Summary and Analysis
PROGRESS REPORT 16
This report spans a time period from July through September and includes many final pieces to Charlie's puzzling life.
Visiting the Warren State Home, the death of Algernon, and visiting his mother and sister are all linked together in a final sense of clarity.
The visit to the Warren State Home is depressing. In a bleak foreshadowing of his life once his regression is complete, Charlie sees the person he was before the surgery reflected in the faces of the "children" being cared for at the Warren State Home. Even though the superintendent sees Charlie as an intelligent man who has no understanding of the lives of those with less mental acuity, Charlie knows that he will soon be living at the home and hopes that he will be remembered well and treated kindly.
Algernon's physical and intellectual decline increases, thus motivating Charlie even more to complete his research before his own regression begins. He retreats to the lab and, in turn, effectively breaks off his relationship with Fay. By cutting off this one human contact, Charlie is becoming the specimen that he has been fighting against. His loneliness is accentuated by the fact that he can no longer interact with people without hostility creeping into the situation. At a cocktail party given by Professor and Mrs. Nemur, Charlie defies his "creator" and argues that he was and al-ways will be a person. Intelligence without humanity is nothing.
One last flash of insight allows Charlie to finish his work. His paper, "The Algernon-Gordon Effect," concludes that his artificially enhanced intelligence deteriorates in proportion to the amount of increase.
Algernon dies on September 15. Charlie buries him in the backyard and puts wildflowers on his grave.
While still confident in his abilities, Charlie borrows Burt's car and goes to see his mother, Rose. He needs to show her that she can be proud of him, that he is finally "smart." Nothing is the way he remembers it, and his mother has ironically become the child whom she threw out of the house. She is living with Norma, Charlie's sister, and is senile. Charlie is caught at the house when Norma comes home, a reunion he doesn't want. Norma remembers little of their childhood and is thrilled to see Charlie. Many of the recovered memories that enabled Charlie to understand who he was, Norma believes were dreams she had. The visit is brought to a close as Rose, suddenly living in the past, comes at Charlie with a knife, telling him to leave his sister alone. The past becomes the present, and Charlie leaves without ever telling Norma that the evolved Charlie is temporary.
The recurring theme of human dignity is brought to the fore-front in Charlie's visit to the Warren State Home. In trying to pre-pare for what may become his eventual future, Charlie tours the State Home, a destination that has been looming over his head for his entire life. Although depressing at best, the staff and residents give each other the respect and dignity that all persons deserve. Ironically, Warren embodies the humanity for which Charlie has been searching. When the novel was written, entire institutions were built for the mentally retarded, at Warren, only 25 to 30 would be accepted from a waiting list of 1,400. Time has not eased the problem of providing adequate, much less superior, care for developmentally disabled individuals, though mainstreaming them into schools and other normal facilities has made acceptance and skill development easier. It's some measure of the person that Charlie has become when Winslow lectures him on the patients' needs for compassionate care: "You can't understand it, can you, from way up there in your research ivory tower? What do you know about being shut out from every human experience as our patients have been?" His passionate speech gives Charlie some comfort and confidence in the care he will receive at Warren when his time comes.
When Alice and Fay meet in Charlie's apartment, it should come as no surprise to the reader that they like each other. Their characters symbolize two different personality components; when they are brought together, they merely complement each other. However, at this stage of Charlie's experiment, he is past the emotional/physical exploration and needs only to concentrate on his intellectual side. In his frenzy to finish his own research and make a contribution to the study of human intelligence, he has no time for Fay and the frivolous activities she enjoys. He is a man on a mission with time running out. Thus, Fay moves out of his life, and Alice slowly moves back in.
Mrs. Nemur's cocktail party turns out to be the stage for two important monologues. Charlie is actually able to have an "audience" with both Strauss and Nemur. He takes this opportunity not to denigrate their experiment but to denounce the spirit with which they conducted it. "You've boasted time and again that I was nothing before the experiment, and I know why. Because if I was nothing, then you were responsible for creating me, and that makes you lord and master." This statement not only draws in the concept of human dignity, but conveniently connects to the theme of Man Playing God. Charlie's summation of their failure — "intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn" — connects the final theme of friendship.
This encounter is only the first at the party. The original Charlie then confronts the evolved Charlie while looking in the bathroom mirror. Here, Charlie recognizes himself as one individual with different needs. It is possible that both Charlies could co-exist, but the evolved Charlie is definitely not going to accept his intellectual regression without a fight. Charlie realizes that he has to fight for his newfound intelligence for as long as he can.
Algernon's death forces Charlie to make one final confrontation. He returns home to face his mother and his past. The mother who meets him sees both Charlies. In her senility, she moves from the past to the present, and the time that is running so short for the evolved Charlie means nothing to her. Ironically, the doctor who had recommended committing Charlie to Warren years ago is now recommending that Rose be committed to a nursing home.
In a surprise meeting, Charlie reunites with his sister, Norma. With her, he finally discovers a sense of family. However, his mother's wielding a knife shatters this new picture with a flash of his old family life. The nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice" draws the reader and Charlie back to an earlier memory of Charlie seeing his sister in the bathroom. Charlie is a blind mouse, in the dark, continually threatened by his mother but still continually drawn to her. Charlie even went under the surgeon's knife to make his mother happy. Intelligence has not satisfied Charlie's need to please his mother.
commissary a restaurant.
Lautrec dancer refers to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), a French painter.
stimulus something to invigorate or that seems to invigorate.
catatonic stupor a state characterized by a noticeable lack of move-ment, activity, or expression, in which the mind and senses are dulled.
coalesced united or merged into a single group or mass.
radioisotopes naturally occurring or artificially created radioactive element used in medical therapy.
vestibule a small entrance hall or room.
coolie an unskilled laborer; generally, a derogatory term.
House of Atreus or Cadmus Greek mythological characters. Atreus was king of Mycenae and father of Agamemnon; Cadmus was a prince who helped build the city of Thebes.
oracle a divine announcement or revelation.
platitudes commonplace or trite remarks.