Free Study Guide: Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes|
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FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON: LITERARY ANALYSIS / STUDY GUIDE
While the novel is part of the mode of science fiction, it also makes a strong plea for the acceptance of the retarded. The cruelty with which Charlie is treated is all the more painful because he is the one who tells the readers about it and they suffer with him.
In his childhood, his high-strung mother slaves over his education, determined to make him "normal," even by force. His fatherís softer and more positive influence is subdued. That this is linked with her ego is clear with the birth of a second "normal" child, when she shuts him out totally, and devotes herself to the younger child. The smaller cruelties like not letting him hold the baby, or hiding him in the cellar when visitors call, are painful. But the harsh threat of caging him for life if he shows "sexual" interests in anyone and the final rejection and dumping him at the Home, are traumatic. Her treatment also brings out the worst in Norma, his sister, who rejects him with childish insensitivity.
Donnerís kindness brings him out again into the bakery. But while Donner himself treats him with kindness and respect, Charlie is constantly pushed around by the more insensitive of the workers. Sometimes they are friendly and even protective, but it is a patronizing friendliness, with no respect for the retarded person as a human being.
Finally, the researchers, especially Nemur, regard him as the raw material that they can "use" for their work. Nemur considers him an object, a burden on society, and congratulates himself on having "made" him a useful citizen. He expects "gratitude" for what he has done, and cannot understand Charlieís suffering when he knows he is losing his intelligence.
The novel thus makes a strong plea to the readers to enter into and
empathize with the problems of a retarded person and to accept him as
a human being, who is different, and needs perhaps more love than the
Charlieís overwhelming need for love compels him towards one of the few women who has cared for and cherished him --Alice Kinnian. When his mind develops, he sees her as a young and very attractive woman. That, plus the fact that he can be himself with her, as she knows both his selves, inevitably propels him to love her. Alice too returns his feeling of attraction and even friendship. But, she is wary of anything more because of the rapid changes in him and the feeling that his emotional dependence is not love. Yet she canít cut herself off, in spite of repeated attempts. Their relationship then runs aground because of his sexual repression. They try to step back into friendship and Charlie depends on her support and criticism. Since he canít settle his sexual problems with Alice, he enters into an affair with Fay.
Fay, depicted as Aliceís opposite, being unconventional and sexually permissive, is also physically attractive to Charlie. She is a vital colorful, strong-willed and outspoken individual. Charlie is initially bowled over physically, but this generous and eccentric woman, so different from his past experience fascinates him. He is aware that he loves Alice, but Fay and he share a mutual attraction. He decides to have an affair with Fay almost as a means to liberate himself. He is close to her, and tries to fulfill some of her conditions but finds her life-style too erratic for him. Besides, he has never considered Fay capable of understanding what he really is. Thus, the affair peters out.
He finally achieves fulfillment with Alice, but it is short-lived. His regressing
mind resents her criticism, her tidiness, and even his attachment to her.
Thus, they part, but Alice continues to care for him and arrange for his
welfare till the end. This is a modern love story in an unconventional
setting, not the traditional boy-meets-girl, with rivals, petty jealousies,
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. 09 May 2017