Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha has Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology, as well as a Bachelor's in Marketing. She has extensive experience creating & teaching curricula in college level education, history, English, business and marketing.

'Flowers for Algernon' is a touching science fiction story about Charlie Gordon, a mentally handicapped man who submits himself to an experiment to become smarter. In this lesson, we will learn more about Charlie.

Simple Charlie

Charlie Gordon is a mentally handicapped man with an I.Q. of 68 who helps in small tasks at a bakery and goes to a special school when he can to try and get smarter. He sees himself as having a lot of friends, but he still yearns for a fuller life, a smarter life.

His discontent with his life makes him subject himself to a science experiment done by students and professors at the university. This experiment was originally performed on a mouse, Algernon, that has shown serious progress in being smarter.

The science experiment does start to work on Charlie, but then he realizes that the people surrounding him, who he always saw as friends, were people who pitied him or mocked him, changing his whole outlook on life and changing those around him.

Charlie's Troublesome Family

Charlie Gordon's life has been propelled in this direction because of his mother who always wanted a smarter child. She pushed him to excel. When he could not meet her expectations, she threatened to kill him.

Charlie's father realizes he is not safe and moves him to his uncle's home. He lives there until he is 17 when his uncle dies. During his stay with his uncle, Charlie had made friends with his uncle's best friend, Mr. Donner, which is how he starts working at the bakery that Mr. Donner owns.

Striving for Betterment

Charlie starts to go to Beekman University to take classes for the mentally handicapped. This is where he meets the woman that will change his life. Ms. Kinnian, his teacher, realizes how much Charlie wants to succeed, so she refers him to the psychology department at the university to see about the experimental surgery.

During the experiment, he starts to document his progress in a journal, which is how most of the story is laid out - in journal entries. As his I.Q. triples in a 9-month period, he quickly evolves, his intelligence bringing him a whole new perspective on people and life.

Intelligence and Love

As Charlie becomes more developed, he starts to see women anew and has a brief affair with a young woman named Anna but ultimately falls in love with Ms. Kinnian. Charlie's relationship with Ms. Kinnian was sweet and new but unfortunately does not last because Charlie's brief brilliance starts to decline quickly.

The Experiment's Results

At Charlie's peak of intelligence, he started to realize that the experiment was going to fail. He started to understand the formulas and scientific equations and knew that it was not a fully functional experiment. This was later confirmed when Algernon declines quickly and then passes. Due to this, Charlie starts a frantic pursuit to find the answer to make the experiment fully successful and jots all of this knowledge down in his journal before he reverts back to his old self.

The regression in intelligence is quick and sad to behold. Although Charlie loses his intelligence and his love, Ms. Kinnian also has a tragic situation, because she still loves who Charlie was and now has to see him in this slower, lower functioning form.

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