April 21. At work, Charlie figures out a more efficient mixing process, saving the bakery a lot of money. Mr. Donner rewards Charlie with a large bonus, but when Charlie offers to take Joe Carp and Frank Reilly out to celebrate, they say they’re busy. Charlie realizes that everyone is frightened of him now.
Charlie alienates his coworkers, both because he’s so intelligent and because his coworkers are now jealous and resentful of his success. Before, they only liked hanging around him to make themselves feel smarter.
Charlie returns to the memory he’s been trying to reconstruct. In the memory, Frank Reilly pulls Charlie’s legs out from under him, and Gimpy yells at Frank for picking on Charlie. Gimpy tries to teach Charlie how to make rolls, offering him a shiny brass disk as a reward. Charlie is frightened of failing at this task, but he tries his best to follow Gimpy’s instructions. Although he makes a few rolls, he forgets his instructions almost immediately. Gimpy sighs with disappointment—he hasn’t taught Charlie anything. Afterwards, Charlie sits in a corner, reading a comic book, and Gimpy gives Charlie the brass disc, even though Charlie hasn’t learned anything.
In his memories, Charlie confronts a series of big, imposing, and often very cruel parental figures. Here, Gimpy is one. Charlie is evidently afraid of displeasing him, but he also recognizes Gimpy as his benefactor and caretaker. This reflects the way Charlie has lived most of his adult life: he’s been frightened of the outside world, and yet also completely dependent on others.
April 22. At the bakery, Charlie notices people ignoring and resenting him. He’s disappointed that his coworkers aren’t prouder of him. He also plans to ask Miss Kinnian to go to a movie with him—though he’s nervous about doing so.
Charlie goes through the agony of asking a girl out on a date. It’s a little amusing to see a grown man so nervous about this, but it also points to the fact that Charlie’s still a teenager in his mind.
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 it will be too personal.
Charlie stands up for himself and wins an important victory: he’s “carved out space” for his own feelings and secrets. Of course, we, the readers, continue to get access to Charlie’s inner life, even if Nemur doesn’t.
Charlie thinks back on his visit with Nemur and Strauss—it was “very upsetting,” he reports. He walks in on an argument between Strauss and Nemur. Nemur wants to present a paper on his findings in Chicago, but Strauss insists that it’s too soon: Charlie is still changing, and they need to run more tests before they reach any conclusion. Strauss raises the possibility of “regression,” but Nemur insists that this isn’t going to happen. Nemur implies that Strauss is a cynical opportunist, riding his coattails, and Strauss shoots back that the same is true of Nemur. Charlie realizes that millions of people are depending on the results of Strauss and Nemur’s research. He decides to wait before asking Miss Kinnian out to the movie.
This is an important scene, because it shows Charlie becoming conscious of the “bigness” and the “smallness” of the project. On one hand, he sees, as if for the first time, that his brain surgery could be used to help millions of people around the world. And yet he also realizes that the people who developed this surgery aren’t gods—they’re petty, small-minded men, hunting for prestige and recognition from their peers (not unlike Charlie, desperately seeking his coworker’s admiration.)
April 26. Charlie educates himself in the university library. He’s fascinated by poetry and science, and buries himself in books.
Charlie continues to read and educate himself—he’s experiencing the “pleasure of finding things out” for the first time.
April 27. Charlie makes friends with some college students. Some of the college students raise the possibility that there is no God. This frightens Charlie, since he’s always assumed there is a God. He realizes that one of the great things about education is that it makes you question the things you’ve believed your whole life.
It’s worth noting that Keyes wrote this novel at the height of the “existentialism craze” in the United States. College students, of the kind Keyes describes here, debated the “death of God,” arguing that in the absence of a divine presence, human beings have to work things out for themselves. This isn’t a bad way to think of Charlie’s coming of age: he’s always depended on “Gods” (his parents, Mr. Donner, etc.), but now, he’s newly free—and such freedom can be terrifying.
Charlie educates himself by reading in the library. He reads mostly fiction, “feeding a hunger that can’t be satisfied.”
We begin to get a sense for the tragic futility of Charlie’s struggle for intelligence. He wants to learn, but and he’ll never be able to know enough to be satisfied.
April 28. Charlie has a dream in which his parents argue with a schoolteacher about his future. Charlie’s mother insists that Charlie will go to college and be “normal” one day, but the schoolteacher curtly disagrees, saying that Charlie will need to go to a special school. Charlie’s mother begins to cry.
Thanks to his mother, Charlie has always had a very keen notion of what is and isn’t “normal.” This helps explain why Charlie was so interested in learning how to read and write in the first place—he’s always sought his mother’s approval—and through it, her love.
The next morning, Charlie remembers his dream. He also remembers being six years old, before his sister, Norma, was born. Charlie’s mother, whose name is Rose, insists that Charlie was normal, though Charlie’s father, whose name is Matt, says otherwise. Rose yells at Charlie to play with his alphabet blocks. She weeps that she just wants her son to be like everyone else.
In Freudian terms, Rose is the embodiment of the superego—the part of the mind that deals with ethics and “public morality.” Rose is concerned—indeed, only concerned—with what other people say and think. It’s not hard to see that Charlie has inherited his own desire for public recognition from Rose: like his mother, he wants other people to like him and respect him.
In the memory, Charlie tells his mother that he needs help going to the bathroom, and his mother angrily says that he’s old enough to go by himself. Then she spanks Charlie for being bad. In the present day, Charlie thinks sadly that he can’t remember what his family members look like.
This is a very specific Freudian nod on Keyes’s part—in Freudian psychology, Charlie is stuck in the “anal stage” of development in this memory—he’s not progressing healthily to adolescence. This may seem pretty silly by contemporary standards, but Freudian formulations of this kind were all the rage in the 60s, especially for sci-fi writers like Keyes.