Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
May 1. Charlie has noticed that Miss Kinnian—whose first name is Alice—is extremely beautiful. He takes her to dinner and a movie, and fantasizes about putting his arm around her, though he doesn’t dare.
Charlie feels a strong sense of both attraction and repulsion for other women, and he’ll spend the rest of the novel making sense of his feelings.
Themes
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After the film, Charlie criticizes the film’s poor storyline and cheap ending, and Alice is impressed by Charlie’s new intelligence. They walk through Times Square (we realize that Charlie lives in New York City) and talk about Charlie’s future. Alice warns Charlie to be patient—he’s going to be a genius soon.
Although Charlie’s IQ might be growing, Alice is still the “voice of wisdom” in these chapters. Charlie can only think of becoming smarter as soon as possible, while Alice, on the other hand, encourages Charlie to practice patience, moderation, and humility.
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Charlie is moved by Alice’s support, and tells her that he could never have done this without her. Alice touches Charlie’s hand, and Charlie blushes and spills water on his shirt. They take a cab out of Times Square, and Charlie is frustrated. He tells Alice that he likes her, and Alice replies that she feels the same way about him. Charlie says that he doesn’t know how to put his feelings into words, since they’re so new to him. Alice responds by saying that they can’t make their friendship “personal,” because too much is at stake: Charlie needs to take more time for himself, since millions of people are going to follow his example one day soon.
In moral terms, Charlie is stuck in a state of selfishness, while Alice is thinking in broader, less personal terms. Charlie is concerned with himself and his own coming of age, while Alice wants to set a good example for the millions of people who might one day benefit from Charlie’s example. This is clearly good advice, not least because Charlie isn’t quite ready to pursue a sexual relationship with Alice: he has too many traumatic memories to deal with first.
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At the end of the night, Charlie contemplates kissing Alice, but she gets out of the cab before he can. She thinks him for a “lovely time.” Charlie plans to kiss Alice on their next night out.
Charlie goes through more “adolescent” pangs of love and lust.
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May 3. Charlie has more nightmares, and doesn’t know whether they’re real or imagined. In one nightmare, he sees a red-haired girl with a bloody knife in her hand. He tries free association, and discovers a memory he didn’t know he had. In the memory, Charlie finds Norma’s underwear stained with blood, and his parents spank him for “being bad.” In the present, Charlie concludes that he’s always been told to keep away from women. But now that he’s intelligent, he feels that he must explore his romantic needs.
The Freudian image of a woman with a knife (a phallic power symbol) suggests that Charlie has been trained to fear women and female contact, probably due to his mother’s cruelty. Charlie, in touch with his subconscious mind for the first time in his life, wants to purge himself of these destructive memories.
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May 8. While he’s working at the store, Charlie notices that Gimpy is stealing money. Gimpy undercharges a friend for his purchases, allowing Gimpy to pocket the extra money. Charlie finds this shocking: Gimpy has worked with Mr. Donner for more than 15 years, during which Donner has given Gimpy money for his wife’s hospital bills. Horrified, Charlie watches as Gimpy undercharges other customers.
This is a major turning point in the novel: Charlie confronts a moral dilemma for the first time in his life. He has grown very “book-smart” by now, but only experience can teach him wisdom and moral strength.
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May 8. Charlie tries to decide what to do. He could report Gimpy to Mr. Donner, but Gimpy would simply deny it. There seems to be no right thing to do.
Keyes’s point is that there’s no “correct answer” to a moral dilemma; i.e., there’ s no book that can teach Charlie what to do. Charlie is coming to terms with the limits of his “book learning.”
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May 9. Charlie continues worrying about Gimpy’s thefts. He realizes that by refusing to report Gimpy, he’s as guilty as Gimpy himself. And yet if Gimpy—a father of three—were fired, he probably couldn’t get another job, especially not with his clubfoot. Charlie notes that his intelligence isn’t helping him solve the problem.
Charlie doesn’t know what to do, but at least he recognizes the limits of his own knowledge. Rather than trying to apply philosophy or history to Gimpy’s situation, he accepts that there’s a clear distinction between knowing things and knowing what to do—in other words, a distinction between intelligence and wisdom.
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May 10. Charlie asks Professor Nemur about Gimpy, and Nemur insists that Charlie shouldn’t mention the incident to Mr. Donner. Charlie points out that Gimpy has used him to deliver undervalued packages to customers for years, meaning that Charlie effectively has been helping Gimpy steal. Nemur dismisses this reasoning, pointing out that Charlie was only an “object” before his operation. Charlie finds this incredibly insulting, and leaves Nemur’s office.
It comes as a nasty surprise that Professor Nemur isn’t interested in Charlie’s moral conundrum. For all his intelligence, Nemur isn’t a particularly good or wise man—he’s so interested in his own success and medical prestige that he has no time to think about matters of right and wrong. Charlie also begins to see that Nemur doesn’t think of Charlie as a person at all—he’s just a guinea pig, a tool to aid Nemur in his struggle for fame.
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Charlie goes to talk about Gimpy with Alice. Alice listens patiently to Charlie’s story, and then tells Charlie that there’s no intellectual way to solve this problem; he will have to learn to trust himself. Charlie realizes that Alice is right.
Alice is an important influence on Charlie. Although Professor Nemur gave Charlie his intelligence, Alice is the one who’ll give Charlie his wisdom.
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Charlie goes on to tell Alice that she has “made me see.” Alice blushes, and Charlie, encouraged, tells her he loves her. Alice tells Charlie to be careful—it’s “not time.” She tells him to continue with his studies and see other women before he decides that he’s in love. Charlie suggests that Alice is writing him off because he’s still “emotionally mentally disabled.”
Ever since his brain surgery, Charlie is used to moving fast: for example, he goes from barely knowing how to read to reading Shakespeare in mere weeks. And yet Charlie can’t move through his interpersonal relationships with the same speed: he has to “take it slow.”
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Charlie begs Alice to let him see her again, “away from the lab.” Alice is reluctant, but eventually agrees to go to a concert with Charlie. She kisses Charlie on the cheek and wishes him goodnight. As she leaves, Charlie decides that he’s in love.
Charlie believes that he’s in love—the ultimate example of something that can’t be taught in a book. Charlie’s emotional development is itself an important part of his education. He’s learning a lot about science and history, but now, he’ll have to learn about his own feelings.
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May 11. Charlie resolves to follow his intuition: he’ll go back to the bakery and talk to Gimpy about his theft. At the end of the day, Charlie tells Gimpy that he has a “friend who ‘has a problem.’” Charlie proceeds to tell Gimpy about “his friend,” who’s discovered that his coworker is stealing. He tells Gimpy that his friend will forget about the whole incident, as long as the stealing stops. Gimpy mutters that Charlie’s “friend” should mind his own business, but adds that the coworker will stop stealing. Gimpy tells Charlie, “you’ll be sorry you stuck your nose in.” He points out that he’s always stood up for Charlie. Charlie feels that he’s handled the incident the right way, though he wonders, “How many people are there like Gimpy who use other people that way?”
Keyes conveys the challenge of being intelligent enough to understand the complexity of life. Although Charlie successfully follows Alice’s advice, using intuition and morality to solve the problem, his success in resolving the issue brings him no real pleasure. In the same way that Charlie feels an unquenchable thirst to learn more, he feels a sense of perpetual dissatisfaction when resolving his disagreement with Gimpy—hence his rhetorical question. Charlie is still fairly ignorant of the “real world,” and his question foreshadows some of his upcoming experiences with coworkers and his professors.
Themes
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May 15. Charlie keeps studying at the university library. He reads very quickly, and digests information about hundreds of different subjects. When he hears students in the cafeteria discussing politics or religion, he finds their conversations childish. At times, Charlie raises conversations with university professors, but they become angry when it becomes clear that Charlie’s knowledge of the material vastly exceeds their own. Charlie notices that the professors at the university all have very narrow specializations: only Charlie can discuss literature and economics; religion and history. Charlie is disillusioned with his peers. He notes that tomorrow he’s going to a concert with Alice, and tells himself that she’s a woman, not a goddess.
This is an important turning point in the novel. Charlie is getting smarter at such a rapid speed that he leaves his peers behind. The same professors who once impressed him now seem petty and trivial. One important consequence of this process is that Charlie becomes highly arrogant: he knows how smart he is, and believes this gives him the right to look down on other people. The best (and most heartbreaking) illustration of this idea is that Charlie now looks down even on Alice.
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May 17. Charlie has had a date with Alice. They go to a concert in Central Park. During the concert—Debussy’s La Mer—Alice tells Charlie to stop trying to “understand” the music and give in to his emotions. Charlie feels Alice lean on his shoulder, and wonders what she’s thinking.
Although Charlie recognizes that he’s now “smarter” than Alice, he still has plenty to learn from her. Alice offers Charlie an emotional and even spiritual awareness of the world, offsetting Charlie’s purely academic education.
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Suddenly, Charlie notices a teenager with his pants open, watching him sitting with Alice. Charlie runs off after the teenager, despite Alice’s insistence that it doesn’t matter. He’s unable to find the teenager. Later, Alice invites Charlie back to her place for coffee, but Charlie refuses, saying that he has work to do that night. Charlie senses that Alice is waiting for Charlie to kiss her, but he doesn’t.
Charlie seems unable to “consummate” his relationship with Alice, as he finds it almost impossible to touch or her kiss her. This reminds us that Charlie has deep-seeded psychological issues that he needs to resolve—issues that stem from his traumatic childhood and his bullying mother.
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In the present, Charlie hypothesizes that he hallucinated the teenager. He’s so new to the world of sexuality that he has to stave off anxiety and even delusion. He realizes that he’s simply not ready to be in a relationship with Alice, at least not yet.
The irony is that while Charlie is “seeing the world more clearly,” he’s also “seeing things” that literally aren’t there at all. Based on the hallucinations that appear later in the novel, we can assume that the “teenager” Charlie sees is actually a vision of his younger self.
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May 20. Charlie is fired from his job at the bakery. Mr. Donner is apologetic as he fires Charlie, remembering that he swore to Charlie’s Uncle Herman that Charlie would always have a place at the bakery. He explains that Charlie’s coworkers have come to visit him in secret—they’ve signed a petition asking for Charlie’s dismissal. Charlie is devastated by this news, since the bakery has practically been his home for years. He asks Donner where he could go.
In one of the saddest and nastiest sections in the book, we see the extent of Charlie’s coworkers’ resentment for him. They’ve only kept Charlie around for so long because they want to feel superior, and now that Charlie is cleverer than they are, they don’t have a convenient “benchmark” for their own intelligence—if anything, Charlie’s presence now makes them feel stupid.
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Charlie begs Donner for a chance to convince his coworkers to let him stay, and Mr. Donner reluctantly agrees. Charlie confronts Frank Reilly, Gimpy, and Joe Carp, and they tell him that he’s become a “big shot,” “always with a book.” Charlie talks to the other employees, and they give him the same answer. Charlie realizes that by maturing so quickly, he’s reminded his coworkers of their own intellectual limitations.
It’s true that Charlie has become arrogant and self-absorbed (we saw this when Charlie went to the university and ridiculed professors), but it’s also true that Charlie’s coworkers are mean and insecure about their own brains. If anything, then, both Charlie and his coworkers are guilty of the same sense of superiority: before, Charlie’s coworkers enjoyed feeling superior to him, and now, Charlie relishes the feeling of being superior to his coworkers.
Themes
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Charlie finds Fanny Birden, the one woman who refused to sign the petition. Fanny explains that she finds Charlie very strange, even if she doesn’t think he should leave. She points out that Charlie “used to be 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 good, simple man. Charlie insists that he can never go back: soon, millions of people will follow his example, going from stupidity to brilliance.
This is a crucial passage in the novel: the moment when Keyes spells out, in unambiguous terms, the tradeoff between knowledge and happiness. Charlie is smarter than he’s ever been, but he’s also newly afraid, insecure, and even unhappy. Keyes sees something both deeply admirable and deeply repellent about Charlie’s brain surgery: on one hand, Charlie becomes conceited and loses his innocence; on the other, he takes control of his own life, gaining a new sense of freedom and curiosity.
Themes
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May 20. Upset about his dismissal from the bakery, Charlie goes to Alice’s apartment. Alice invites him inside and serves him coffee. Charlie has a quick look around Alice’s apartment: it’s full of New York and Reader’s Digest magazines, and decorated with a reproduction of a Picasso painting, as well as a kitschy painting of a knight. All in all, Charlie concludes, “nothing fits.”
Alice’s apartment reflects her “in between” state of mind (in terms of the kinds of people Charlie is familiar with): she’s neither a stuffy academic nor a gruff bakery worker: she likes both kitsch and “high art.” This reflects the fact that Alice is the “golden mean” between genius and humility, and she helps Charlie pursue his self-education without sacrificing modesty or wisdom.
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Charlie confesses to Alice that he’s frightened. Alice tells Charlie that Strauss and Nemur have been pushing him too quickly: although he’s a genius, he also has the soul of a little boy, unfamiliar with the most basic parts of the adult experience.
Alice makes clear what Keyes has been implying for the last 50 pages: Charlie is a genius, but in terms of emotional wisdom and experience, he’s still ignorant and childish.
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As Alice talks to him, Charlie remembers a day when he fainted in the middle of a bakery delivery—the woman to whom he was delivering the cake exposed herself to him. Then, Charlie remembers being a small child, and being beaten by Rose whenever he got an erection. Rose threatens to kill Charlie if he ever touches a girl.
Charlie’s sexual anxieties can be traced back to his childhood, where his mother conditioned him to fear women’s bodies. This is a perfect example of Alice’s point: Charlie can’t “rush into” sexual relationships. On the contrary, he needs time and caution in order to de-condition himself and work through his issues.
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In the present, Charlie tells Alice, “hold me,” and Alice begins to kiss him. Charlie kisses her back, but suddenly he freezes up and feels a sense of nausea. Charlie begins to cry, and Alice comforts him.
As if to reiterate Alice’s point, Keyes shows us what happens when Charlie tries to be physical with Alice: he regresses to a childish state.
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