‘Flowers for Algernon’ – Daniel Keyes

There’s a horrible inevitability to this, that even though I knew it was coming left me with a sinking feeling.

Flowers for Algernon is the story of Charlie Gordon, a man with profound learning difficulties, and an IQ of 70. He becomes part of an unusual experiment into intellect, and ends up with a genius IQ. We follow him through the experiment and after, as the significance of this event becomes clear.

Initially Charlie can’t read or write particularly well. He is given a job by an old family friend and seems content in his experience. The information he recounts in his reports makes it painfully clear that he is bullied and humiliated on a daily basis. Yet he is unaware of it.

After the experiment, nothing seems to change. Then it does. Suddenly he can read in numerous languages and understand concepts way beyond the level of those he previously looked up to. With this astonishing intellectual development comes the growing self-awareness of how he was viewed by others, and how his family abandoned him.

There’s no easy answers in this novel, but as an exploration of psyche and social interactions it was fascinating.

I’m surprised such an experiment could have been undertaken on a human, and that those around Charlie didn’t try harder to help him adjust mentally/emotionally to his world.

As he grows aware of the temporary nature of this change, it became painful to watch him change and regress to his previous state. This time round he knew what it would mean, and his inability to change things was difficult to read.
I’m quite surprised this is a staple in American schools, but I’d be interested to see what students thought of it.