Flowers For Algernon

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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Often times in society, there are people who are not like others, making them abnormal. These "abnormal" people are outsiders in today's society. Through hard work and perseverance, one can overcome personal obstacles in which they are faced. Daniel Keyes demonstrates this in the book Flowers for Algernon. The main character, Charly Gordon, a retarded adult, used these traits to persevere through the ongoing battle in which he is faced.

Charly is thirty-two years old, mentally retarded bakery cleaner who lives alone, and whose whole world is the bakery. His desire for improvement propels him to the special school for slow learners, which is called the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. "He said Mrs. Kinnian tolld him I was her bestist pupil in Beekman School for retarded adults and I tried the hardist because I reely wantd to lern I wanted it more even then pepul who are smarter even then me.

(Keyes 3)" Because of the hard work, perseverance, and the dedication to get smarter, he is chosen to be the subject for a revolutionary experiment. This experiment will test whether or not doctors can raise a person's IQ through a surgical procedure. Since Charly is retarded, his greatest motivation is to be smart like everyone else. He does not think of the other consequences that could occur from the operation. "I hope they use me becaus Miss Kinnian says mabye they can make me smart. I want to be smart." (Keyes 1) Before the operation was performed on Charly, a series of tests had to be done to evaluate his personality, and physical strengths and weaknesses. Charly did not completely understand many of the tests that were being done, or why they were being done in the first place. Since he did not understand, he could not do what was asked of him from the doctors. Charly did not do what he considered "well" on the test and he felt like a failure. "I tried hard but I still coudnt find the picturs I only saw the ink. (2)" This frustrated Charly immensely. He wanted to become smarter so badly, but lost his patience very easily when he thought he was "failing" the tests he was given. This feeling remained with him day and night. This is one reason why these sorts of tests should not be performed on mentally handicapped people. They do not have the capabilities to understand what is going on around them. This develops into one of the conflicts in the story in which Charly has to overcome.

After this operation was performed, the subject, in this case Charly, expected a radical change right from the start. When this did not happen, he was extremely disappointed and discouraged.

"I told him [Dr. Strauss] nothing speshul ever happins to me and it dont look like this speshul experimint is going to happin neither. He says dont get discouriged Charly because it takes a long time and it happins slow and you cant notise it rite away." (16) To observe Charly's improvements he continued to write progress reports, so they good evaluate the changes that Charly is going through. At first it was extremely hard to notice. "When I waked up this morning rite away I thot I was gone to be smart but im not. Every morning I think I am gone to be smart but nothing happens. Maby the experience dint werk"¦(15)" Charly got frustrated, and could have given up very easily, like many would do. But no, Charly did not give up, even though many times he thought it would be better. Then little things started to change, such as his spelling and his emotional development. He had no idea it was happening though. "Miss Kinnian teeches me how to spel better. She says look at a werd and close your eyes and say it over and over again until you remember. I have lots of truble with through that you say THREW and enough and tough that you don't say ENEW and TEW. You got to say ENUFF and TUFF." (25) After a lot of hard work and dedication to become smarter, Charly's IQ increased a significant amount. He was basically a genius. While he not only improved academically, he also improved mentally. He began to realize what people were really like. He figured out who his true friends were and what had been going on around him. He understood how he had basically been a guinea pig in the laboratory. He knew that he had only been used for testing purposes, and realized that that's exactly how the professors at the laboratory treated him. He did not like being treated as an experiment. "I resent Nemur's constant references to me as a laboratory specimen. He makes me feel that before the experiment I was not really a human being." (79) This experiment that was performed on him also made him realize what he was before. This was very hard for Charly, he had to see what he had to put up with his whole life. It was a tough transition stage for him. He sees people around him in a totally different light and now views their actions and statements critically. He realized how badly everyone was treating him; even his so called "friends." " Thinking about it makes me remember the time I fell asleep standing up and Frank kicked my legs out from under me. (24)" He knew that he was mentally retarded and what it was like for himself. He realized that he had once studied in a class for retarded adults and he wanted to go back to that place and try to see what it was like. He said, "...I wanted to see the room where - not so long ago - I had struggled over simple reading and writing and learned to count the change of a dollar." (83) Charly does not want to go back to these old ways. Unfortunately, due to his high intelligence, he figures out that there is a defect in his surgery, and he does not have enough time to track down the faults. He also has the intelligence at this stage to suffer agonies, in which he has no choice but to accept them. Charly does this with great courage and great dignity. "I must not panic. Soon there will be signs of emotional instability and forgetfulness, the first symptoms of the burnout. (178)" In conclusion, Charly showed us that through determination and perseverance, one could overcome personal obstacles with which they are faced. It takes a very courageous man to do what Charly has done, overcoming so many obstacles when fate was looking him in the eye. He did this with great class and dignity.