Summary and Analysis
PROGRESS REPORT 11-PROGRESS REPORT 12
Charlie is beginning to realize his feelings of love for Alice Kinnian and is struggling with all of the recovered memories that these feelings arouse. As a child, Charlie had been taught to stay away from women and to suppress any feelings he had toward them. His relationship with Alice is forcing these memories to surface, and Charlie once again reverts to the third-person viewpoint.
Discovering Gimpy shortchanging Mr. Donner at the bakery is a turning point for Charlie at work. He realizes that Gimpy has been stealing for a long time, counting on his ignorance to keep the practice secret. The thought of having been used by Gimpy in betraying Mr. Donner presents a moral dilemma for Charlie. This incident sets the stage for his eventual firing at the bakery. Again the theme of man changing God's plan (Man Playing God) surfaces with Fanny Birden rationalizing that Charlie's firing is a consequence of his changing nature.
Charlie himself equates the bakery with home and family; now that he has been cast out, he has neither.
Charlie is now uncomfortable with everything concerning Beekman. He still spends a great deal of time at the library, but he no longer enjoys conversations with students and faculty; they are too childish, and as his intelligence outpaces theirs, he gets no intellectual stimulation from them. Instead, he considers himself foolish for ever having thought they were smart.
Charlie continues to resent Prof. Nemur and his constant treatment of Charlie as a laboratory specimen who was not a real per-son before the operation, and he neglects to turn in his progress reports. Yet he does return to the Beekman Center for Retarded Adults to visit Alice. This visit vividly marks the difference between the Charlie who used to sit in Miss Kinnian's class and the Charlie who now visits that class. His demeanor touches off a tirade from Miss Kinnian that paints a very different picture of Charlie, whom she sees as a person who looks down upon intellectually inferior people, a category that now includes her.
Charlie's life continues to become more complex. He is now able to look at situations and see deeper meanings in them. For ex-ample, when he and Miss Kinnian (whom he now refers to as Alice) go to a movie, he balks at the ending as trite and unlikely. A sense of right and wrong pervades his thinking as he states, "Even in the world of make-believe there have to be rules." This thinking pattern supports his constant search for answers in books.
Alice realizes that Charlie is rapidly advancing intellectually. "Ordinary people . . . can't change much or go any higher than they are, but you're a genius" she tells Charlie. "You'll keep going up and up, and see more and more." Prophetically, she says, "I just hope to God that you don't get hurt." Charlie, however, believes what he overheard Dr. Nemur saying: Nothing can go wrong. He says, "I couldn't be any worse off than I was before. Even Algernon is still smart, isn't he? As long as he's up there I'm in good shape." For better or worse, Charlie is tied to Algernon.
A moral dilemma forces Charlie to look beyond books for guidance. He discovers that Gimpy has been shortchanging Mr. Donner. Unable to decide what to do with this information, Charlie seeks help from Prof. Nemur, Dr. Strauss, and Alice. Only Alice is really helpful. She simply tells Charlie to trust himself, which is a new concept for him. He accepts this piece of advice as permission not only to consider himself an equal amongst these associates, but also for him to make his own judgments about what is right and wrong. In Charlie's dilemma, we also see that despite his years of retardation, his own ethical sense is highly developed and rests upon his strongly held beliefs about the responsibilities of loyalty and friendship.
Charlie's first ethical decision places the theme of friendship that's been interwoven in Charlie's life into stark relief. His decision to confront Gimpy is a masterful compromise as he gives Gimpy the chance to stop the stealing and keep his job with no one any wiser. In doing so (although Gimpy doesn't see it that way), Charlie honors his friendship with Gimpy by not telling on him and getting him fired. The friendship theme is further reinforced because Charlie ultimately sees Gimpy's shortchanging of Mr. Donner as breaking the rules of friendship.
The theme of Man Playing God is also present in these progress reports when Fanny Birden rationalizes Charlie's eventual firing: "If you'd read your Bible, Charlie, you'd know that it's not meant for man to know more than was given to him to know by the Lord in the first place." She then foreshadows his future by saying, "Maybe you can go back to being the good simple man you was before." Only by losing his newfound knowledge can Charlie regain his innocence. In Fanny's reminder of Adam's being driven from paradise and learning about lust and shame as a result of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, we see an echo of Charlie's banishment from his bakery home and his awakening to sexual feelings and his shame in not being able to bring them to fruition with the woman he loves. He may not have been in paradise before the surgery, but knowledge has lost him everything familiar.
Another theme that is intrinsically linked with friendship and Man Playing God is one of personal dignity. This issue first appears when Charlie rejects the concept of Algernon having to pass a test in order to be given food. Now, Charlie is again confronted with this issue when he seeks Prof. Nemur's opinion on Gimpy. Prof. Nemur believes that Charlie should not take any action, as he isn't really to blame. Charlie argues that he is not an inanimate object, and the Professor agrees, but clarifies that he meant before the operation. Charlie is rankled: "I was a person before the operation. In case you forgot." Should a person's right to dignity be measured by his I.Q.? Is life inherently valuable and worthy of respect? Of course, as Charlie's own intelligence increases, he becomes guilty of the same disrespect: looking down on people of lesser intelligence. And like the scientists and those who patronized him before the surgery, he too has a hard time recognizing his intellectual arrogance.
Charlie and Alice move into a new phase in their relationship. The month of May sees their friendship struggle with expectations from both sides. Charlie rejects Alice's classification that he is merely an adolescent falling in love with his teacher, and Alice is frightened that she is falling in love with someone who will quickly outgrow her. Charlie's surfacing memories confuse the situation even more. He has an overwhelming desire to be close to Alice, yet when the opportunity finally arises, nausea and fear overwhelm him. These feelings also elicit a sense of wrongdoing that in the past necessitated punishment. (This feeling is especially noted when Charlie accidentally encounters a prostitute and is then chased through the park by police. He almost feels a need to be caught and punished.) Yet we see Charlie judging Alice, commenting on her furnishings and concluding that she "couldn't make up her mind who she was and which world she wanted to live in." This judgment prepares us for his later judgment that he has outgrown Alice. It also foreshadows Charlie's own apartment, which is characterized much the same way he characterizes Alice's: "Everything was neat."
A series of recovered memories detail Charlie's sexual awakening as a child. He moves from recognizing (though not understanding) the physical difference between his sister, Norma, and himself to unconsciously having an erection while around his sister and her friends. This physical reaction is one of the final points of judgment that his mother uses to justify beating him and throwing him out of the home.
These memories explain Charlie's present responses and reactions to different events, but they do not erase them. For example, at a concert in Central Park with Alice, Charlie feels that because he intellectually understands the source of his fear of women, he will be able to deal with it. He attempts to become physically romantic with Alice when not only the nausea and fear return, but he now also spots "someone" physically watching them. A split second be-fore he is aware of this third person, Charlie is able to see himself and Alice in the park. For the first time, the original Charlie lets the evolved Charlie know that he is still with him. We also hear from Alice that Charlie was open and likeable before the surgery but is now becoming "insufferable." Charlie realizes that his feelings for Alice were holding him back; he is as far away from her now with an I.Q. of 185 as he was with an I.Q. of 70. His high intelligence is casting him adrift from normal human relationships even as his emotional immaturity struggles to make connections with his pre-sent and his past.
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