Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: LITERATURE STUDY GUIDE
Another aspect of this is his constant awareness of two Charlies and the feeling that, the old Charlie has just "loaned" the use of his body to the new one. After drinking with Fay, and at Nemur’s party, the old Charlie surfaces. This increases the new Charlie’s uncertainty about, who he is. His fear of being haunted by his old self drives him to seek out his family, whose rejection of him has been so traumatic. After his return home, he comes to terms with his mother and sister as unhappy human beings, who had acted the way they did because of social compulsions. He also accepts that the old Charlie is part of himself, and will be the whole of himself when his intelligence leaves him.
Charlie goes through immense agony before he can accept these things.
Agony he would never have known with his earlier low I.Q. He has a lively
love affair with one woman, Fay, but his enduring love is only for Alice
Kinnian who knows his past, present, and future, and had cherished him
when he was alone. Through his research, he has known the excitement of
intellectual discovery and the tragic fulfillment of being able to predict
his own regression. Having had all this, Charlie keeps his dignity and
humanity, and accepts his tragic end with grace. The author makes the
readers share the thrill of Charlie’s expanding intelligence and the anguish
of his regression in equal measure.
Alice and Fay are to an extent, archetypes. Alice is the nurturing, maternal type of woman. Initially, she is just the kind "Miss Kinnian"-ageless and almost sexless to the retarded Charlie. When the operation on Charlie is being considered, Alice constantly worries about its consequences, in spite of Charlie’s eagerness to go ahead. Yet, she is always close building up his confidence, yet cautioning him against getting involved with her, while he is still changing rapidly. She points out, "when you mature emotionally, you may not even want me. I’ve got to think of myself too." Yet, she goes to an open-air concert with him. She responds to his love making there, but with reservations, until his other repressed self intrudes and inhibits him.
Knowing there is no future for them, Alice does not withhold her friendship from Charlie. But, she is reserved about loving him. She tries to soothe his fears about his abnormal situation and explains "You’re a new swimmer, forced off a diving raft and terrified of losing the solid wood under your feet."
Yet, Alice is not one-dimensional. She is ill at ease with Charlie’s changing intellect and personality, and does not conceal it - "There was something in you before... a warmth, an openness, a kindness that made everyone like you and like to have you around. Now with all your intelligence and knowledge, there are differences..." She says frankly that after their meetings - "I go home with the miserable feeling that I’m slow and dense about everything. ...I wanted to help you and share with you-and now you’ve shut me out of your life." She knows that he’s as far away from her with an I.Q. of 185 as he was when his I.Q. was just 68.
While Alice is torn between her own conventional and more modern tendencies, she doesn’t give up on Charlie, even during his involvement with Fay. She overcomes her resentment of Fay, and tells Charlie that she is good for him.
When Charlie is deep in his research, Alice is the perfect helpmate, who brings him sandwiches and coffee and does not make any demands. Finally, when Charlie’s mind is regressing and he is lonelier than ever, Alice puts aside past quarrels and comes to him. She withstands all his efforts to repel her and takes an assertive role in making love, until at last, Charlie can overcome his past and achieve fulfillment with her. Alice doesn’t let him give up easily, but demands that he fight his lethargy. When Charlie can’t take this, he drives her out. In the end, she once again becomes "Miss Kinnian" for him. In his pride, he doesn’t let her get closer, yet she continues to see to his well being through his landlady. Charlie acknowledges this in his last report, bidding farewell to his friends.
In sum, Alice is drawn as an ideal lover and helpmate. The readers rarely
see anything of her life other than the way she relates to Charlie. Even
her suffering is shown only in relation to him.
Charlie’s neighbor is the anti-thesis of Alice. In her mid-thirties, she is artistic and unconventional. Charlie’s first sight of her is that of "a slender blonde in pink bra and panties," standing and painting at an easel. Quite undisturbed by her semi-nudity, she invites him in and asks him to sit amidst all the messy clutter of her room. Charlie discovers that she paints nudes, is divorced, drinks and dances at all times of day or night. "She’s been around" as Charlie discovers, and this both fascinates him and does away with his sexual inhibitions. Her own approach to sex is casual but enthusiastic, and Charlie feels she is just what he needs. Here too, his needs are paramount and Fay is more and less, just the means to fulfill them. Yet, he can’t help liking her as a human being, especially her fearless friendliness and lack of curiosity about him. Yet Fay is independent and makes her own set of values - "I don’t see that because I let a guy bring me home I’ve got to go to bed with him." When she invites a down-and-out woman home, she is robbed of her month’s allowance. But with quick generosity, she forgives and forgets, believing that the other woman must have needed the money more than she did!
Fay is frightened when a drunken Charlie behaves like the "old Charlie,"
but she doesn’t leave him alone all night, as she fears that he might
harm himself. Charlie is thus as much attracted by her zest for life and
her novelty among his circle, as by her sexual appeal. However, he never
confides in her about himself or his past, and the relationship remains
superficial. Once he is absorbed in his work, Fay becomes jealous and
bored with him. As his condition worsens, she goes off with a series of
lovers and snubs him when he tries to approach her. Thus, Fay is seen
as Alice’s opposite, but like her, is never allowed to develop into a
really rounded character.
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. 09 May 2017