Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Daniel Keyes Titled Flowers

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I. Introduction. Thesis statement: The themes addressed in Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes reflect the problems of treatment of people with mental disorders and experiments on animals as well as a different perspective on therapy of mental illnesses.

A. A short story became a famous novel.

II. Daniel Keyes was one of the first to consider ethical and philosophical implications of living with mental disorder in literature.

A. Professor Nemur believes that the surgery might improve Charlies intellectual abilities.

B. Charlies true need is friendship, not high intellect.

III. The consequences of the main characters surgery led to unhappiness.

A. Experiment on the mouse Algernon proved to be controversial.

B. Charlie realizes that he has only two friends.

IV. Flowers for Algernon proposes its own scientific view on mental illnesses.

A. Though Charlies condition was not stated, it provides an insight into a mentally ill persons mind.

V. Keyess science fiction discusses various ethical, philosophical, and social problems propagating tolerance and respect of life.

A short story by Daniel Keyes titled Flowers for Algernon was published in 1960 (Flood). Soon afterwards, the author decided to publish an eponymous novel, for which he won the Nebula Award in 1966 (Flood). In fact, the novel is an extended and a bit more complex version of the original short story. In 1968, Ralph Nelson and Selig J. Seligman released an Oscar-winning film titled Charlie (Flood). The film can be viewed as an attempt to artistically reconsider the novel by Daniel Keyes. Today, Flowers for Algernon is being renowned as a masterpiece of science fiction. The essay analyzes the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes according to the concept of theme as one of the key elements of the narrative. Specifically, it proves that the themes addressed in the book reflect the problems of attitude toward people with mental disorders, ethical issues concerning experimenting on animals, and a different perspective on treatment for mental illnesses.

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Many journalists and critics refer to Flowers for Algernon as a science-fiction masterpiece of poignant brilliance (Flood). Evidently, what makes the novel a piece of utter importance and brilliance is a wide range of ethical issues that the author is referring to. At the same time, the novel provokes thought, sheds light on the inner workings of the minds of people who have been diagnosed with mental disorders, and, more importantly, convinces the majority to reconsider their attitude toward mentally challenged people. At the beginning of the novel, there readers are introduced to its protagonist, Charlie Gordon. The author portrays Charlie as a kind, friendly, and naive person. Charlie Gordon works as a janitor in a bakery and attends Ms. Alice Kinnians literacy class at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. Professor Harold Nemur hypothesizes that intelligence can be increased surgically and thus proposes an experiment. Ms. Kinnian and Professor Nemur convince Charlie to have a brain surgery that hypothetically, may improve his mental abilities. Ms. Kinnian says that after surgery, Charlie is going to be smart and famous and that there are going to be dozens of books written about him. Interestingly, this first-person narrative is written in a form of a diary. Each entry in Charlies diary, up to a certain point, is called progress report. The novel is comprised of seventeen progress reports while the rest are common diary entries written mostly between October 4 and November 21 (Keyes). As others force Charlie Gordon to contemplate the possibility of brain surgery that will possibly make him clever and famous, Charlies ambitions are revealed: I dont care so much about beeing famus. I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me (Keyes). Charlie has a firm belief that If your smart you can have lots of frends to talk to and you never get lonley by yourself all the time (Keyes). Thus, the main character of the novel merely needs someone to keep him company similarly to any other person.

The experimental surgery is initially performed on a mouse named Algernon. Professor Nemur tests Charlies intelligence comparing it to that of Algernon. Intuitively, the protagonist can sense that something is terribly wrong about animals and humans being treated the same way, being experimented on. Even though Charlie admits that I dint know mice were so smart, he claims to hate Algernon because the mouse appears to be smarter than him (Keyes). After Algernons intelligence plateaus for some time, the mouse gradually loses new abilities and eventually dies. No one but Charlie pities Algernon: Intelligence and knowledge had changed me, and he would resent me as the others from the bakery resented me because my growth diminished him. I didnt want that (Keyes). Furthermore, Charlie begins to realize that people he has been working with at the Donners Bakery do not want to be friends with him and, in fact, have never wanted (Jones and Bentz). They laughed at him, but they laughed with him as well. In fact, it seems that the only two people who treat Charlie like an equal have been his uncle Herman and Mr. Donner, the owner of the bakery and a friend of Hermans. Charlies uncle is a kind and generous man who has been taking care of Charlie and protecting him after his mother has insisted on her sons leaving home.

In fact, uncle Herman is the only family Charlie has, and Mr. Donner treats Charlie like a family too. After the surgery, Charlies intelligence increases at an exponential rate. He writes few articles for scientific periodicals and gets introduced to the students, faculty, and staff at Beekman College. However, being smart does not make him happier; on the contrary, due to his increased mental and intellectual capacities, he has become capable of understanding peoples motives. In turn, this ability does not make it any easier for Charlie to interact with people and to navigate many important aspects of life. For Charlie, it is extremely difficult to handle emotions and feelings. Therefore, his life after the surgery becomes dominated by sadness, solitude, rejection, and disappointment. Moreover, Charlies mental health, his intellectual capacities, deteriorates. The last lines of Keyess Flowers for Algernon are:

P.S. please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he

would have more frends. Its easy to have frends if you let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of frends where I go.

P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard. (Keyes)

The novels finale implies that the time may soon come when the symptoms of the main characters condition will worsen.

The opinions of various critics and medical specialists are divided on the matter of the nature of Charlie Gordons condition. Some scholars think that Charlie suffers from autism spectrum disorder while others maintain that the case Daniel Keyes described in his best-known novel is that of mental retardation. The author does not indicate whether Charlies condition is an inborn mental deficiency. At the same time, it is not specified whether protagonists disorder is a result of trauma. Scholars have discovered that there is a connection between the production and level of steroids and mental disorders (Sanders 1288). In addition, medical specialists agree that Charlie Gordons case, in a way, can be viewed as a proof of the fact that mental disorders are actually curable (Levine 50). On the whole, it is possible to assume that Daniel Keyes has not been given enough credit for the contribution he made to better understanding of the problem of mental deficiencies. Flowers for Algernon is truly the best-known work of fiction by Daniel Keyes. The author has also written a book of non-fiction titled The Minds of Billy Milligan that has become the first work of the recorded and described case of multiple personality disorder (Holland).

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To conclude, Flower for Algernon by Daniel Keyes should be interpreted as a work of science fiction. It means that none of the scientific statements made in the novel should be considered true. On the other hand, Flower for Algernon, like any other work of science fiction, has a broad social context, thus addressing a wide range of social, ethical, moral, and philosophical problems. First of all, the analyzed book demonstrates how it feels to live with a mental disorder and what challenges one may face. Secondly, the novel proves that mental deficiency cannot be used as an excuse for others to think less of those afflicted with it. Mentally challenged people and their families need proper care, support, and understanding. As far as the scientific implications are concerned, Flowers for Algernon does not provide an unambiguous approach to the questions whether the treatment of mental disorders is a real-life possibility or to what extent the medical specialists should be allowed to intervene attempting to cure a patient. On the whole, all medical specialists, regardless of their specialty, should adhere to the do no harm principle. Flowers for Algernon conveys the message that all life is meaningful and important.


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