Flowers for Algernon

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Fanny Birden Character Analysis

A worker at the bakery alongside Charlie Gordon—the only worker who doesn’t sign the petition to have Charlie fired. While Fanny doesn’t dislike or resent Charlie, she’s suspicious of Charlie’s operation, and cites the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as proof that humans are not meant to pursue knowledge.

Fanny Birden Quotes in Flowers for Algernon

The Flowers for Algernon quotes below are all either spoken by Fanny Birden or refer to Fanny Birden . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harcourt edition of Flowers for Algernon published in 1994.
Progress Report 11 Quotes

She stared down at the bride and groom on the wedding cake she was decorating and I could see her lips barely move as she whispered: "It was evil when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. It was evil when they saw they was naked, and learned about lust and shame. And they was driven out of Paradise and the gates was closed to them. If not for that none of us would have to grow old and be sick and die."
There was nothing more to say, to her or to the rest of them. None of them would look into my eyes. I can still feel the hostility. Before, they had laughed at me, despising me for my ignorance and dullness; now, they hated me for my knowledge and understanding. Why? What in God's name did they want of me?

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Fanny Birden (speaker)
Related Symbols: Adam and Eve
Page Number: 107-108
Explanation and Analysis:

One of Charlie's coworkers at the bakery, a woman named Fanny Birden, tells Charlie about the "danger" of his brain surgery. By gaining intelligence, Fanny suggests, Charlie is sacrificing his innocence and childlike goodness. Fanny makes this claim by citing the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which the first human beings lost their innocence and innate goodness by eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

We've already had ample evidence for the point Fanny is making. Charlie, newly intelligent, is indeed becoming a little arrogant, a little pompous, and a little dismissive of those who are intellectually inferior to him (i.e., almost everybody). Previously, Charlie was a cheerful, carefree man, blissfully unaware that his coworkers were making fun of him. By becoming intelligent, Charlie has 1) become a ruder, less "moral" person and 2) become more miserable, as he realizes that he has even fewer friends than he'd thought. There really does seem to be a tradeoff between intelligence and morality--and, even more to the point, between intelligence and happiness.

Ultimately, though, it's not clear if Keyes really agrees with Fanny. It's true that the newly intelligent Charlie is rude, arrogant, and even cruel. And yet Charlie also has the opportunity to be good and moral, in a way that was utterly beyond him before his surgery. A mentally disabled Charlie Gordon can't solve complex moral problems in a way that benefits everyone, or publish scientific articles that will save thousands of lives. One could say that Charlie's new intelligence (and, for that matter, Adam and Eve's newfound sinfulness) is a challenge: he can either be more sinful than he ever was before, or he can use his brain to climb to new heights of glory and goodness.


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Fanny Birden Character Timeline in Flowers for Algernon

The timeline below shows where the character Fanny Birden appears in Flowers for Algernon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Progress Report 8
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon Joe laughed and told Charlie that he was wasting his time. As Joe laughs, Fanny Birden, another bakery employee, scolds Joe and tells Charlie that she admires him for wanting... (full context)
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
After work that day, Charlie follows Fanny’s directions to the adult learning center, where he finds a group of adult students, led... (full context)
Progress Report 9
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
...Gimpy, the head baker, isn’t around, and usually he isn’t allowed to touch the mixer. Fanny Birden tries to argue with Joe Carp, but Joe tells Fanny, “it’s April Fool’s Day.” (full context)
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Charlie proceeds to work the dough-mixer, much to everyone’s surprise. Fanny Birden finds this very exciting, since it took Oliver two full years to learn how... (full context)
Progress Report 11
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Charlie finds Fanny Birden, the one woman who refused to sign the petition. Fanny explains that she finds... (full context)