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Flowers for Algernon Setting

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Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

Explore the setting in ''Flowers for Algernon'' to recognize its importance. Review the character of Charlie Gordon, the period of time covered in the story, and the locations of New York and Chicago to understand more about this story's message. Updated: 12/28/2021

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 grammar, spelling, 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 1960s when this novel was first published.

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  • 0:04 Charlie Gordon
  • 0:46 Period of Time
  • 2:06 Location: New York
  • 3:06 Chicago
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Period of Time

Charlie's first progress report is dated March 3 with the final entry on November 21st of the same year, an eight-month period of time. The lack of political correctness that existed in the 1960s resulted in Charlie's mother rejecting him, as she took his disability personally. By the end of the 1960s, laws were passed that required services for disabled students in public schools and began deinstitutionalizing differently abled citizens.

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 hire Charlie as a janitor in the bakery to prevent him from being committed to the Warren Home: '… mother had you comited to the Warren home I got them to releese you on outside werk placmint.'

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.'

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