Flowers for Algernon Setting

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In ''Flowers for Algernon'' by Daniel Keyes, Charlie Gordon is an intellectually disabled man living in New York during the 1960s. In this lesson, we will learn how the setting of this story contributes to its development.

Charlie Gordon

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is the story of a 32-year-old intellectually disabled man named Charlie Gordon who undergoes a surgery to improve his intelligence. The story is told through a series of Charlie's first-person progress reports that indicate his improvement in spelling, grammar, and word choices. Despite his improved academic intelligence, Charlie suffers when his social development does not progress at the same rate. The setting plays an important role in this story as attitudes about disabilities and ethical medical practices have evolved since the 1960's when this novel was first published.


When does this story take place, and why does it matter? Charlie's first progress report is dated March 3 with the final entry on November 21st of the same year. The lack of political correctness that existed in the 1960s resulted in Charlie's mother rejecting him, as she took his disability personally. In the novel, Charlie describes what Mr. Donner, his boss and his uncle's best friend, told him about how Mr. Donner was able to bring Charlie to the bakery: '… mother had you comited to the Warren home I got them to releese you on outside werk placmint.' By the end of the 1960s, laws were passed that required services for disabled students in public schools and began deinstitutionalizing differently abled citizens.

The relatively short time period in which Charlie receives treatment plays a part in Charlie's struggle to catch up socially to his sudden surge in intellect following his surgery. Charlie discusses his confusion with Dr. Strauss, his neurologist and psychiatrist: 'Dr Strauss feels that emotionally I'm still in that adolescent state where being close to a woman, or thinking of sex, sets off anxiety, panic, even hallucinations.'


New York

Where does this novel take place? Charlie originally lives with his family in Brooklyn, NY. Charlie's mother and sister stay in Brooklyn, but his father, Matt, leaves his mother and opens a barbershop in Long Island. The Beekman Center for Retarded Adults, where Charlie learns to read, and Charlie's apartment are in Manhattan.The city is important because it provides opportunities for Charlie that would not be available in suburbs or rural areas. Charlie does not need to drive a car. There are plenty of other transportation options available, such as walking or taking a taxi, bus, or subway. Charlie also has easy access to schools, hospitals, restaurants, and housing. As Charlie's intelligence grows, he realizes the opportunity that exists in the city: 'Incredible that I've lived and worked all my life just a few stops away on the subway and been to Times Square only once-with Alice.'

New York
New York in the 1960s

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