Flowers for Algernon

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Adam and Eve Symbol Icon

At several points in the book, Keyes references the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. In the book of Genesis, we’re told that Adam and Eve gave up a life of eternal happiness in the Garden of Eden when they chose to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Although they gained intelligence and knowledge from the tree, their lives also became sadder and more painful because they were expelled from Eden for their disobedience. It’s clear enough that (in the novel) the Adam and Eve story is meant to symbolize Charlie Gordon’s own brain surgery. Just like Adam and Eve, Charlie gains enormous knowledge when his IQ triples. And yet his new intelligence doesn’t bring him happiness—on the contrary, it makes him realize that he was miserable all along, and just didn’t know it. There appears to be a tradeoff between happiness and intellect in Flowers for Algernon, and the Adam and Eve story is the best symbol of this.

Adam and Eve Quotes in Flowers for Algernon

The Flowers for Algernon quotes below all refer to the symbol of Adam and Eve. 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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Adam and Eve Symbol Timeline in Flowers for Algernon

The timeline below shows where the symbol Adam and Eve appears in Flowers for Algernon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Progress Report 7
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
...would have made him smart if it was “God’s will.” She mentions the story of Adam and Eve , and implies that Strauss and Nemur are “tampering with things.” This makes Charlie frightened,... (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
...a good, dependable man.” She cites the Bible, saying that it was a sin for Adam and Eve to gain knowledge, and she expresses her hopes that Charlie go back to being a... (full context)