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is told, and it must be true, because whenever Charlie and
Algernon run a race (Algernon is in a real maze; Charlie has a
pencil-and-paper version), Algernon wins. How did that mouse
get to be so special, Charlie wonders?
The answer is that Algernon's IQ has been
tripled by an experimental surgical procedure.
The scientists who performed the experiment
now need a human subject to test, and Charlie
has been recommended to them by his
night-school teacher, Miss Kinnian. Charlie's a good candidate
for the procedure, because even though he currently has an I.Q.
of only 68, he is willing, highly motivated and eager to learn.
He's convinced that if he could only learn to read and write, the
secret of being smart would be revealed to him.
Charlie wants to be smart because he works as a janitor in a
factory where he has many friends, but even as he goes along
with their hijinks, he suspects his friends mock him. The
opportunity to be made smart--really smart--is irresistible, even
though there's a chance that the results of the operation will only
be temporary. Because Charlie wants his co-workers to accept
And therein lies the tale. Charlie does indeed get smarter. He
struggles to absorb as much knowledge as he can in whatever
time he has. He suggests a new way to line up the machines at
the factory, saving the owner tens of thousands of dollars a year
in operating costs, and the owner gives him a $25 bonus. But
when Charlie suggests to his factory friends that he could use his
bonus to treat them to lunch or a drink, they have other things to
do. Charlie's too smart for them now. He's even smart enough
to assist with the research on intelligence enhancement. He's
smart enough to suddenly perceive Miss Kinnian with new
eyes...and fall in love.
Everybody is Charlie
Flowers for Algernon is such a beloved classic that it has
remained in print since 1959 and is now in its 58th edition. It has
received science fiction's highest honors, the Hugo and Nebula
Awards. It's been translated into dozens of languages, adapted
for TV, and performed on stage. Cliff Robertson won an Oscar
for his performance in the 1968 movie version, Charly.
Everybody loves Charlie's story because Charlie is so
vulnerable, so representative of readers' internal desires to fit in,
to be smart, to have friends, to love. Everyone carries the
ancient baggage of childhood, a time when others (adults, older
children) were the keepers of the secret knowledge of the
world. The revelation of Charlie's raw hopes and dreams
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arc of his progress is apparent in his spelling, grammar, and
word choices, as well as in what he chooses to record about his
Readers are made clearly aware of the tragic arc from the start.
The sense of impending doom makes Charlie's achievements all
the sweeter, as he begins to put together the pieces of his former
life. At the very moment that his essential nature emerges, as he
defends a mentally retarded boy from a laughing crowd and
resolves to use his new intelligence to contribute to human
knowledge, Algernon bites him.
Human beings have a finite life span, and part of being human is
having to contend with the loss of abilities toward the end.
Charlie's time in the sun is brief, and, like an Alzheimer's
sufferer, his grieving scarcely fades even when he can no longer
comprehend his losses. He is not able to accept the new, sincere
friendship and protectiveness shown by his factory friends--he
thinks they're sorry for him and feels shame. Yet he intends to
start a new life, and keep trying to learn. His determination
exemplifies the heroism and resilience of the human spirit.