles and drags Charlie through all varieties of treatments because her ego is at stake - "whose fault was it: hers or Matts?" is the question that haunts her regarding Charlieís condition. She struggles to change him, as she cannot accept him. Ultimately, Normaís Ďnormalí state makes her reject him completely. Nemur shows the same lack of interest and insensitivity personally. Charlie doesnít resent Strauss or Burt as much as he resents Nemur.

As a counter to this, one can see Burtís viewpoint - that Charlie is intolerant of Nemurís human weaknesses and negates his real achievement. Thus, Charlie is expected to treat others sympathetically as human beings, while he himself is not treated as one!

Humour is one of the most striking aspects of this chapter. Starting with the ironic description of Nemurís petty egotism over the hotel accommodation, to his defensive feeling of superiority over Japanese and Indian researchers, and culminating in the hilarious force of Algernonís escape and the frenzy into which it throws the august gathering.


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