Flowers for Algernon

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Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 to present his preliminary report there. Charlie and Nemur resent each other: Charlie doesn’t like that Nemur treats him as a lab rat, and Nemur doesn’t like that Charlie isn’t obeying his instructions to write progress reports. Strauss convinces Charlie to write his reports and to write them in plain, simple English.
It’s true that Nemur is arrogant and condescending to Charlie, and treats Charlie like an object to be manipulated. And yet it’s also true that Charlie is becoming arrogant and condescending himself. Nemur’s “Frankenstein’s monster” has moved beyond his control—the student has become the master.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Charlie sees Alice occasionally, but their relationship has been platonic ever since Alice kissed Charlie.
Charlie is heeding Alice’s advice, “taking it slow” while he tries to resolve his psychological issues.
Themes
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie continues to have vivid flashbacks to his childhood. In one, he sees his sister Norma returning from school, happy at having gotten an “A” on her paper. Rose and Matt tell Norma to go play with Charlie, but Norma refuses. She shouts that Charlie never gets good grades in school. She also demands a dog, claiming that she’s old enough to take care of it. Matt insists that Norma can have the dog, but only if she shares it with Charlie. Norma refuses, and so Matt tells her that she’ll never have a dog. Norma is furious, and yells at Charlie.
Charlie seems to be nursing repressed feelings of guilt. While he loves his sister, Charlie recognizes that his own mental disability made life harder for her. This helps explain why Charlie wanted to become a genius in the first place: he may not have remembered this specific incident, but he was trained from childhood to feel guilty about his disability and to see it as something that hurt others.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Charlie remembers something else: once, Norma told her friends that Charlie wasn’t really her brother at all, but just “a boy we took in because we felt sorry for him.” Charlie is humiliated by this memory, and wishes he could find Norma and apologize to her for depriving her of the dog.
Charlie experienced bullying and cruelty from all sides growing up, and was always made to feel “less then.”
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
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June 6. Charlie and Alice have a fight. Charlie has gone to visit Alice in the adult learning center. Inside, Charlie notices Lester Braun—a mentally disabled student whom Alice always claimed was the smartest in the class. Lester was smarter than Charlie, but he didn’t show up for class very often. Charlie realizes that if Lester had been more punctual, the scientists would have used Lester instead of Charlie.
This is an important reminder Charlie’s most basic characteristic is his drive; i.e., his desire for prestige. There are smarter people in Charlie’s class, but none who work as hard as he does.
Themes
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
In Alice’s classroom, Charlie is moved to see his old classmates, all of whom are mentally disabled. One student, Francine, calls Charlie a “big shot” and giggles. Alice calls the class to an end, and when her students have left, she tells Charlie that something’s on her mind. Charlie has been changing lately, she claims: he’s become arrogant and cold. Charlie protests that he refuses to be a “docile pup” any longer.
Charlie is shocked to find that he can’t muster much sympathy for his old friends. This helps him realize that he’s become arrogant and self-absorbed, in a way that would have been astounding to him before his surgery. While it’s true that Charlie’s professors have been condescending to him, it’s also true that Charlie has become condescending to others. This is partly Keyes’s commentary on how humans naturally scorn those they deem “inferior” to themselves, but it’s also Charlie asserting his own independence and freedom—he wants to break free from the people controlling his life.
Themes
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 begs Alice to go home with him—he needs somebody to talk to. Alice replies that she can’t talk to Charlie anymore—his talk is too sophisticated for her. Alice claims that she feels inferior whenever 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.
Here, we see another version of Charlie’s “unquenchable thirst.” Charlie doesn’t just want emotional contact—he wants to be in contact with people who challenge him intellectually. Finding that Alice doesn’t fit the bill, Charlie goes off to Chicago in the hopes that he’ll find an intellectual equal there.
Themes
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie leaves Alice’s apartment. He realizes that he’s just as far from Alice now—with an IQ of 185—as he was when he had an IQ of 70.
The tables have turned: where before Alice was the intelligent one, supervising Charlie, Charlie has become the genius, looking down on Alice as if she were a mere child. The difference, of course, is that Alice never condescended to Charlie, while Charlie can’t help but treat Alice with disdain.
Themes
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
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
June 8. Charlie spends his nights walking through the city. Once, he meets a woman in Central Park, and she tells him that she’s from Virginia. She married a sailor, but the sailor took advantage of her by having rough sex with her. Since then, she’s refused to have sex with him. Nevertheless, the woman claims, she’s “been around the block” many times with other men.
Charlie knows that he’s sexually inexperienced. He tries to “educate” himself in sexuality the only way he knows how—by “breezing through” the material. Thus, he tries to meet “experienced women.”
Themes
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie touches the woman’s hand, and tells her that he’s thinking about her. The woman asks Charlie to take her to his home, and Charlie promises that he will. Before they leave, the woman removes her clothing, revealing that she’s pregnant. Charlie is furious—he yells, “You ought to be ashamed for yourself.”
For a contemporary reader, it’s a little hard to understand this scene; it’s tough to distinguish between Keyes' own disdain for the pregnant woman (partly a product of the era) and Charlie’s. While the idea of a pregnant woman having sex with a stranger would have been disturbing to many of Keyes’ 60s readers, it’s also true that Charlie finds the woman especially disturbing because he regards himself as a child, still the slave of his own mother. In short, Charlie has been trying to escape his mother’s influence, and instead, he comes upon a sexualized mother figure.
Themes
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie has a strange, dissociative experience, in which he grabs the woman’s shoulder and tries to kiss her. Suddenly, he realizes that the woman is screaming. Charlie runs away, frightened, as the woman cries for help. He hears a group shouting that “a degenerate” has tried to rape the woman.
Charlie finds that sexual education doesn’t work like scientific or literary education: he can’t treat women like objects.
Themes
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie tries to understand what he’s just done. He realizes that he was subconsciously trying to be caught and punished for his actions. Even now, he fantasizes about himself being “torn apart” by an angry mob.
Charlie’s feelings of guilt are so profound that he wants to be caught. Because of his mother’s treatment of him, he now associates desire with punishment.
Themes
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon