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Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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FREE PLOT NOTES: FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

Progress Report 14 (Continued)

Summary

June 24

Charlie goes on a binge of watching movies. He moves from one cinema house to another. He dare not drink for fear of the old Charlie surfacing once again. Then in a sudden revelation, he understands that it is not the movies, but the audiences that he needs. Sitting with crowd of relaxed people in the dark makes him feel that he is a part of them. This gives him a sense of belonging, something, which he craves. Otherwise, his life has become aimless. Until one evening, he visits a diner. The teenaged boy, who has recently been appointed to wash the dishes, is similar to what he was before the operation. The boy suddenly drops a stack of dishes, breaking them. His fear followed by uncertain grins when the customers joke about him, reminds Charlie unbearably of himself. He reacts furiously -‘for God’s sake, have some respect! He’s a human being!" He walks out feeling ashamed on behalf of both of them.

The incident gives him a new determination. Charlie decides to get back to the Welberg Foundation for permission to work on increasing human intelligence, in order to help others, who are like him. He decides to share this with Alice.

June 25

Alice welcomes Charlie warmly and scolds him for disappearing earlier. He explains that he had to find some answers. He tells her that he had locked out the ‘old Charlie Gordon’ but couldn’t succeed and that, "Charlie exists now in me and around me." It had not been his increasing intelligence, which had come between them, but his persona of Charlie "the little boy who’s afraid of women because of what his mother did to him." He pours out his fears and discoveries to Alice until she is in tears. He longs to make love to her and decides to pretend she is Fay. He feels that "Charlie" is afraid of Alice, not of Fay. But, in spite of their feverish efforts, he can’t go ahead. He is shattered but decides not to run away this time. He tells Alice that he loves her. He leaves, gets drunk, and seeks Fay. But she is not at home. Charlie waits impatiently for her and at last, Fay comes home. Charlie asks her to help him "erase the straight lines," which bothers her so much. Fay however is doubtful. She doesn’t want this time to end in the same frustration as before. Charlie is impetuous and determined and promises her that it won’t recur. He still sees the old Charlie watching them make love, but this time he is able to ignore him and find fulfillment.

June 29

Energized by his new self-awareness, Charlie begins work on the psychophysical side effects of the experiment done on him and Algernon. He contacts an expert in the field who thinks he is crazy until they have a discussion. Charlie continues work in the lab.

June 30

Fay and Charlie develop a serious relationship, although both know that permanence is not for them. They accept each other’s failings, and Charlie values her as "a free and independent spirit." Only her craze for dancing all night wears him out! About their feelings he says-"it's not love-but she’s important to me." Charlie stops "watching" them.

July 5

Charlie gets to know Fay better and starts valuing her generosity. Charlie learns that it is because of this generosity that she has run out of money. A week before meeting Charlie, Fay had befriended a girl at the ballroom and had invited her home after listening to her sob story. The girl however vanishes with all of Fay’s latest alimony payment. Yet, Fay can’t be ruthless and complain against the girl to the police. She says that the other girl must have needed the money pretty badly! Charlie feels that Fay is exactly what he needs now.

July 8


Fay’s lifestyle makes it hard for Charlie to work, but he tries to work on a "linguistic analysis of Urdu verb forms.’ He has also compelled a piano concerto, which he dedicates to Fay. Charlie admires the dedication of other researchers, but feels they are "studying more and more about less and less."

Alice calls to ask him when he will return to the Beckman lab and he tells her that he will do so after completing his current projects. On one of his binges with Fay, Charlie’s old persona reappears and does a tap dance on the stage of a club. Fay thinks he is a wonderful comedian with his "moron act." Algernon behaves erratically again, frightening Minnie.

July 9

Fay has developed a habit of feeding Algernon who is quite friendly with her. One day, as she tries to pick him up, he bites her thumb. He then hurries back into the maze. At this point, they also discover that he has injured Minnie. As they try to rescue her from the cage, Algernon resists violently.

Algernon calms down but Charlie notices that his actions are restless and confused. Instead of carefully determining his directions, he moves about hurriedly and seems out of control. It is because of this that, he often crashes into barriers. This gets Charlie worried and he decides to take Algernon back to Nemur’s lab.

Notes

This chapter shows Charlie’s struggle to "grow up" normally, especially in emotional and sexual terms. He also explores the intelligence he has got after the operation. His escape from the convention gives him the chance to control his life to some extent, and take stock of what he has. The realization he has at the convention that, the experiment on him might still fail, gives him a sense of urgency and maturity. His mind reveals to him the traumatic events of his past, like his mother’s ultimate and complete rejection of him. He wants to meet his family desperately and prove to them that he has gone beyond their wildest dreams! But, in the moving and sad scene with the father, Charlie cannot confront him. He is afraid that, as with other past relationships, this one too, will fail. Thus, his desperate need for warmth and love remains unsatisfied. He loves Alice but can’t resolve his old problems with her. When Fay enters his life, she succeeds, to a certain extent, in freeing him from all the taboos that he is imprisoned within. Fay is a non-conformist, a strong character outside the framework of his childhood conditioning by his mother. She has rejected all the conventions, but is warm and generous and "just what he needs." It is a one-sided relationship in which Charlie’s essence, his past, is unknown to her.

Charlie’s life has changed so dramatically that he is unsure about who he is. He cannot resolve the difference between the ‘old Charlie Gordon,’ who was only an observer of life and barely tolerated by others, and his new self. It is only when he accepts that these two selves are part of who he is, is he able to move on. Thus he gets involved with Fay. He also starts a study on the operation done on him and Algernon, and it's effects.

This chapter documents his struggle to adapt to his new life, and to take responsible decisions for himself.

It also brings out the contrast between his mother and Fay, and Alice and Fay. His mother is almost the main antagonist in his life. But she is also shown to have been under great pressure. Her hysteria, her egoism, and her final cruel rejection are repeatedly revealed. Both Alice and Fay accept him, but they are very different. Alice has been a sort of kindly maternal figure to the old Charlie. The new Charlie is attracted to her sexually but can’t banish the old Charlie’s feelings for her completely. Also, Alice is a more conventional woman and falls within the category of those who were taboo for the old Charlie. Fay is unknown to the old Charlie and she also is unconventional. The old taboo therefore does not apply to her. Perhaps too, the relationship with her is less intense, hence doesn’t make for soul-searching for Charlie.

Another line of development in the chapter is that of Charlie’s work. He is shown initially, as just enjoying his new intelligence and dabbling in all kinds of reading. After the convention, when the seriousness of his own condition is brought home to him, he decides to escape with Algernon. Then he experiments with Algernon’s mazes, never using food as a reward. When he works with his "alter ego," the mouse, knowing that their situations are parallel, his work is convincing. Yet, when he is said to work on a piano concerto on "the pair production nuclear photo effect for exploratory work in biophysics," or on "linguistic analysis of Urdu verb forms, or the "Hindu Journal of Psychopathology," it sounds like gibberish. This is the weakest area of the novel - it’s claims to belong to the genre of science fiction. Whenever the author strays into a technical area, he seems to be quite ill at ease. Charlie’s constant movement from one area of work to another could suggest his restlessness and insecurity about his future. But, the superficial references to that work are not convincing.


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