Monday, February 15, 2010

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Although this novel is considered science fiction, Flower for Algernon is not your typical “Invasion from Mars” sort of read. This thoughtful novel examines the human need for intellectual and emotional stimuli. Charlie personally experiences all ends of the spectrum as he swings from mentally handicap to genius, from socially loveable to antisocial and hostile.

The narrative is formed entirely of Charlie’s progress reports as he undergoes a medical experiment for increasing intelligence. In this way, the reader sees Charlie’s progress often before he becomes aware of the changes within him. Charlie’s prose becomes more complex as his intelligence increases and then reverts as his mind deteriorates.

In a society that values education and perceived intelligence, Flowers for Algernon makes us question to what extent being smart makes our personal lives better and why people perceived as less intelligent are the butts of jokes and objects of ridicule, even fear. It asks why we are all so afraid of being seen as dumb and what drives us to be thought bright. Through Charlie’s experience, this novel shows that no matter what one’s IQ may be, people deserve to be treated with respect.

The book read fast and I found Charlie’s story interesting. If you appreciate or enjoy psychology this book is for you. I’ve heard of this book being used for 8th graders with the middle racy parts cut out and that may work; however, I think that young readers should wait until they’re mature enough to read the entire novel to fully appreciate the gulf between Charlie’s intellectual and emotional growth.
Publisher: Harcourt, 1994 (first published 1966)    Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 3 Stars                                                       Pages: 311

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