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Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes

Study Help Essay Questions

1. The short story that this novel has been expanded from was originally written in 1959. It was published in a science-fiction magazine and classified as such. What was happening in the world of science in the late 50s and early 60s? What products were introduced during that time that are now common place?

2. The main setting for this story is New York City. Many land-marks, such as Times Square, enable the reader to visualize the location. Which settings are fictional and which are pre-sent still today? What does the novel gain from this mix of real and fictional settings?

3. The combination of the progress reports and the memory re-gressions allow Keyes to use both a first and third person nar-ration technique. How would this novel be affected by having the story told by another character? Miss Kinnian? Professor Nemur? How important is the point of view to the story line?

4. The women in Charlie's life have a significant impact on his personality. Compare Charlie's mother, Rose Gordon, to Alice Kinnian. Both women encourage Charlie to "get smart," both women love him, and both women lose him. If their desire for his intelligence was the same, how was their motivation dif-ferent? And how did Charlie's relationship with his mother af-fect his relationship with Miss Kinnian?

5. This book contains a number of story lines that are circular; they end up where they began. Some might say that Charlie ends up where he began and Professor Nemur is back to his research, but are there loose ends that need to be tied up? Would you say that this novel is an extended metaphor for life? Why?

6. Does the maze that Charlie eventually beats Algernon at, in the beginning of the novel, foreshadow the problems that Charlie must face in his new world? Include the symbolism of the maze throughout the novel in your discussion, and con-clude with the reappearance of it, room-size, when Algernon and Charlie live on their own in New York.

7. Irony is defined as a combination of circumstances that result in the opposite of what is expected. Explain the irony in the situation when Charlie reunites with his mother. Do you think Keyes is laughing at Rose Gordon? Why or why not?

8. Flowers for Algernon was written shortly after Ralph Ellison published The Invisible Man. The main character in Ellison's book, a nameless black man in search of an identity, was in-visible due to his race. Charlie Gordon was invisible to main-stream society due to his mental handicap. Compare the two men's place in society at a time when both men struggled with inequalities and misperceptions.

9. What would probably happen to Charlie Gordon today? Would he have been mainstreamed into a regular classroom? What changes have been made in our society and legal system to make this novel at times politically incorrect? How do these changes benefit society as a whole, or do they?

10. Compare and contrast the novel Flowers for Algernon with the movie CHARLY. What specific elements of the story line are altered to make it more effective on the big screen? Do you think that the viewer or the reader has a better feel for Keye's intent? Why or why not?

11. Compare and contrast Charlie's personality before and after his surgery. Does more knowledge make him a better person? Compare the evolved Charlie's personality with Professor Nemur's during their argument at the psychological meeting.

12. Discuss whether you believe Charlie should have undergone the surgery at all. Was he better off for having done it, despite his eventual regression?

13. Contrast the concepts of family and friendship as explored in the novel.

14. Discuss which characteristics are most valuable in the original Charlie. Do you think these are lost when he eventually re-gresses following the surgery?

15. Is Mr. Donner a father figure to Charlie? Why or why not? In what ways do Charlie's bakery companions behave like fam-ily? How do you define family?

16. Discuss the relationship between Charlie and Algernon. What does Algernon mean to Charlie? How does Algernon's experi-ence relate to the use of animals in medical research today?

17. Do you believe that Professor Nemur's research assistant, Burt Seldon, was changed in any way by his experience with Charlie? Will Burt be more or less likely to engage in similar research in the future? Support your views with statements from the novel.

18. Analyze Charlie's response to Gimpy's shortchanging Mr. Donner at the bakery. Did Charlie do the right thing? How would you have handled the situation?

19. Charlie was fired from the bakery because he was making the other employees and bakery patrons uncomfortable with his newfound intelligence. Was this fair? Why or why not?

20. Charlie was rehired at the bakery after his regression, and worked there successfully for many years before his surgery. What does his firing and subsequent rehiring tell you about the perceived threat from knowledge and intelligence? How does the evolved Charlie's treatment by his peers relate to the treatment accorded very bright students and those seen as "nerds" in schools and communities today?