Flowers for Algernon Symbols

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  • 0:04 Dig Deeper
  • 0:35 Good Luck Charms
  • 1:19 The Maze & the Window
  • 2:25 Characters as Symbols
  • 3:46 The Story as a Whole
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Reading can give us insight about the world around us, but there are more messages hidden within the pages of a book. In this lesson will we analyze the literary device symbolism in the novel 'Flowers for Algernon' by Daniel Keyes.

Dig Deeper

Do you look for meaning in the world? Maybe you enjoy analyzing the hidden messages in experiences, songs, people, and literature. Literature contains symbols that provide insight regarding the meaning of a story but also give the reader messages that connect to the real world. Symbols can be found in characters, setting, colors, and objects.

Let's take a deeper look at the novel, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and analyze the hidden messages.

Good Luck Charms

Before his surgery, Charlie always carried a rabbit's foot, penny, and horseshoe with him for good luck. While these good luck charms symbolize luck in the real world, they symbolize innocence for Charlie. When we are young, we believe that ''good luck charms,'' such as a rabbit's foot, help protect us from harm. As Charlie becomes intelligent, these items are soon forgotten, symbolizing Charlie's journey from a boy, his unintelligent self, to a man, his intelligent self. His innocence is lost, and his intelligence and wisdom tell him that these items are illogical and unnecessary. It is only when Charlie's intelligence begins to decline that he decides he needs to find these objects again.

The Maze & The Window

The maze is a symbol of the trial and error of human experience. In the beginning of the story, the mazes trap Charlie and represent failure, but eventually, he is able to maneuver through the mazes with ease. As we grow, we have to figure out our own mazes, passing through both failures and successes along the way.

Throughout the story, genius Charlie recalls how old Charlie would sit and view the world from his childhood window. He was never allowed to go outside and play. The window is symbolic of his disability; the separation between old Charlie and society.

When Charlie becomes intelligent, the window represents the emotional disconnect Charlie feels when thinking about his past and emotional connection to women. When Charlie drinks and/or becomes intimate with a woman, the ''window'' appears, and Charlie is able to see both sides of himself. A window literally protects you from the forces outside. Charlie's mind uses this ''window'' to protect him from the dangers of emotional trauma from the past and present.

Characters as Symbols

Characters, too, can be symbols. Algernon, the lab mouse, is symbolic of the part of Charlie that is viewed as a science experiment, the piece of Charlie that resents the professor for not treating him like a human being. Algernon's journey is a reflection of Charlie's own reality and the mortality he has to eventually accept and face. For Charlie, Algernon symbolizes his own identity and struggles. For the reader, Algernon symbolizes fate, reality, and death.

Charlie represents change, enlightenment, and the human experience. He is the process of learning, growing, reflecting, and accepting. We watch Charlie grow out of his youthful ways and become a man through his intellectual and emotional enlightenment.

Old Charlie represents the mentally handicapped community. He is a reflection of innocence and those who are outcasts because they are different.

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