Flowers for Algernon By Daniel Keyes Summary and Analysis PROGRESS REPORT 13

Summary

Charlie travels to Chicago with Professor Nemur, Dr. Strauss, and Burt to attend the International Psychological Association convention. Here the team is to report its findings on both Charlie and Algernon. During the presentation, Charlie rebels against being constantly referred to as an inanimate object and Nemur's references to his having made Charlie what he is today. Charlie recognizes that his intelligence has surpassed that of his "creators" and that, unfortunately, Strauss' and Nemur's surgical conclusions have been premature. The permanency of his surgery cannot be deter-mined, as the wrong statistical information was used. All of this in-spires Charlie to release Algernon while onstage. The two "man-made geniuses" escape back to New York with the clock ticking.

Charlie's first plane trip triggers the memory of another attempt made by his mother to make him smart. This attempt involved a doctor who used electric shock therapy in his practice. With this memory, Charlie realizes that his unusually strong motivation to "be smart" came from his mother, Rose Gordon.

Analysis

The introduction of a questionable practitioner in this progress report is very subtle foreshadowing. Dr. Guarino, who may be considered a predecessor to Prof. Nemur regarding Charlie's treatment, reintroduces two of the ongoing themes. Dr. Guarino, the memory of whom is triggered in Charlie by the airplane's seat-belts, had introduced himself to Charlie as his friend. Thereafter, he treated Charlie as a friend, and, more importantly, he treated Charlie as a "human being." The doctor's procedure, although not directly stated, is interpreted to be shock therapy because of the use of the restraints and mouth protection, but this time the theme of Man Playing God is dealt with by accepting God's help in the matter, when Rose says: "... maybe Dr. Guarino can make him like other children, with the Lord's help...".

Charlie's family dynamics are explained best in this progress report. His father was tired of his wife's refusal to accept Charlie for what he was. The stress in their household was great: an unhappy mother, with a child who she believed was an embarrassment; an unhappy father, both at home and also in a work situation where he felt powerless; and a younger sister, who only knew that her brother was an excellent leverage tool for her own desires. Finally there was Charlie, who only wanted to please his parents and sister.

The convention in Chicago marks a point of no return for Charlie. The discovery of his doctors' intellectual limitations is a turning point. Charlie is intellectually superior to these men, yet they continue to treat him only as a laboratory specimen. The theme of dignity is predominant in his writing, "Nemur's constant references to having made me what I am, or that someday there will be others like me who will become real human beings." The conference presentation focuses on Algernon and Charlie, and although Charlie is on-stage during the entire presentation, he is spoken of in the third person. In his eyes, these doctors are no more reliable than Dr. Guarino had been, and Charlie's desire to discredit their presentation inspires his releasing Algernon.

In the films taken of Charlie's early attempts at working puzzles and racing with Algernon through the mazes, we remember Matt Gordon's earlier characterization of Charlie as being treated like an animal being taught to play games. Whether mentally handicapped or intelligent, Charlie's mental status is on exhibit. Burt speaks out in praise of ordinary men when he defends Dr. Nemur, saying, "... I respect his dedication — maybe even more because he's just an ordinary man trying to do great men's work." When Charlie challenges Nemur and Strauss as phonies, Burt describes Charlie as "lopsided" and says: "You call them phonies, but when did either of them ever claim to be perfect, or superhuman? They're ordinary people. You're the genius." Charlie rejects the genius label, ironically acknowledging himself as "exceptional," which "refers to both ends of the spectrum, so all my life I've been exceptional." And though Charlie reconsiders his condemnation of the scientists, crediting their ideas and brilliant work with making the experiment possible, he is prophetically frightened at having his fate in the hands of men "who don't know all the answers."

Charlie's releasing Algernon symbolizes Charlie's own emotional release from the experiment. The scientists believed that they created Charlie and that they hold the keys to his future. Now Charlie and Algernon are both free to determine their fate and to experience it without the sterility of a laboratory experiment. But Charlie has discovered the flaw in Nemur's calculations and now knows that the conclusions are premature. He is not yet safe from regression. He also learns that Algernon has been experiencing some abnormal behaviors. Charlie's first wish as he contemplates this in-formation is to find and reconnect with his parents and his past.

Glossary

transistor solid-state, electronic device, composed of semiconductor material, that controls current flow; transistors are similar in function to electron tubes.

stenographer a person who makes a record in shorthand of what people say.

Louis Pasteur (1822-95) a French chemist and bacteriologist.

psychosubstantiation the mind or mental processes that show truth or prove reality by giving evidence to confirm.

deleterious harmful to one's health or well being.

affront to insult openly or purposely; offend, slight.

phenylketonuria a genetic disorder that, if untreated, causes severe mental retardation in infants through the accumulation of toxic meta-bolic products.

peroration the concluding part of a speech.

propound to put forward for consideration; propose.

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After his surgery, Charlie uses what word for the first time in his life?




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