Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 14 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
June 15. News of Charlie and Algernon’s “escape” hits the newspapers. In one news story, Charlie is surprised to find an interview with his own mother and sister. Since the news story includes their address, Charlie now has a way to contact his family. The article also mentions that his father works at a barbershop in the Bronx. Charlie stares at the photograph of his mother that’s included in the newspaper article. He feels a flash of fear, as well as some love.
It’s a little too convenient that Charlie finds information about his family in the newspaper the day after his escape (nor is it remotely believable that a newspaper would include a family’s home address!), but Keyes can be forgiven for these plot holes: he’s moving the story toward a big confrontation between Charlie and his mother, during which Charlie will have to face his past and his conflicted feelings for his family.
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Charlie has a flashback in which he overhears his parents arguing about sending him to the Warren State Home for the mentally disabled. Rose wants to send Charlie away, since she believes that Charlie’s presence is having a bad effect on Norma’s development. Matt accuses Rose of trying to “cut her losses” with Charlie, now that she has a good relationship with Norma—a suggestion that Rose angrily dismisses. As Charlie remembers all of this, he realizes that he should wait before he goes to meet his family.
Charlie seems to be learning the value of caution and discretion. Before, he wanted to dive into a relationship with Alice; here, he recognizes that interpersonal relationships take time to develop. As a result, he decides to wait before going to meet his family. His “emotional intelligence” is finally starting to catch up with his “book learning.”
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Charlie takes his money out of his bank account and uses it to check into a hotel room near Times Square. He’s weary of his responsibilities and memories, and hopes that he can make a fresh start soon.
The “fresh start” is an important theme in the second half of the book: Charlie has been born again, thanks to his brain surgery, but he’s not sure what kind of life he wants for himself. The only way for Charlie to decide is by trial and error.
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June 16. Charlie settles into a new routine. He stays in an apartment near Times Square, spends his days reading and studying, and sometimes watches TV with Algernon. He builds Algernon complicated, three-dimensional mazes to ensure that he keeps in shape, and tries to motivate him with food.
It’s interesting that Charlie builds mazes for Algernon, when previously he’d criticized Burt for doing the same thing. But here it’s suggested that Charlie knows what Algernon needs, because it’s what he himself needs—intellectual stimulation, and companionship with an “equal.”
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Get the entire Flowers for Algernon LitChart as a printable PDF.
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June 19. Charlie meets his neighbor, a woman named Fay Lillman, when he accidentally locks himself out of his apartment. Fay lets Charlie into her apartment, which, much to Charlie’s shock, is filthy and crowded with knick-knacks. She offers Charlie a beer, and he accepts. As he drinks, he notices that Fay is a painter: her apartment’s walls are decorated with her works, many of which are nudes of herself.
Fay is clearly an open, uninhibited woman: she’s comfortable with her sexuality, and doesn’t mind sharing it with other people. She’s also not particularly intellectual (there are no books in her apartment, it would seem). In a word, Fay is everything Charlie isn’t.
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Fay lets Charlie into his apartment via the fire escape. Charlie lets Fay into his place, and Fay is impressed with Charlie’s piano playing (he’s taught himself recently), and with the elaborate mazes he’s built for Algernon. Suddenly, Fay says she has to go—she has a date with someone she met at an art gallery. Charlie is impressed by Fay’s liveliness and vitality.
Charlie is trying out his “fresh start” with Fay. Charlie has spent his entire life being treated with suspicion (first for being disabled, then for being a genius), so it’s refreshing for him to find a woman who regards him as ordinary. He also starts learning to value other aspects of a person besides their IQ.
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June 20. Charlie goes to visit his father, Matt, at the barbershop where he works in the Bronx. Charlie chooses to do this before he sees his mother and sister, since he’s always felt that he’s closer with his father. In most of his memories, it was Matt who protected him from Rose.
Charlie is being careful with his emotions, so he starts with the easiest reunion—his father, the man who acted as his protector. Interestingly, Matt doesn’t seem to exert remotely the same influence over Charlie’s adult behavior that Rose does—cruelty is more memorable than decency.
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When Charlie finds Matt at the barbershop, Matt doesn’t recognize him. Charlie sits in the barber’s chair as his own father cuts his hair. As he sits there, Charlie remembers an argument between Matt and Rose from years ago. Rose shouts that Charlie has “got to go” to the Warren State Home. Rose waves a knife around and claims that Charlie is “better off dead.” Matt insists that Rose calm down—he argues that they can send Charlie to live with Charlie’s uncle, Herman.
It’s no wonder than Charlie has repressed this memory for so long: he can’t stand to think that his own mother wanted him out of her life, and even dead. Charlie has always had a feeling of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with himself, and it was this that first led him to receive brain surgery. Now Charlie is identifying the source of his feeling, and hopefully eliminating it in the process.
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Back in the present, Charlie turns to Matt and asks, “Do you recognize me?” Matt replies that he has no idea what Charlie means. Charlie realizes that he has no idea what to say to his father, and this is because he’s simply not his father’s son anymore. Charlie pays his father for the haircut and leaves the barbershop without saying another word.
Charlie’s first reunion with a family member ends on a rather disappointing note. There’s no tearful embrace; indeed, Matt doesn’t even know that there’s been a reunion. But even if Charlie doesn’t have the courage to reveal himself to his father, he’s made an important breakthrough today: he’s identified the source of his feelings of inadequacy, and recognized that he is fundamentally a different person now after the surgery.
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June 21. Charlie continues to spend time teaching Algernon how to navigate through mazes. Algernon solves every maze he’s given. One evening, Fay comes to Charlie’s apartment with a female mouse named Minnie—a companion for Algernon. Charlie finds that he can’t force himself to be upset with Fay. He’s also glad that Algernon is no longer alone.
Here, the link between Algernon and Charlie becomes even more obvious: Charlie is becoming more social and exploring his sexuality, just as Algernon is gaining another mouse for a companion.
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June 23. Late one night, Charlie hears a knock on his door—it’s Fay, accompanied by a dancer named Leroy. Fay invites Charlie over for a drink, but neither Charlie nor Leroy like this idea. Charlie has to fight the temptation to call Alice. He finds that he can’t picture Alice’s face—all he can think of is Fay.
Charlie comes to an ambiguous stage in his sexual maturity. He’s clearly capable of love and affection, but his feelings seem curiously separate from actual people, and he hasn’t overcome his sexual impotence yet.
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Later that night, Fay stops by Charlie’s apartment again, saying that she’s sent Leroy home after he tried to make a pass at her. She adds that if it were Charlie who’d tried, she wouldn’t have refused him. Fay offers Charlie alcohol, and together, they get drunk.
It’s tempting to think of Fay as an early example of a “manic pixie dream girl”—a bubbly, impossibly adventurous woman whose sole purpose is to awaken feelings of vitality and liveliness in a male protagonist.
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The next morning, Charlie wakes up lying next to Fay, who says that he acted odd last night—they didn’t have sex, but he said that he wanted to learn to read and write like everyone else. Charlie realizes that the “old Charlie” is still with him, even after his operation.
Charlie confirms there’s still a part of him that’s a child, and now this “old Charlie” even seems to become its own separate entity. Charlie has yet to resolve his psychological issues—he’ll have to meet his mother first.
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June 24. Charlie goes on an “anti-intellectual binge.” He goes to trashy movies, amusement parks, and restaurants. At a restaurant, Charlie witnesses a mentally challenged teenager—who works as a waiter—drop a tray of dishes. The customers laugh and jeer at the teenager, and at first Charlie is amused, too. Then, he realizes that he might as well be laughing at himself.
Charlie indulges in feelings of sensuality: instead of trying to think, he celebrates the fact that he can feel. But this leads Charlie to an uneasy conclusion: he’s become a “normal” person who laughs at his intellectual inferiors, just as his coworkers used to laugh at him.
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Charlie realizes that he needs to stop worrying about himself and devote his mental energy to helping other people. He could become a talented neuroscientist, devoting the rest of his life to replicating his own surgery in the brains of mentally disabled patients. He resolves to call Alice and tell her about his plans.
Charlie makes a big leap forward in his emotional and moral development: instead of indulging in sensuality or chasing his own happiness and fulfillment (essentially, asking whether ignorance is bliss or not), he now sees that his great talents also give him a responsibility for his fellow humans. The real test is whether or not he can follow through with these plans.
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June 25. Charlie calls Alice and asks to see her. She’s very eager to see him—she hasn’t heard from him at all since he left for Chicago. Charlie meets Alice at her apartment, where he confesses that he’s still “the old Charlie Gordon” sometimes—the frightened child who fears his mother.
The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one—thus, it’s important that Charlie understands what’s wrong with him. By identifying the “old Charlie” inside him, Charlie begins to figure out how to rid himself of his mental affliction.
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Alice takes Charlie to her bedroom and tries to make love to him. This is difficult for Charlie—he continues to have vivid flashbacks to his childhood—but eventually, he finds a way to perform with Alice. He turns off the lights and imagines that Alice is Fay, the one woman who doesn’t provoke feelings of anxiety. Charlie imagines himself kissing Fay’s body, even as he says Alice’s name. Suddenly, he looks into Alice’s eyes, and finds himself pushing her away.
Charlie still has a hard time relating to women. Even when he’s attracted to a woman, he has to channel these feelings through another person—thus, he can’t feel attracted to for Alice without thinking of Fay. Keyes devotes a lot of the plot here to Charlie’s “sexual awakening,” something consistent with the Free Love movement of the 1960s. It’s also these scenes that have led the book to be banned in many places.
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Terrified of his own sexual anxiety, Charlie leaves Alice’s apartment. He staggers through Times Square, where he buys a bottle of gin, and then goes back to his apartment. He knocks on Fay’s door, but finds that she isn’t there.
Charlie is trying to “run away from himself”—he’s so concerned about his sexual inadequacy that he tries to regress mentally; i.e., he gets himself drunk, hoping to forget all the anxiety and shame of his super-intelligent self.
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A short while later, Fay returns to her apartment, and Charlie comes to see her. He immediately wraps himself around her. Fay is uncomfortable at first—while she’s attracted to Charlie, she knows that Charlie gets anxiety around women—but Charlie insists that everything will be “fine this time.” Charlie makes passionate love to Fay. As he does, he imagines the “old Charlie” watching, and finds that he doesn’t care anymore.
This is a major breakthrough for Charlie, even if it isn’t truly a “solution” to his problem. Charlie is slowly growing accustomed to his childhood traumas—accepting them instead of fighting them. In short, Charlie is making peace with his inner child instead of trying to fight it. This is also a major milestone in Charlie’s story as a more traditional “coming of age” tale.
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June 29. Charlie realizes that he has limited time. He’s been busy calling various professors and researchers around the world, pointing out the flaws and errors in their experiments and research. Without saying what he means, he wonders how much time he has left: “A month? A year?”
As we enter the final part of Keyes’ novel, we come back to where we started. Charlie has now forced himself to admit the truth: there’s a strong possibility that he’s going to lose his IQ (as he suggested to Professor Nemur at the Chicago conference) and regress to his former self. Charlie has been living a life in “fast-forward” for the past few months, so it’s only appropriate that now, Charlie tries to cram in as many experiences as possible before he experiences an “intellectual death.”
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June 30. Charlie gives Fay the keys to his place. He enjoys spending time with her, and makes love to her frequently. He’s not in love with Fay, but he finds that he can use her to cure his sexual anxieties.
There’s something both inspiring and disturbing about this section: Charlie is curing his sexual neuroses, but in doing so he’s treating a woman as a mere object.
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July 5. Charlie finishes a piano concerto he’s been working on, and dedicates it to Fay. While Charlie doesn’t think much of Fay’s aesthetic tastes, he’s impressed by Fay’s openness and generosity. At one point, Fay took in a homeless girl, who ran off with Fay’s savings. Fay didn’t report the incident, saying that she couldn’t punish a starving girl for trying to survive.
Fay, like Alice, is an important moral teacher for Charlie. Charlie can teach himself about math or science, but only by spending time with people like Fay does he learn the value of generosity, openness, and human connection.
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July 8. Charlie starts neglecting his research to go club-hopping instead. Even though he’s not living up to his potential, he still completes impressive research in a wide variety of topics.
Charlie is at the top of the intellectual pack, and he’s bored. Instead of devoting himself totally to his work, he indulges in sensual pleasure.
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One night, Charlie has too much to drink, and in his drunkenness he behaves like the “old Charlie.” Fay is confused by Charlie’s behavior, but finds it funny. Charlie also notes that Algernon’s behavior is becoming erratic again, and Minnie seems afraid of him.
Fay is such an open, accepting woman that she doesn’t shun Charlie for his bizarre behavior, or even question him for it. It’s notable that so many of the women in this novel are selfless and rather one-dimensional: they exist to help Charlie.
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July 9. Algernon bites Fay while Fay is trying to play with him. Shortly afterwards, Charlie finds that Algernon has attacked Minnie. Charlie finds this distressing—it could mean any number of different things. He decides to call Professor Nemur the next day.
Because Algernon and Charlie are so closely linked both mentally and symbolically, this feels like ominous foreshadowing for Charlie himself.
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