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 and motivation: Miss Kinnian says Charlie is by far the hardest-working student in her classes.
The two things we learn about Charlie in these opening chapters are that 1) he’s mentally disabled; 2) he’s extremely ambitious. In spite of his limitations, Charlie’s ambition makes him a fitting “tragic hero” for the novel.
Professor Nemur tells Charlie that he would be undergoing a procedure that they’ve tried on animals—it’s not clear if the procedure would work on human beings, too. Nemur needs permission from someone in Charlie’s family. Charlie mentions his younger sister, Norma, and his parents, whom he hasn’t seen for a long time.
As the plot goes along, we begin to understand the science fiction conceit of the story: there’s a miraculous surgery that can make people smarter. In a way, Charlie is the perfect person to explain this procedure to the reader: he doesn’t understand how it works, but of course neither do we, since it’s fictional. Keyes doesn’t get into the “scientific” aspect of his plot too much, but rather deals with the philosophical ramifications of someone going from intellectual disability to genius.
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, yells at him. Charlie wants to be smart so that Gimpy will be surprised.
We already know that Charlie is ambitious, and here, we begin to see why. Charlie doesn’t just want intelligence for its own sake—he wants to surprise and impress his peers.