2014 Book #1: Flowers for Algernon

 

This book was given to me by my sister for Christmas, along with a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction novel by Daniel Keyes, about Charlie, a mentally retarded man who participates in a groundbreaking experiment to make him intelligent. As he reaches genius levels, he is confronted with life’s complexities such as morals, ethics, and the power of love.

What struck me the most about the book was its accurate portrayal of intelligence. Of course, Flowers for Algernon stresses that intelligence is not what one learns, but one’s capacity to learn, and we see Charlie develop a hunger for knowledge, whether it is about language, economics, and architecture. However, we also see him develop a superior attitude, finding professors and teachers around him to be somewhat beneath him. Unfortunately, the rapid increase of his IQ left his EQ the same level before the experiment.

This quote from Alice Kinnian, Charlie’s teacher at the special education classes he takes is one of my favorites: “Being with you has undermined my self-confidence. These days I can’t talk to you. All I can do is listen and nod my head and pretend I understand all about cultural variants, and neo-Boulean mathematics, and post-symbolic logic, and I feel more and more stupid, and when you leave the apartment, I have to stare in the mirror and scream at myself: ‘Not, you’re not growing duller every day! You’re not losing your intelligence! You’re not getting senile and dull-witted!

Of course, Charlie acts the way he does because he is discovering the world for the first time. He is learning about life, the unwritten rules of society, and more importantly, himself. And when he discovers what truly matters, it is one of the most beautiful and poignant passages of the book.

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