Miss Kinnian in Flowers for Algernon

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer taught 9th grade ELA and AP Literature for over 8 years. She has a dual master's in English Literature and Teaching Secondary Ed from Simmons University and a BS in Psychology. She is a full-time senior content writer and certified AP Test Reader.

We usually think of a teacher in regards to school, but what about the lessons outside of school that are just as important? In this lesson we will analyze the teacher Miss Alice Kinnian from the novel 'Flowers for Algernon' by Daniel Keyes.

We Don't Need No Education

Teachers devote their lives to helping anyone from babies to adults learn, grow and succeed. Sometimes we forget how much time and energy teachers commit to their students and careers, but in the novel, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, we see that passion play out to the end.

Let's take a look at the character Miss Alice Kinnian, a school teacher that ends up falling for her best student. While this may sound inappropriate, her student, Charlie Gordon, undergoes a significant and life altering change that takes him out of her classroom and allows him to surpass all of his teachers.

Teacher's Pet

We are introduced to Miss Kinnian as Charlie Gordon's teacher at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. Alice works with adults that have severe learning disabilities and low IQs, and while her job is a tough one, she genuinely enjoys it. Alice believes Charlie is her best student because he is so willing and motivated to try to learn. Because of Charlie's determination and good nature, Alice suggests that Charlie is the best candidate for the research study and surgery that will ultimately change both of their lives.

Is It Love or Lust?

Alice and Charlie's emotional connection starts as a caring student/teacher relationship, but once Charlie has his surgery, everything changes. As Charlie matures, he becomes sexually attracted to Alice. Alice tries to put a stop of this type of relationship because she knows Charlie needs more time to grow emotionally and sexually. However, as time progresses and Charlie is no longer her student, Alice allows Charlie to take her out on a date but regrets the experience because she fears Charlie needs more time to mature.

Their relationship plays ping pong for a while as Charlie tries to work through what is essentially puberty, but his sexual inexperience and past trauma continue to hold him back.

Everything Changes

As Charlie begins to grow intellectually, he struggles to increase his sexual maturity, but as time goes on, he acknowledges that what he feels for Alice is truly love. Since his childhood trauma stems from his mother's abuse, it seems impossible that Charlie will ever be able to physically show his love for Alice.

Alice and Charlie fall in love, but Alice pushes Charlie to grow as an individual first before they explore their feelings for each other.

Charlie spends time with a woman named Fay, a free spirited type that takes Charlie out drinking, dancing and shows Charlie the sexual ropes. Because this relationship is purely physical, Charlie is able to grow and gain a level of sexual maturity that helps bridge the gap between old Charlie and genius Charlie. After he visits his mother, Charlie is finally able to move beyond his traumatic childhood experiences and make love to Alice.


While the majority of this lesson seems to focus on Charlie, these plot points are important for understanding and assessing Alice's character. Throughout the entire story, Alice keeps Charlie's best interest in the forefront of her mind to ensure he will remain safe. While at times, Charlie chooses to go off and explore the world, he never loses the connection he has with Alice--true love. Alice is a symbol of that love, one that is unconditional, stable and pure. She is his rock throughout the hard times, and she allows Charlie the space to grow. Alice stays with Charlie until the very end of his intellectual decline, ensuring he is cared for and loved.

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