Does the Novel Make a Definitive Statement About the Role of Intelligence in Human Life, or Does It Simply Explore this Idea as an Open Question?
Flowers for Algernon is a romantic story about pure love and struggle. Important themes in Flowers for Algernon include the treatment of the mentally disabled, the impact on happiness of the conflict between intellect and emotion, and how events in the past can influence a person later in life. The 1966 review by The New York Times states “The obvious part is the message: We must respect life, respect one another, be kind to those less fortunate than ourselves” (Fremont-Smith 25). A major conflict of man and society appears in this book.
The theme of Flowers for Algernon is that humans do not understand that mentally handicapped people have feelings too. Daniel portrays this by putting the main hero – Charlie – in a situation where he would be looked down upon. Then he puts Charlie in a position where he is superior. Charlie eventually realizes how he has treated people and tries to correct himself, but he starts his decline instead.
Charlie is being considered for a surgical procedure that will increase his intelligence. Documentation of these six days covers the screening process and focuses on Charlie’s abilities. He is given many tests, but his own motivation to “get smart” is the primary reason that Charlie is selected as the first human candidate for this operation. Charlie meets Algernon during this selection process. Algernon is a white mouse that has successfully undergone the surgery.
But what does it mean to be intelligent? The narrow definition “intelligence” is the capacity to learn, to understand, or to deal with new or trying situations. The novel gives a theory: the more intelligent you become the more problems you will obtain. As a result the intellectual growth is going to outstrip the emotional growth. The definition of intelligence that is explained in the book is having certain attributes. The qualities are having honesty, ethics, morals and compassion (Flowers for Algernon, 2014).
“I’ve learned a lot in the past few months,’ I said. ‘Not only about Charlie Gordon, but about life and people, and I’ve discovered that nobody really cares about Charlie Gordon, whether he’s a moron or a genius. So what difference does it make?” (Progress Report 16, August 11). Intelligence is something magic that lives in life. We have to find answers to all the questions through the intelligence we have. So it is an open-ended question because apparently no one can really explore the true nature of intelligence in our life. The story Flowers for Algernon brought hope and perseverance to all the people. People are born the way they are meant to be – we shouldn’t play God and change that (Nicholls, 1989). Charlie Gordon went through in his life as a developmentally delayed man to become a super genius. He came to many realizations about the experiment. He realized that changing the IQ would change life and identity along with it. He also concluded that people who are developmentally delayed are human and should be treated like humans. Also, this experiment showed him that it goes against God. Keyes allows the reader to comprehend that if Charlie had to go through this again he would choose not to. Upon reading this novel the reader develops a deeper understanding and empathy towards people who are “different” in society’s eyes (Flowers for Algernon).
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” It seems so obvious to be banal. Charlie has the same body from start to finish, but is he the same person from start to finish? Are any of us the same person from one day to the next? In a world where feelings and emotions can be controlled or understood as the product of scientific mapping of the mind, can such concepts as the self and even the idea of a soul endure? The debate is a maze. Even Algernon at his height could not solve it. But, like this book, the fun is in the journey (Intelligence and Happiness , 2002).
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