Flowers for Algernon

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Professor Harold Nemur Character Analysis

A talented but decidedly non-brilliant scientist, who pioneers an experimental brain surgery technique that allows patients to experience huge increases in IQ. Nemur is arrogant, egocentric, and jealous—the very embodiment of the limits of intelligence in terms of morality and wisdom. In spite of his academic training, Nemur is clueless about the most basic moral problems, and—confirming his emotional immaturity—often treats Charlie Gordon with condescension or (after Charlie’s intelligence eclipses his own) outright resentment. Nevertheless, Keyes makes it clear that Nemur isn’t a monster—his wife, Bertha Nemur, has put him under a lot of pressure, and he clearly has some sympathy for Charlie, even if it’s limited by his own arrogance.

Professor Harold Nemur Quotes in Flowers for Algernon

The Flowers for Algernon quotes below are all either spoken by Professor Harold Nemur or refer to Professor Harold Nemur . 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 8 Quotes

We had a lot of fun at the bakery today. Joe Carp said hey look where Charlie had his operashun what did they do Charlie put some brains in. I was going to tell him about me getting smart but I remembered Prof Nemur said no. Then Frank Reilly said what did you do Charlie open a door the hard way. That made me laff. Their my frends and they really like me.

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Professor Harold Nemur , Joe Carp , Frank Reilly
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation is a good example of dramatic irony--a situation in which a character is ignorant to some important information, but the reader is well aware of it. Here, Charlie--bearing a big scar from his brain surgery, but still with his low IQ for the time being--doesn't realize that the people at the bakery are making fun of him in the cruelest way; as far as he's concerned, they're his best friends.

One important question that the passage might lead us to ask is, does Charlie realize on any level that his coworkers don't really like him? His statement, "Their my friends," would suggest that Charlie is completely ignorant of his coworkers' meanness. And yet Charlie also seems to feel, on some level, that his friendships with his coworkers are threadbare because of his low IQ. Even if he doesn't know exactly why Joe Carp is laughing at him in this scene, perhaps Charlie senses that he's distanced from the people around him by his intelligence--and this is precisely why he wants brain surgery in the first place.

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Progress Report 13 Quotes

"Take it easy, Charlie. The old man is on edge. This convention means a lot to him. His reputation is at stake."
"I didn't know you were so close to him," I taunted, recalling all the times Burt had complained about the professor's narrowness and pushing.
"I'm not close to him." He looked at me defiantly. "But he's put his whole life into this. He's no Freud or Jung or Pavlov or Watson, but he's doing something important and I respect his dedication—maybe even more cause he's just an ordinary man trying to do a great man's work, while the great men are all busy making bombs."

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Burt Seldon (speaker), Professor Harold Nemur
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Charlie and Professor Nemur have traveled to Chicago for a major medical conference. Nemur, the doctor who masterminded Charlie’s brain surgery, is looking forward to presenting on his new procedure. Charlie has come to resent Nemur for treating him as a pawn, rather than a human being—Charlie believes (and with good reason) that Nemur is just using him to gain acclaim in the scientific community. Charlie’s friend and mentor, Burt, defends Nemur by praising his drive and determination.

It’s interesting to note that Burt highlights the same qualities that first brought Charlie to Nemur’s attention. Just as Charlie has striven to be smarter and more successful, so too has Nemur—who's well aware of the fact that he’s not a genius—tried to become the best he can be. Furthermore, Burt’s comment that Nemur is doing good work while great men build bombs reminds us of an important distinction between intelligence and morality. Being smart is no guarantee of a happy, productive life—one could spend one’s life building machines of war. It’s only when one combines intelligence with a strong sense of right and wrong that it’s possible to be a “good” human being. Charlie, already a genius, will have to educate himself in ethics and morality to become good.

After the chairman announced the presentation from Beekman University, we took our seats on the platform behind the long table—Algernon in his cage between Burt and me. We were the main attraction of the evening, and when we were settled, the chairman began his introduction. I half expected to bear him boom out: Laideezzz and gentulmennnnnn. Step right this way and see the side show! An act never before seen in the scientific world! A mouse and a moron turned into geniuses before your very eyes!

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Algernon , Professor Harold Nemur , Burt Seldon
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

At a major medical conference, Charlie and Professor Nemur appear to answer questions about Charlie’s brain surgery. As Charlie prepares for the presentation, he has the distinct sense that he’s been exhibited at a circus. In other words, Charlie still thinks of himself as a sideshow freak, not even a human being. It’s hard to deny that Charlie has a point: the doctors who’ve attended the medical conference think of Charlie as a pawn, a convenient “example” of Nemur’s ideas. Charlie first volunteered for brain surgery because he thought intelligence would help him gain new friends who respected him as a human being. But here, it becomes clear that the opposite is true: Charlie is more of a “freak” than he ever was before—the doctors who admire his intelligence have no intention of engaging with him on a personal level.

Progress Report 16 Quotes

I was seeing myself as I really had become: Nemur had said it. I was an arrogant, self-centered bastard. Unlike Charlie, I was incapable of making friends or thinking about other people and their problems. I was interested in myself, and myself only. For one long moment in that mirror I had seen myself through Charlie's eyes—looked down at myself and saw what I had really become. And I was ashamed.

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Professor Harold Nemur
Page Number: 252-253
Explanation and Analysis:

As Charlie spends more time as an intelligent person, he becomes increasingly self-aware. Here, he stares in the mirror and realizes that he's become a pompous, arrogant man. Charlie also decides that as a mentally disabled man, he was happier, more moral, and friendlier than he is now.

Although Charlie himself seems to believe that his intelligence has been a horrible burden--making him a meaner, less friendly person--Keyes wouldn't necessarily agree. Charlie has become more arrogant on account of his genius, but he's also completed acts of goodness on a scale that he couldn't have imagined before his surgery: he's conducted important medical research that will help other people live longer, healthier lives. And while he may have become less friendly, he's gained the gift of self-awareness: the ability to realize his own shortcomings and try to improve them. Previously, Charlie had tried to transform himself to gain the approval of his peers. But here, he seems to be acting out of a desire to please himself. Thanks to his brain surgery, Charlie has become more mature and emotionally intelligent: he's acting to make himself, not other people, happy.

Progress Report 17 Quotes

P.S. please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he woud have more frends. Its easy to have fiends if you let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of fiends where I go.
P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard.

Related Characters: Charlie Gordon (speaker), Algernon , Professor Harold Nemur
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

As Charlie regresses to mental disability once again, he embodies a childlike goodness. He tells Nemur to be nicer, and even asks someone to put flowers on the grave of Algernon, the mouse whose mental growth and decline paralleled his own.

As a genius, Charlie's relationship with right and wrong was uncertain--there were times when he did good, and there were times when he proved himself to be capable of acts of arrogance and cruelty. As a mentally disabled man, however, Charlie proves that he instinctively knows right from wrong: he feels compassion for things that more intelligent people would ignore, such as Algernon the mouse. He also shows himself to be insightful, "sizing up" Professor Nemur quickly (and surprisingly accurately!). In general, then, Charlie's final diary entry suggests the tradeoff between intelligence and wisdom. As a genius, Charlie has a hard time knowing the right thing to do, and has big moral lapses. As a mentally disabled man, Charlie doesn't have much knowledge, but he seems to be a good, honest person who always knows the right thing to do. So as depressing as the novel's end might be, there's a silver lining: Charlie loses his IQ, but gains some wisdom, and retains all his human dignity. 

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Professor Harold Nemur Character Timeline in Flowers for Algernon

The timeline below shows where the character Professor Harold Nemur appears in Flowers for Algernon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Progris riport 1
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...in clumsy, badly spelled English. He says that two men named Doctor Strauss and Professor Nemur have told him to write down as much as possible about an upcoming operation that... (full context)
Progris riport 2
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Martch 4. Charlie undergoes a series of psychological tests with Professor Nemur and Doctor Strauss. An assistant, whose first name is Burt (Charlie isn’t good at remembering... (full context)
3d progris riport
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Martch 5. Charlie goes in for more tests with Doctor Strauss and Professor Nemur. Strauss is interested in using Charlie as a subject, since Charlie has shown surprising enthusiasm... (full context)
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Professor Nemur tells Charlie that he would be undergoing a procedure that they’ve tried on animals—it’s not... (full context)
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Charlie notes that because of writing progress reports and going in to see Strauss and Nemur, he’s very tired at work. He drops a tray of rolls, and his boss, Gimpy,... (full context)
Progris riport 4
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March 5. Charlie goes in for more tests with Nemur and Strauss. He looks at pictures, and tries to explain what’s happening in the pictures.... (full context)
Progris riport 5
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March 6. Strauss and Nemur track down Charlie’s sister, Norma, who lived with Charlie’s mother in Brooklyn. Norma gives the... (full context)
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Nemur, Strauss, and Burt Selden meet with Charlie to talk about his upcoming experiment. They say... (full context)
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Professor Nemur expresses some doubts about using Charlie for the experiment, since there could be complications from... (full context)
Progris riport 6
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March 8. Charlie is going to begin his surgery tomorrow, and he’s very nervous. Nemur has instructed him to tell his coworkers that he’s sick—they send him a chocolate cake... (full context)
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...about going to visit his family, and finally being smart, just like his sister. Professor Nemur tells Charlie that if the experiment is a success, Charlie will be world-famous. Scientists will... (full context)
Progress Report 7
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...a nurse named Hilda. Hilda tells Charlie that he’s been very brave for letting Professor Nemur study him. Hilda adds that she has her doubts about Charlie’s operation, since God would... (full context)
Progress Report 8
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...15. Charlie has left the hospital, though he hasn’t gone back to work yet. Professor Nemur gives Charlie puzzles to work on—mazes and logic games. Charlie gets headaches when he thinks.... (full context)
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Burt explains that Charlie’s experiment is being kept a secret, for fear that Nemur will get bad publicity if the experiment fails. He adds that “no scientist is a... (full context)
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March 24. Charlie is supposed to come to the science lab with Strauss and Nemur to conduct more experiments with Algernon the mouse. Charlie misses a few appointments with Algernon,... (full context)
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Professor Nemur gives Charlie a small device that looks like a TV—he explains that Charlie should listen... (full context)
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March 25. Charlie uses Professor Nemur’s machine, and finds it impossible to sleep while he’s listening to it. When Charlie visits... (full context)
Progress Report 9
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Charlie learns about the concept of IQ from Doctor Strauss and Professor Nemur. Nemur and Strauss bicker about the true meaning of IQ—whether it’s a measure of innate... (full context)
Progress Report 10
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April 24. Charlie convinces Professor Nemur—with Doctor Strauss’s help—that he shouldn’t have to send in everything he writes, since some of... (full context)
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Charlie thinks back on his visit with Nemur and Strauss—it was “very upsetting,” he reports. He walks in on an argument between Strauss... (full context)
Progress Report 11
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May 10. Charlie asks Professor Nemur about Gimpy, and Nemur insists that Charlie shouldn’t mention the incident to Mr. Donner. Charlie... (full context)
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Charlie confesses to Alice that he’s frightened. Alice tells Charlie that Strauss and Nemur have been pushing him too quickly: although he’s a genius, he also has the soul... (full context)
Progress Report 12
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June 5. Two weeks have passed since Charlie has written a report for Professor Nemur. Nemur is furious—a major psychological conference in Chicago is only weeks away, and he wants... (full context)
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...she’s around Charlie. Charlie tries to protest, but Alice insists that he should go with Nemur to the conference in Chicago—he’ll be among intellectual equals there. (full context)
Progress Report 13
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June 10. Charlie flies in a private jet to Chicago for Nemur’s conference. He’s going to meet hundreds of people, all of whom will be fascinated to... (full context)
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June 11. Charlie and Nemur stay in the Independence Hotel in Chicago, along with most of the young psychologists in... (full context)
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Later on that night, Charlie talks with Strauss, who noticed the way Charlie interrupted Nemur. Strauss explains that Nemur is embarrassed, and doesn’t like to have to admit that he... (full context)
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Later on, Burt Selden, who’s also attending the conference, tells Charlie that Charlie is damaging Nemur’s reputation in front of Nemur’s colleagues. Burt admits that Nemur is arrogant and not particularly... (full context)
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Charlie realizes that Burt is right: he shouldn’t be so impatient with Nemur. Nemur is a sad, middle-aged man, too old to start over again, and he’s invested... (full context)
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...some of the other projects rather trivial. This gives Charlie new respect for Strauss and Nemur: they’ve devoted their careers to something important and uncertain, rather than something “insignificant and safe.” (full context)
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Nemur begins to present his findings to his colleagues, and Charlie feels a strong sense of... (full context)
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...scientists at the meeting, Charlie imagines letting Algernon out of his cage. He listens to Nemur reading embarrassing excerpts from Charlie’s progress reports. At one point, Nemur calls Charlie one of... (full context)
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Suddenly, Charlie lets Algernon out of his tiny cage. Algernon runs through the conference, and Nemur shrieks for the scientists to catch him. Charlie is amused by the sight of hundreds... (full context)
Progress Report 14
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...finds this distressing—it could mean any number of different things. He decides to call Professor Nemur the next day. (full context)
Progress Report 15
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July 12. Charlie goes in to visit with Nemur, Strauss, and Burt, since Charlie has told them about Algernon’s deteriorating condition. Nemur and his... (full context)
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...sadly tells Charlie that Algernon is losing some of his old intelligence. Frustrated, Charlie confronts Nemur, asking what’ll happen if he (Charlie) also loses his new intelligence. Reluctantly, Nemur tells Charlie... (full context)
Progress Report 16
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...Charlie decides to take a break. He goes to a cocktail party organized by Bertha Nemur, Professor Nemur’s wife. At the party, Charlie meets Mr. Raynor and Mrs. Raynor, two of... (full context)
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...fools who don’t understand the research they’re sponsoring. Suddenly, Charlie finds himself face-to-face with Professor Nemur, who attacks Charlie for his rudeness and lack of gratitude. Charlie shoots back that Nemur... (full context)
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Charlie goes on to chastise Nemur for his condescending attitude and egocentrism. He explains that intelligence—so often celebrated at universities and... (full context)
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August 26 – Letter to Professor Nemur. The chapter consists of a letter from Charlie Gordon to Professor Nemur. Charlie explains that... (full context)
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Charlie ends his letter by thanking Professor Nemur for his patience, and apologizing for the fact that his own academic career in psychology... (full context)
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...he’s going to lose his intelligence very soon. He tries not to panic. Recently, Professor Nemur presented Charlie’s research to colleagues at the university, and they verified the “Algernon-Gordon Effect.” Charlie... (full context)
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...prevent his mental deterioration. And yet he doesn’t blame anyone—not even Doctor Strauss or Professor Nemur. His only question is: “How much can I hang on to?” (full context)
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September 15. Professor Nemur informs Charlie that his findings have been professionally confirmed—something Charlie has already predicted will happen.... (full context)
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Norma recognizes Charlie right away. She explains that Professor Nemur told her about Charlie’s operation, and that she’s been wanting to see Charlie for some... (full context)
Progress Report 17
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October 5. Charlie visits Professor Nemur and Burt to conduct more tests. He tries to solve mazes, and finds that he... (full context)
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Charlie says goodbye to Miss Kinnian, Doctor Strauss, and everyone else. He asks Professor Nemur not to be such a grouch, and points out that it’s easier to make friends... (full context)