Flowers for Algernon

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Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
April 1. Charlie begins a new job at the bakery—dough-mixer. He’s taking over for Oliver, who quit his job recently. Charlie gets the job because Joe Carp suggests that he take it—much to everyone’s amusement. Charlie is unsure of himself, since 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.”
Charlie’s coworkers are obviously trying to get him to break the mixer. They treat him as a tool or toy, to be pushed and manipulated for their amusement. It’s telling that even though Charlie has been working at the bakery for years, the “joke” never seems to get old for his coworkers—they always like asserting their own superiority by proving they can trick Charlie.
Themes
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 to use the dough-mixer. When Gimpy returns to the bakery, he’s surprised and impressed to see Charlie working so well. He shows Mr. Donner that Charlie is mixing the dough well, and Mr. Donner gives Charlie a 5 dollar raise: from now on, he’s a dough-mixer. Charlie realizes that Joe wanted him to break the machine—now, Joe’s mad. Charlie wonders if this means he’s getting smarter.
This is one of the first scenes in which Charlie “shows up” his peers. After reading about Charlie being teased and bullied, it’s very satisfying to see Charlie get the last laugh. It’s especially funny that Charlie doesn’t quite realize what he’s doing—he’s still so innocent that he seems to take little pleasure in wiping the smile off of Joe’s face.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
April 3. Charlie finishes reading Robinson Crusoe and wants to know what happens next.
Charlie craves new information; as we’ll see, knowledge gives him “a hunger that can’t be satisfied.”
Themes
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
April 4. Miss Kinnian reads through Charlie’s progress reports, and, according to Charlie, “looks kind of funny.” She tells Charlie that some of Charlie’s friends aren’t really his friends. Charlie insists that his friends are smart and good—at this point, Kinnian “gets something in her eye.”
Charlie still thinks his coworkers are his friends, but he’s almost at the point where he’s going to learn the truth about them. It’s suggested that Miss Kinnian is moved to tears by the tragedy of Charlie’s situation with his coworkers.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
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Charlie remembers his mother and his sister, Norma. When Norma was a baby, Charlie tried to comfort her, but his mother was so angry with him for trying to do so that she slapped him. Charlie realizes that his mother was afraid that he would hurt the baby due to his stupidity. This makes Charlie sad, since he would never hurt a baby. He decides to tell Doctor Strauss about his memories of Norma.
Evidently Charlie is now having an easier time remembering his past, but the more he learns, the more devastating his memories become—intelligence is no guarantee of happiness.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
April 6. Charlie learns punctuation marks. He plays around with writing sentences, concluding, “Everybody, uses commas, so I’ll, use them, too.”
Charlie treats knowledge as a toy to be played with. He’s genuinely excited by the information he’s learning.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
April 17. Charlie learns that he’s using commas incorrectly—there are rules about correct usage. He also realizes that he needs to learn spelling. Miss Kinnian is a genius, he decides.
As Charlie’s mental age increases, he begins to respect the rules. In essence, Charlie is going through the agony of learning how to write and spell in only a few days (instead of the usual number of years).
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
April 8. Charlie reads a book about grammar, recommended to him by Miss Kinnian. He also spends a night with the TV device, and when he wakes up, he finds that “the whole thing straightened out in my mind.” Miss Kinnian explains that Charlie has “reached a plateau.”
The “plateau” Kinnian refers to means that Charlie’s brain capacity is at a new maximum, and will (presumably) stop increasing so dramatically now. He still has a lot of information to learn, but he now has the ability to absorb it all.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Charlie reads over his old progress reports, and is embarrassed to find that they’re full of grammatical errors. Miss Kinnian points out that this means Charlie is making fast progress.
It’s a mark of Charlie’s maturation that he’s looking back on his old work. Charlie no longer lives in a perpetual present: he can remember the past and look forward to the future.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
April 10. Charlie says that he feels “sick.” He explains that Joe Carp and Frank Reilly invited him to a party the night before. At the party, they gave him a “plain coke” that “tasted funny.” Afterwards, Joe made Charlie dance with a woman named Ellen, and then tripped him. Charlie’s coworkers laughed. Someone gave Charlie a wax apple, which Charlie bit as if it were real fruit.
Charlie still doesn’t understand that his coworkers are being mean to him—while he’s intelligent, he’s so inexperienced with cruelty and bullying that he doesn’t yet know how to recognize it.
Themes
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
As this happened to Charlie, he remembered a day from his childhood, when the other children played “hide-and-go-seek” with him. Charlie was “it,” but when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find that the other children had left him. At the party, Charlie begins to blush, and realizes that Frank and Joe like to make fun of him. When he goes home, Charlie dreams about Ellen, and when he wakes up, his bed sheets are “wet and messy.” He chooses not to go to work at the bakery.
Charlie’s wet dream (those wet, messy sheets) is another clear sign that he’s entering a state of adulthood. He’s learning lots of information, but—almost as importantly—he’s getting in touch with his own sexuality. In the past, Charlie didn’t have any sexual feelings for women whatsoever—now, he can’t stop thinking about them.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
April 13. Charlie takes another day of work off. He’s been thinking about how his coworkers laugh at him, and decides that it’s a good thing that he knows the truth now. He spends his day learning new words and reading books. Miss Kinnian continues to give him lessons in the evening, and notes that he’s reading very quickly.
Charlie now recognizes that he has lost his “friends” by gaining greater knowledge of them, but he immediately decides that the tradeoff was worth it—it’s better to know the harsh truth than to live in a state of blissful ignorance.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Charlie continues to have vivid flashbacks of the past. He recalls a day long ago, when he arrived at the bakery. Outside the bakery a group of older boys laughed at Charlie, but inside, Gimpy greeted him. Then, Charlie felt someone kicking his legs out from under him. Charlie isn’t sure what this memory means, and plans to ask Doctor Strauss about it.
The more Charlie remembers, the more sinister his past seems to become. In this memory, Charlie is helpless and at the mercy of others. Though he’s gained intelligence since then, not much has changed yet—he’s still Nemur’s guinea pig.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
April 14. Charlie visits with Doctor Strauss, who encourages him to continue writing down his memories. Charlie also learns that Strauss is a psychiatrist and a neurosurgeon. Strauss explains that Charlie’s intellectual growth will outstrip his emotional growth. As a result, it’s very important for Charlie to tell Strauss about his emotions. Charlie tells Strauss about the wet sheets he found the night after he danced with Ellen. Strauss explains that Charlie had a wet dream—he’s slowly maturing with regards to women.
It’s helpful to think of this novel as a “coming of age” story, told over the course of a couple of months instead of several years. Charlie is thus entering the stage in his life where he starts to discover his sexuality and learn about different people’s careers.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
April 15. Charlie continues with his education. He starts teaching himself multiple foreign languages, and Doctor Strauss gives him tapes to listen to while he sleeps. He also reads voraciously: The Great Gatsby, An American Tragedy, and Look Homeward, Angel, among others. These books teach Charlie about how men and women behave around each other.
Charlie throws himself into his reading lists. Like so many precocious teenagers, he learns about sexuality from books long before he has any actual sexual encounters of his own.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
April 16. Charlie is feeling more secure, though he’s still angry with his coworkers for laughing at him over the course of so many years. He believes that people will begin to like him better when his IQ is much higher.
Charlie still clings to the (rather childish) belief that intelligence is going to make him happier and more popular. Little does he know the truth: intelligence can also alienate people from others.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
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 intelligence or potential intelligence. Later, Burt Selden tells Charlie that IQ isn’t a very good measure of intelligence at all. Nevertheless, Charlie’s current IQ is about 100, and soon it will be well over 150. Professor Nemur tells Charlie that he’s going to take a Rorschach test soon—Charlie doesn’t know what this is.
So far, Keyes hasn’t really questioned his characters’ assumptions about intelligence, but now he suggests that intelligence can’t always be measured by tests or experiments (and IQ in particular has been shown in recent years to be very flawed). This will be an important theme in the second half of the novel, when it becomes clear that there’s more than one kind of intelligence—emotional, social, academic, etc. It’s also important to note that Charlie hasn’t heard of the Rorschach test, even though he took one at the start of the book.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
April 17. Charlie has a nightmare about Miss Kinnian. In the nightmare, Charlie sits down to write, but finds that he’s forgotten how. Suddenly, he remembers—but when he shows his progress reports to Miss Kinnian, she’s furious, because he’s written “dirty words.”
Charlie sees his new intelligence as a precious possession, and he is now paranoid about losing it again. This dream also brings up his subconscious and sexuality again, and relates these things to Miss Kinnian.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
After he wakes up from his nightmare, Charlie tries to use a strategy Doctor Strauss has taught him: “free association.” He writes about his nightmare, trying to think of anything that the dream reminds him of. Charlie ends up writing about being an eleven-year-old child. In his free association essay, he goes to public school, accompanied by Miss Kinnian, who takes the form of an eleven-year-old girl named Harriet.
This is one of the more heavily Freudian parts of the book. Keyes thesis here is that free association can tell us important information about the subconscious mind. Charlie thinks of Miss Kinnian as a very specific young girl—a conceit whose Freudian dimensions Keyes is about to unpack.
Themes
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Charlie remembers that Harriet was a real person—she was beautiful and popular. For Valentines Day, Charlie bought Harriet a beautiful golden locket. He asked a “friend,” Hymie Roth, to write Harriet a message about how much Charlie liked her. When Charlie presented Harriet with the present and message, Harriet is terrified. Harriet’s older brother, Gus, beats up Charlie for writing a “dirty note.”
Charlie has been a victim of bullies for almost his entire life. It’s especially telling that Charlie subconsciously associates Harriet with Miss Kinnian, as his feelings for Miss Kinnian grow more obvious by the day.
Themes
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
Thinking about his memory, Charlie realizes that he shouldn’t have asked Hymie to write Harriet the letter. He’s grateful he can write for himself now.
As Charlie sees it, writing (and knowledge in general) is a source of power. He’s finally controlling his own words now, and thus his own destiny
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
April 18. Charlie takes a Rorschach test with Burt Selden, and he realizes that a Rorschach test is the same “inkblot test” he took before. When Charlie looks at his inkblot test, he accuses Burt of lying about the inkblots. He claims that Burt once told him there were pictures “hidden” in the inkblots. He yells that Burt has been mocking him.
This is one of the first cracks in Charlie’s confidence. Here he remembers his previous inkblot test and rashly concludes that Burt was teasing him. This is a clear mark of Charlie’s sense of insecurity: now that he realizes that he’s surrounded by bullies, he assumes that everyone is bullying him.
Themes
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Burt plays Charlie a recording of their first inkblot testing session, and Charlie is embarrassed to hear that Burt was telling the truth—he never said there were pictures hidden in the inkblots. Afterwards, Charlie wonders about his progress reports, and thinks that he should keep some of them to himself.
This is a key chapter in the novel because it shows Charlie developing a more complex “inner life”— getting in touch with his own consciousness, keeping secrets from other people and exploring the depths of his own memory. These are all critical parts of the process of coming of age.
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