Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: LITERATURE STUDY GUIDE
Charlie, with an I.Q. of just 68 can’t observe him critically, but the reader can form an impression through the words used by the researchers-"they will see if they can use me." On the other hand, they make Charlie compete with the white mouse, without even telling him about Algernon’s "superior" intelligence and the fact that, they explain the dangers of the experiment to a subject who cannot possibly understand the consequences.
After the operation, Charlie’s view of the researchers changes. Their reactions to him change too, especially in Nemur’s case. When the "TV" machine is to be installed in Charlie’s room, he demands to know its effects. Nemur is furious at being questioned by Charlie. Only Strauss is sensitive enough to notice and appreciate the changes in Charlie.
Both the researchers have a heated quarrel over the Chicago convention. During this Nemur is revealed as being an ambitious man and a careerist, who is willing to risk the integrity of his research for fame and promotion. Strauss is more concerned about validating their work and it's reliability, but both are egotistical. Nemur gets very tense as the psychology convention draws closer, and vents this on Charlie. Strauss is closer to Charlie as a person, and understands his changing mind. He asks Charlie to write his reports simply, so people can understand what he has written. He does not dismiss Charlie’s worries about co-workers at the bakery, but advises him about the steps that he can take. From Nemur’s attitude towards him Charlie realizes, "He makes me feel that before the experiment I was not really a human being."
Nemur resents the limelight on Charlie, when they go to Chicago for
the convention. When Charlie draws him into the discussions, Nemur lectures
at length on his technique. This is the moment when Charlie finds out
that, Nemur and Strauss are not aware of the new developments, in the
field, in Asian countries! Charlie learns that, it is Nemur’s wife and
her ambition that is driving him to premature publication. He finds that
Nemur has "the teacher’s fear of being surpassed by the student."
This is aggravated by the fact that Charlie was not even his student but
was a sub-human laboratory specimen! Nemur calls the old Charlie "a
feeble-minded shell a burden on the society that must fear his irresponsible
behavior." He plays God, behaving as if he has "created"
the new intelligent Charlie and has been rewarded with ingratitude. To
the end, he does not realize what Charlie means when he says-"the
other Charlie who walked in the darkness is still here with us. Inside
me." Strauss, on the other hand, understands at once. Strauss, during
his therapy sessions, is sympathetic and does not rise to Charlie’s provocation
as he realizes that it is because of his frustration. He also advises
Charlie when he is facing a moral dilemma over Gimpy, not like Nemur,
who dismisses the problem. Strauss, along with Alice, continues to visit
and support Charlie till the end of the novel, when Charlie leaves for
the Warren State Home.
Burt is the member of the team of researchers who experiment on Charlie. He is perhaps the only one who spends time with Charlie. The readers are told that he is kind and speaks slowly, so that he can be understood. Burt’s character is colorless and not clearly defined. He serves as a medium to express views on his seniors - as when he tells Charlie about Nemur’s ambitious wife who pushes him to seek publicity and promotion. Later, when Charlie is bitterly critical of the team at the convention, Burt defends Nemur by saying, "He’s just an ordinary man trying to do a great man’s work, while the great men are all busy making bombs."
Charlie considers Burt a friend, but Burt thinks nothing wrong in concealing from Charlie, the extent of Algernon’s decline.
Thus, the author underlines the general lack of humility and the aloof
bureaucratic attitude, by which scientists distance themselves from those
they ‘use,’ visualizing them as "objects" to works on.
Frank and Joe are important to Charlie, who calls them his good "frends," and wants to become "smart" like them. However, to the reader, they are clearly loutish bullies, whose idea of "fun" is to pick on anyone with a physical or mental handicap. Their favorite game is to kick out Charlie’s legs from under him, when he’s not looking. They exploit his gullibility for laughs. Once, hoping he will sabotage the machine, they egg him on to work the dough-mixer in the regular operator’s absence. This incident occurs a little after the operation and therefore Charlie masters the task easily. He’s promoted, and his "frends" are mad at him. Only Fanny Berden, a woman worker, is happy for him.
Gimpy, the baker, is another of Charlie’s "frends." He himself
has a bad leg and, in his blunt way, is very protective towards Charlie.
He is surly and rough, but kind. He is also one of the senior employees,
who is trusted by the proprietor. After the operation, Charlie finds Gimpy
has been conniving with the customers to cheat Mr. Donner. On being challenged
by Charlie, Gimpy turns hostile and nasty. Then most of the workers gang
up on Charlie and demand his dismissal. However, towards the end, when
Charlie returns to the bakery in a regressing state, they accept him and
promise to "look out" for him. Their mixed approach to Charlie
is typical of that of many uneducated and unthinking people towards someone
with a handicap.
The kind proprietor of the bakery is an old friend of Charlie’s Uncle, Herman.
A father figure to Charlie, Donner is one of the old school - a paternal
employer who looks after his workers as one looks after his or her family.
It is he who rescues Charlie from the Warren State Home where his family
dumps him. Acting as Charlie’s guardian, he gets him a permit to work
and live outside the home, and even employs him. However, when the delegation
of workers demand Charlie’s dismissal, as they can’t adapt to the "new
Charlie," he reluctantly lets him go. Again, he takes back Charlie
in his state of regression. Mr. Donner is an idealized figure, one of
the few who represents security and warmth in Charlie’s chaotic life.
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. 09 May 2017