Flowers for Algernon By Daniel Keyes Summary and Analysis PROGRESS REPORT 9-PROGRESS REPORT 10

Summary

Charlie continues to excel in all areas, and he is even promoted at the bakery. But as his intellectual growth is becoming obvious, Charlie's change is becoming frightening to others. He is not al-lowed to talk about his surgery, so his rapid transformation is all the more puzzling to those who knew him best before the operation.

Charlie is becoming more aware of his surroundings, and his self-consciousness is displayed in his progress reports as he refers to the dictionary for any questionable spellings. A new style of writing is introduced along with the introduction of a second Charlie. Along with subjectivity, Charlie recalls memories as if they were happening to someone else. His progress reports are often now written in the third person as he watches his memories unfold.

Charlie discovers that he can be angry as he deals with his re-covered memories, which center around cruel jokes played on him by schoolmates and the resulting public humiliations. For the first time, he "gets" the joke, and he is it. As he begins to express his anger, he also begins to question authority.

The decision is made in Progress Report 10 to present a paper on the experiment to the psychological convention in Chicago. Dr. Nemur is convinced that his calculations are correct and that the experiment is successful. Dr. Strauss believes it's still too soon to draw conclusions. Charlie overhears their debate, which escalates into charges of angling for a better position and an argument about whose contribution to the experiment is more important. This decision has fateful consequences for Charlie.

We also see Charlie's increasing need for mental stimulation. He hangs out at the college and makes friends with the students there, engaging in discussions about Shakespeare and politics, art and God. Charlie draws the conclusion that education is learning that "the things you believed in all your life aren't true, and that nothing is what it appears to be."

Analysis

Charlie's mental growth is far surpassing his emotional growth. His memories are kicking in, and he now has the ability to understand them. Ironically, these memories undermine his relationships with his "friends." Miss Kinnian tries to warn him, but the old Charlie is still lingering emotionally and refuses to believe that his friends aren't nice.

Yet, the pieces are all falling into place in the jumble of Charlie's mind. For example, Charlie writes, "I never knew before that Joe and Frank and the others liked to have me around just to make fun of me. Now I know what they mean when they say 'to pull a Charlie Gordon.'" Charlie tries to justify this new insight by rationalizing that it is a good thing to know that everyone laughs at him. People laugh at others who are less intelligent.

When Joe and Frank take Charlie out, they trick him into drinking and dancing with a girl at the bar. This is Charlie's first close contact with a female since the surgery, and it awakens his sexual feelings. Charlie is physically and emotionally going through puberty at this stage, and his intelligence is challenging every facet of these hormonal impulses. He struggles with his sexuality and attempts to use intellect to deal with his new feelings. He reads many novels, but they cannot clear the emotional confusion that lies hidden within him.

As we read Charlie's recovered memories, which we presume to be true, we can see that the source of many of Charlie's problems with his sexuality lies in his innocent childhood attempts to connect with other people — attempts that produced harsh responses and misunderstanding. Charlie struggles with sexual expression throughout the book as he copes with the effects of his family's fear of his sexual feelings. (Issues of sexuality and mental retardation continue to be debated today as families and courts struggle with developmentally disabled individuals' desires for marriage and children.) We can see that Charlie does not under-stand his sexuality. What we do not know is how much of his ignorance — or innocence — is the result of the way he was treated with fear and punishment as a child.

Charlie deals with many issues in his new life by reading. The desire to read is what got Charlie involved with this experiment in the first place. He went to Miss Kinnian's class motivated by a strong desire to learn how to read. He has now learned this skill and through it is attempting to understand everything that is happening to him. As the experiment progresses, the passion to read is perhaps the only desire that Charlie maintains — before, during, and after the experiment.

Understanding his relationship with his parents, Rose and Matt — names that Charlie suddenly remembers as he flashes back to his parents' arguing over sending him to the Warren State Home — plays another large part in Charlie's character. Charlie's personality was strongly shaped by his parents; character traits that reflect his parents are now explained through his recovered memories.

For example, Charlie's mother, Rose, is living in a world of denial. The importance of what others think, and having a life that conforms to those thoughts, is her primary motivation. She wants Charlie to be a smart child, and nothing dissuades her of his ability to become one. When she has another child, she abandons any consideration of Charlie's needs. Although Charlie's father, Matt, accepts Charlie as he is and only wants the best environment for him, he is no match for his wife's irrational behavior. We sense a man who only wants to be left alone, problem-free, which is how he eventually ends up. We also see a foreshadowing of the experiment in this scene when Matt accuses Rose of "driving [Charlie] as if he were an animal that could learn to do tricks." Charlie's first days after the surgery are spent racing a mouse through a maze. And Charlie struggles throughout the book to reclaim his humanity from the scientists who've been working with him. Even when he becomes intelligent, he is still being driven like an "animal" doing "tricks."

Keyes uses humor quite sparingly but on a variety of levels. Humor (or what passes for it in the world of the teaser) is directed by many characters at Charlie, calling into question making fun of someone as a genuine form of "humor." But with Charlie's introduction to the concept of punctuation, Keyes uses Charlie's new-found knowledge as not only another way to visually impact the reader but to show Charlie's playfulness. We don't know the degree to which Charlie himself exercised humor before the operation, but we can certainly see its impact on him very early afterward. We are left to wonder whether Charlie's life was simply too grim for much humor to emerge, or whether humor itself is a function of intelligence (though this book has a number of examples of unintelligent humor). Humor will reemerge toward the end of the novel in the free-spirited Fay Lillman character, but she revolves too closely around Charlie's downward spiral for the humor to be sustaining. In fact, in stark contrast to Charlie's frantic efforts to salvage something of his intelligence for the future, Fay's obliviousness to his pain and rejection of him as "not fun" will appear even more callous. We will also see as Charlie declines that he once again loses his ability to "get the joke" and to enjoy general entertainment.

The journalizing of this novel is a unique way of allowing the reader access to Charlie's mind. This technique has its limitations, however, as many times a story is best told by a dispassionate third party. Keyes overcomes this constraint by allowing Charlie to view his recovered memories as an onlooker. Charlie is now essentially two characters. One is the evolving Charlie who underwent the surgery and keeps track of his life in his progress reports; the other is the original Charlie. The evolving Charlie is capable of watching his recovered memories as an onlooker and incorporating them into his life's history. The original Charlie is the Charlie who underwent the operation. Situated within the evolving Charlie, he watches the growth and changes, and yet he does not let the evolving Charlie forget who he was and who he will ultimately be again. We cannot know the truth of Charlie's recovered memories at this point in the story, but we can see the childhood influences that combined with Charlie's disability to make him less able to cope with society. On the other hand, we see Charlie's incredible sweetness and strength of character as he accepts many slights without becoming embittered.

The evolving Charlie is losing many of the character strengths that the original Charlie once possessed, one of which is trust. For example, he notes about himself, "I had reached a new level, and anger and suspicion were my first reactions to the world around me." The depth of Charlie's emotional pool is deepening, and as it deepens, many new feelings are surfacing. Charlie is now struggling with an openness that invites mockery. Knowing that many people are reading his progress reports, he recognizes the need for a new level of privacy. His sense of self responds to the perceived invasion, and he becomes more guarded. As Charlie's character changes, we wonder too about the relationship of character to intelligence. Was Charlie sweet because he didn't know any better? What triggered Charlie's sensitivity in the face of the slights he had endured all his life? Does intelligence make Charlie a better person?

In Charlie's flashback to Frank and Gimpy attempting to teach him to bake rolls, we also see the many misunderstandings that can compromise the ability to teach developmentally disabled people. Charlie was confused by the slight differences in method that each baker used in the teaching. And he associated teaching with punishment rather than increased understanding. We can surmise from Charlie's description of the memory that, had only one method been demonstrated, and had Charlie been given time to practice in a nonthreatening environment, he could have learned a new skill. These techniques are used today to teach many skills to developmentally disabled individuals, enabling a great number of them to live less restricted, more productive lives than would have been possible for Charlie.

Glossary

plateau a period that is relatively stable, or during which there is lit-tle change.

psychiatrist a doctor of medicine specializing in the study, treatment, and prevention of disorders of the mind.

neurosurgeon a surgeon who specializes in surgery involving some part of the nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord.

free association the technique of having the patient talk sponta-neously, expressing without inhibition whatever ideas, memories, and so on come to mind; used to discover and clarify repressed material.

riding on the coattails to have one's success dependent on someone else's.

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




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