Summary and Analysis
PROGRESS REPORT 14
Enjoying a newly found freedom, Charlie rents an apartment for himself and Algernon in midtown Manhattan. The newspapers cover their escape and also feature a story about his family. Supplied with information from the paper, Charlie is able to track down his father, Matt. His father was always willing to accept him for who he was, and Charlie wants to show him who he is now. He goes to his father's barbershop to surprise him, but his father does not recognize him.
Describing Algernon as "a pleasant companion," Charlie wants to teach him some complex maze variations, using some motivation other than food. Charlie looks forward to the time as a chance to rediscover his past, "to find out who and what I really am.
Charlie also meets his neighbor, Fay Lillman. Fay, an uninhibited artist who is attracted to him, intrigues Charlie. Charlie has constructed a huge, plastic maze for Algernon. Algernon maneuvers this maze without the goal of food. When Fay discovers the room-size maze, she jokingly acknowledges it as art — sculpture — and entitles it "Life is just a box of mazes." Fay also brings a new mouse, Minnie, to the maze; Algernon is no longer alone. However, Algernon's behavior is becoming very erratic. He not only bites Fay, but he injures Minnie as well.
One night, Fay attempts to seduce Charlie and only succeeds in getting him drunk. While intoxicated, the old Charlie re-emerges. Fay watches in fright and wonderment as Charlie becomes a child. Through this experience, Charlie learns that the old Charlie is still very much with him, only temporarily covered up with knowledge. Charlie does have sex with Fay, however, being able to block out his old feelings and the third-person Charlie who always interfered with his relationship with Miss Kinnian.
Charlie resumes an old pastime of going to movies, but he is unable to stay throughout the film because of feelings of emptiness. After several attempts, he determines that these feelings are actually feelings of loneliness. After one of these events, he goes to a diner and catches himself participating in the humiliation of a developmentally disabled dishwasher. At first he is amused like all the other patrons at the restaurant, but when he realizes the connection between his former self and the dishwasher, he jumps up and shouts, "He's a human being!" Reflecting on the incident, Charlie realizes that he needs to give something of himself to others. He decides to apply for a grant from the Welberg Foundation to work on the project and come up with some answers to improve the experiment and make its outcome more successful. He also decides that he can't be alone anymore and finally calls Alice. Sensing urgency and afraid of Algernon's increasingly erratic behavior, Charlie realizes that he must return to Beekman soon.
Charlie continues to remember his family's relationships and how they shaped his life. He recalls the night that his father intervened on his behalf and saved his life, a life that Matt thought was worth saving. He also remembers his mother and sister. He's not sure he wants to see Norma again, who "flowered in our garden" as Charlie became a weed. But his biggest question is whether or not to see his mother: "What good would it do to see her now?. . . Is the past worth knowing?" These questions of family remain important as therapists search patients' memories for childhood traumas, as adopted children search for their birth parents, and as family trees continue to be traced through umpteen generations as people seek to reconnect with their genetic past. The novel doesn't really answer Charlie's question. We can only imagine Charlie's life in the Warren Home and whether any of the people he reconnected with in his post-surgery days will be there for him. But we might also consider how Charlie's life would have proceeded without the eventual regression that is soon to happen to him. Could he ever have gone home again? Would he and Norma reconnect? Should his father have been given another chance? Would the past have been worth knowing?
Through a reporter's lead, Charlie locates his father and is anxious to reunite with him. However, when the time comes to identify himself to Matt, Charlie is unable to do so. The evolved Charlie is looking at his father face to face, but it is the original Charlie who reacts to him. Charlie leaves without gaining his father's acceptance for the person he is today.
Charlie's friendship with his neighbor, Fay, is one of complete spontaneity. With every other woman in his life, the evolved Charlie has to deal with the original Charlie's history. Fay only knows the evolved Charlie, and she likes him. She doesn't know anything about his operation and simply likes Charlie for himself — a totally new experience for him. The original Charlie is unable to have any impact on their relationship as Fay has no connection to that Charlie and, consequently, his mother. Fay is the woman who can finally unlock his physical side.
The two current women in Charlie's life, Alice and Fay, can be used to illustrate Charlie's total evolution. Alice represents Charlie's intellectual growth. She is there when he first attempts to read and has charted his unfettered growth beyond hers. She is a link between his past and his present. Fay represents his emotional growth. She is the new friend whom he trusts with his feelings. She is attracted to him, and he to her, but without the guilt that his mother instilled in him. When Fay brings home another man, Charlie experiences jealousy — not because he is in love with her, but rather because he is jealous of the other man's apparent ability to seduce her.
Throughout Charlie's personal odyssey to unlock his emotional/sexual sides, the original Charlie still lurks. Sometimes he appears to the evolved Charlie as a watcher, and sometimes the evolved Charlie just senses that he is present. Unnerving at first, Charlie eventually becomes confident in himself and defies the original Charlie to watch: ". . .[G]o ahead, you poor bastard — watch. I don't give a damn any more." After making love to Fay, Charlie attempts to deceive the original Charlie. The evolved Charlie tries unsuccessfully to merge the two women by using the thought of Fay to break through to the emotional side with Alice. As Charlie and Fay's relationship continues, the original Charlie stops watching. He no longer needs to watch; his emotional needs as well as his physical needs are being satisfied.
Charlie is also developing a social conscience. For example, he writes in this progress report, "I've got to stop worrying about my-self — my past and my future. Let me give something of myself to others." His concept of friendship has expanded to a broader group, taking in all people of low intelligence now and in the future. This broadening marks a significant evolution in his character as he moves outward from his self-centered thinking and recognizes his own complicity in his isolation. He tells Alice, "Somehow I've be-come separated emotionally from everyone and everything. . . . I've got to grow up." We see the beginning of Charlie's integration of his social and intellectual natures. Unfortunately, time is running out.
Algernon's life with Charlie is changing as well. Charlie notes, "He seems listless and confused, and though he still learns new problems without external rewards, his performance is peculiar." Algernon's personality takes a hostile turn, and he bites not only Alice but also Minnie, the mouse Fay brought to Algernon as a friend. Terrified that this behavior of Algernon's is a preview of what he himself will have to endure, Charlie interprets a sense of urgency through Algernon and makes plans to return to the lab.
gauze here, a thin mist.
brusque rough or abrupt in manner or speech.
Greenwich Village a section of New York City, on the lower-west side of Manhattan, noted as a center for artists and writers.
dilettantes here, people who follow an art or science only for amuse-ment and in a superficial way.
kimono a loose outer garment with short, wide sleeves and a sash.
vacuous having or showing lack of intelligence, interest, or thought; stupid, senseless, or inane.
naivete the quality of being naïve, meaning simple and childlike.
usurp to take or assume power.
polygamy having two or more wives or husbands at the same time; plural marriage.