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Book Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Updated on October 19, 2013

Why Read?

I picked up Flowers for Algernon because my dad had mentioned how much he enjoyed it when he read it in middle school. Others in their 40s and 50s I have talked to have said it was required reading in school, and now I'm wondering why it isn't any longer. We are in a society where intelligence is valued and those with nontypical brain chemistry are not respected. Acceptance of all intelligence levels seems like a good topic of discussion, especially in a educational setting where all intelligence levels congregate.

Photo Credit: www.wikipedia.org

Basic Information

Title: Flowers for Algernon

Author: Daniel Keyes

Genre: Science Fiction

Release Date: April 1966

Page Number: 274

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World

Descriptors: intellectual disability, societal standards, morals & values, sad, journey, self reflection, self discovery, consequences

Values...

Do you think American society puts too much value on academic intelligence?

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Description

What the back of the book says...

"Charlie Gordon is about to embark upon an unprecedented journey. Born with an unusually low IQ, he has been chosen as the perfect subject for an experimental surgery that researchers hope will increase his intelligence- a procedure that has already been highly successful when tested on a lab mouse named Algernon.

As the treatment takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment appears to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance until Algernon suddenly deteriorates. Will the same happen to Charlie?"

-Flowers for Algernon; Description can be found on book or at www. amazon.com

What I Say

So, Charlie has an operation on his brain to make him “smarter.” I like how Keyes wrote this book in first person journal entries from Charlie, because it allows the reader to show his progression in not only grammar and vocabulary, but in the complexity of his thoughts. It’s also personal, and shows how his emotional maturity does not develop at the same rapid pace as his intellectual maturity, which causes problems for him as the story goes on. (It also shows how what we value as a society can overshadow other important aspects of a human being, or what is personally valued.)

Simply put, this book made me mad. Because another individual’s human experience is nontypical, we need to devalue and “fix” it? Charlie’s operation is considered an amazing breakthrough in science, but really it's medical model crap. I currently work adults with intellectual disabilities, and they do not want to be fixed. They don’t ask for understanding, but acceptance. We see through recovered memories, that is all Charlie wanted, too. This is the only reason he accepted taking part in the experimental surgery he didn’t fully understand- he desperately hoped he would finally be accepted by those around him. The surgery even causes him to hate his former self. Our culture taught him to. And in the end, Charlie’s “improvement” that changes him into an entirely different person starts to fail it’s intended purpose. Charlie’s world is turned upside down, shaken, and ruined, for he will never be the same person again. All because we fear what we can't know.

Read For Yourself - And let me know what you think!

Flowers for Algernon
Flowers for Algernon

Check out for yourself how Charlie manages his transition as a intellectually valuable science experiment, and how society deals with things it does not understand.

 
Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey
Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey

Read Flowers for Algernon? Take a look at the Daniel Keyes (author) journey writing with Charlie.

 

Book Club

Tell me in the comments, because I want to know!

Have you read Flowers for Algernon, or do you plan to now?

Why do you think Charlie agrees to participate in this research?

What do you think about his emotional growth compared to his intellectual growth?

Would you take a surgery to make you smarter? What do you think the positive and negative consequences would be for you personally?

Do think American culture puts too much value on academic intelligence?

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    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      I've read Flowers for Algernon a number of times - always catching something new each time - and was once involved with a production of the stage play. It is a powerful work, one of my favourites.

    • TheCozyDinosaur profile image
      Author

      TheCozyDinosaur 3 years ago

      @Dave Lynch: Thank you. Hope it has encouraged you to read it.

    • Dave Lynch profile image

      David Edward Lynch 3 years ago from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

      It sounds like an interesting book, being accepted by others seems to be an important part of life, thanks for sharing this book review in your lens.

    • TheCozyDinosaur profile image
      Author

      TheCozyDinosaur 3 years ago

      @smine27: Me too, so sad! I think it's necessary though- tell someone they are not good enough, build them above a standard, and then take it away. Very thought provoking book. Thanks for commenting!

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 3 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      I have read this book and although I enjoyed reading it, it left me feeling very sad.