Summary and Analysis
PROGRESS REPORT 17
This report, filled with powerful imagery and finely tuned language, documents the final two months of Charlie's record keeping. Charlie's writings are making a full circle without punctuation and correct spelling. Fighting thoughts of suicide, he has one last therapy session with Dr. Strauss during which he experiences a hallucination. He steps outside of himself and is drawn to a light that suggests pure understanding. However, the old Charlie — the Charlie who wants to take back control of his body — brings him back to reality.
Charlie also returns to the lab to work with Burt on some tests. However, this trip becomes his final visit there as well. His realization that he can no longer complete the mazes or answer the test questions leaves him frustrated and afraid.
Alice reenters Charlie's life, if only for a short time. Sensing that this may be the only chance that they will have to experience the love for which they have both longed, she moves in with Charlie. Enjoying the physical and emotional love that had been denied him, Charlie is truly happy. Alice agrees to stay only until Charlie asks her to leave; she is gone in ten days.
Charlie returns to the bakery and asks for his job back. Mr. Donner hires him back, and shortly thereafter a confrontation occurs between Charlie and a new employee, Meyer Klaus. Klaus assaults Charlie verbally and physically, and Joe Carp rescues Charlie. Gimpy and Frank also rally around him, and Charlie is glad to have his friends back.
Falling back into his old routines, Charlie goes to Miss Kinnian's class at the adult center. This experience triggers memories of a man who looks like him but isn't him. He regrets upset-ting Miss Kinnian and decides that it would be best for everyone if he moved to the Warren State Home. His final notation is a request on behalf of an old friend; he asks someone to please put flowers on Algernon's grave.
Charlie's last therapy session with Dr. Strauss becomes surreal as Charlie seemingly leaves his body. The imagery that Keyes uses to contrast Charlie's dark thoughts of suicide to the light he experiences within his out-of-body experience causes the reader to examine the reuniting of the two Charlies: the original Charlie, in the dark about most aspects of his life, and the evolved Charlie, who, at the peak of his intelligence, experiences absolute clarity of thought. The collision of these two personalities is almost too much, as Charlie notes: "I open my eyes, blinded by the intense light."
At the end of Charlie's hallucination, he attempts to leave the cave he has entered and go toward the light. He cannot, and remnants of the evolved Charlie warn him with Plato's words: "The men of the cave would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes." Charlie's earlier question of how much knowledge he will retain has been answered. It will be darker than before. But even as thoughts of suicide flood his brain, the evolved Charlie will not destroy the original Charlie: "His life is not mine to throw away. I've just borrowed it for a while, and now I'm being asked to return it." Thus, Charlie validates the dignity and worth of his own life and that of everyone like him.
Charlie's last significant act of this experiment is one of total humanity. He and Alice are finally able to make love. Keyes again brings in the light imagery: "The gray murk lifted from my mind, and through it the light pierced into my brain." Charlie and Alice's relationship slips away shortly afterward, as Charlie's regression increases. Charlie is still determined to hold on to whatever intelligence he can, turning again to books in an attempt to balance the things he is forgetting with new things he will be learning. The de-sire to learn to read that brought Charlie to Miss Kinnian's class — and then to the surgery — provides a life raft as his intellectual abilities deteriorate.
At the end of the novel, we see the evolved Charlie changing places with the original Charlie and moving into the background as an observer. His grammatical and spelling errors emphasize this shift: "And when I close my eyes, I think about the man who tored the book and he looks like me only he looks different and he talks different but I dont think its me because its like I see him from the window." The transformation is complete.
Charlie's returning to his old life completes the circular plot in the novel, but he discovers that things are not completely the same as they were before. At the bakery, he is reunited with his "friends," yet they appear to be changed. They protect him and exhibit qualities of true friendship. A sense of human dignity permeates their behavior. Charlie returns to Miss Kinnian's classroom only to discover that, out of friendship for her, he needs to move away. The original Charlie is back, but the evolved Charlie lingers. Friendship is the energy that allows him to bridge the memories that arise and keep what's important in perspective. "Im going to have lots of frends where I go", he writes. And his last words reflect his friendship for his good companion Algernon, "P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard."
stolid having or showing little or no emotion or sensitivity.
luminescent being capable of giving off light.
grotto here, a cave.
fugues of amnesia a state during which a person seems to behave in a conscious and rational way, although he later cannot remember the period of time nor what he did during it.