Hearts will ache over ‘Flowers for Algernon’ story

Anna Cuimmo

Written in 1959, the novel “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes is considered a classic for good reason. Although written decades ago, its themes are still relevant today.

This science fiction novel follows Charlie Gordon, the first human to undergo a surgery to increase his low intelligence. The same surgery had already worked perfectly on a mouse named Algernon, so the procedure is considered safe to apply to a human subject. This procedure changes Charlie’s mind and heart drastically, and he begins to better understand human behavior.

The story is written from Charlie’s perspective, in the form of “Progiss Reports,” a form of diary which he is required to write as a part of the experiment. Initially, he tends to misspell words and use bad grammar, writing nearly unintelligibly. As time progresses, though, you see him steadily improve and his writings become drastically more complex.

Charlie is a dynamic character throughout the book because of the major changes from the surgery. He finds it hard to cope with new feelings, such as the romantic connection he feels to a former teacher. It’s often hard to keep track of his development because he changes so quickly. He develops an almost entirely new personality, yet remains a likeable young man with a desire to learn and understand the world around him.

Although he is likeable, you have to fill in a lot of the blanks where his limited narration fails in the beginning, and that was frustrating. However, the middle of the story is by far the most uninteresting. Charlie’s intelligence reaches a plateau, and though he is narrating much more clearly, his character becomes flat and uninteresting.

The only interesting parts in the middle of the story are the few flashbacks to his childhood, where the reader uncovers his devastatingly abusive past. As the reader sees Charlie beginning to think for himself, he begins making painfully predictable choices that add very little to the plot.

Near the end of the book, a few unexpected plot twists make the story worth finishing. Charlie’s behavior again begins to change. As he is faced with very upsetting choices, some readers may even find themselves in tears by the last few pages.

Although the book was written decades ago, the message and content of the story still resonate with readers in this day and age. 

It questions the ignorant treatment of mentally disabled individuals, the ethics of certain medical procedures – especially ones of a psychological nature – and whether or not ignorance really is bliss.

At times, the book can be quite slow and hard to read due to Charlie’s childlike state of mind and level of writing, but it still is worth reading and contemplating. Readers that are interested in reading about special needs or ethical behavior will appreciate this book. However, readers that desire a more plot-driven book will probably not enjoy it as much.

Rating: 3/5 stars