Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Progress Report 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
October 3. Charlie continues to lose his intelligence. He contemplates killing himself, but realizes that this would be foolish: he was happy enough when he was mentally disabled, and he will soon be mentally disabled again.
This logically makes sense, but it’s also unclear how happy Charlie will be as intellectually disabled now that he has known life as a genius. “Disability” isn’t really a disability unless one has known the “ability” and then lost it (like Charlie now has)—otherwise it’s just whatever state the “disabled” person is used to and has always known.
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Late at night, Charlie listens to records, irritating his neighbors. He’s stopped playing the piano, and realizes that he doesn’t enjoy the same kinds of music anymore. Furious, he smashes every record in his place.
Immediately after his surgery, Charlie couldn’t stand his slow climb from disability to brilliance. Now that he’s losing his mind, Charlie can’t stand the agonizingly slow deterioration of his genius.
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October 4. Charlie goes to a therapy session with Doctor Strauss. As he sits on the couch, he realizes that Strauss reminds him of his father Matt. Feeling bitter, he compares Strauss to a barber, “trimming” his patients’ egos and ids (terms from Freudian psychology).
Charlie has many father figures in this book: Strauss, Burt, Nemur, etc., but Charlie is also his own father figure—especially since he exists as “child-Charlie” as much as he does as “genius-Charlie.” Here, Keyes implies as much by having Charlie ridicule Strauss.
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As Charlie sits on the couch, he tells Strauss about his hallucinations—he’s been seeing a version of his childhood self. As Charlie talks, he has another hallucination, so vivid that he forgets Strauss is there. He imagines his “expanding spirit” moving through time and space. Then, unexpectedly, he feels himself shrinking back into a small, dark cave. Charlie struggles to escape the cave, but he can’t.
Charlie’s vision of the dark cave symbolizes the slow loss of intelligence he faces. Although he’s depended on his mind to explore the mysteries of the universe, he now faces the agony of returning to his former state of ignorance. And yet it’s also unclear whether or not this will be “agony” once he’s actually ignorant again.
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Get the entire Flowers for Algernon LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Charlie realizes that Doctor Strauss is standing over him, worried. Strauss tells Charlie that he’s been hallucinating for some time now. He suggests that Charlie leave now—they can continue tomorrow. As he walks out, Charlie remembers the words of Plato: “The men of the cave would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes.”
Charlie’s dream parallels a famous passage from Plato’s Republic, about a wise man who escapes from a cave and sees “truth” in the form of bright sunlight. As Charlie interprets it, Plato’s story is about the arbitrary nature of truth and enlightenment. Although Charlie has acquired a great deal of intelligence and wisdom, his former, mentally disabled self would regard most of this information as nonsensical.
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October 5. Charlie visits Professor Nemur and Burt to conduct more tests. He tries to solve mazes, and finds that he can’t. As Charlie gets more frustrated, Burt apologizes for lashing out at Charlie at the party, and Charlie accepts his apology. Burt gives Charlie a Rorschach test. With great frustration, Charlie realizes that he doesn’t remember how the test works anymore. Abruptly, Charlie gets up and tells Burt that he’s leaving. He asks Burt to say “goodbye to everyone.” Before Burt can reply, Charlie is gone.
Charlie becomes increasingly moody and testy as he loses his intelligence. Although he acquired new wisdom and patience after visiting his family, he now seems to be regressing in that as well (or else aggression is a side effect of his mental deterioration, as it was for Algernon). This suggests an important question: will Charlie be able to preserve any of his wisdom, even after he loses all his intelligence?
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October 7. Charlie spends all his time alone in his room. He tries to read Milton’s Paradise Lost, but finds that he can’t remember anything about it. He remembers his childhood, when his mother angrily tried to teach him how to read. Charlie begs to God, “Don’t take it all away.”
Milton’s epic poem is about Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the tree of knowledge; an apt reminder of the supposed “tradeoff” between happiness and intelligence that Charlie has faced throughout the book. Charlie hasn’t always been happy as a genius, but he’s used his genius to help other people and reach a state of emotional enlightenment.
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October 10. Charlie goes for walks late at night. One night, he can’t remember where he lives, and a policeman has to take him home. He also meets a pimp, who offers him “a girl.” Charlie gives the man ten dollars, and the man leaves, but never comes back. Charlie is humiliated.
Charlie is regressing, both intellectually and sexually. The strongest sign of his former, super-intelligent self is his strong sense of shame.
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October 11. Charlie finds Alice asleep on his couch. Alice wakes up and explains that she wants to see as much of Charlie as possible. She points out that Charlie probably has the same IQ at her.
Charlie and Alice don’t regard each other with condescension or disdain anymore—on the contrary, they can finally love one another as equals.
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October 14. Charlie’s mental state deteriorates quickly. He spends time with Alice, but gets angry easily. He listens to Stravinsky music and finds it slow and dull, despite the fact that he used to love Stravinsky. He wishes he could freeze time and live with Alice forever.
Charlie isn’t as arrogant or self-absorbed as he used to be: even though he cares about keeping his intelligence, his sadness is rooted in love for Alice, not just love for himself.
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October 17. Charlie begins to have hallucinations of his childhood self, looking out through a window. He fears being sent back to the Warren State Home.
Charlie’s childhood self is like an “angel of death,” reminding Charlie of his inescapable fate.
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October 18. Charlie rereads his own paper on the Algernon-Gordon Effect and finds that he can’t understand any of it. He’s irritable all day long, even when Alice is kind to him. He imagines that Alice is humoring him—deliberately ignoring his mental deterioration. This infuriates Charlie. He wishes he could enjoy his time with Alice, but can’t.
Charlie descends into paranoia and fear. He loves Alice, but finds himself unable to express his love. Again Charlie’s irritation and anger remind us of Algernon’s aggression late in his life.
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October 19. Charlie loses some of his motor control, and he trips and drops things constantly. His only pleasure is television. Alice tries to cheer him up, but this only makes Charlie angrier. He realizes that he can longer read any language but English.
Charlie continues to lose his IQ as well as his emotional intelligence: he can’t interact with other people, or understand complex writing.
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October 21. Alice and Charlie have a fight. Alice claims that she can’t live with Charlie when he lives in such a messy place. She reminds Charlie that before he had his operation, he never wallowed in self-pity, nor did he lash out at people for no reason. Charlie has lost something that he had before the operation: something that made everyone respect him, even when he was mentally disabled.
Alice again shows her wisdom and emotional maturity here, and seems to deliver Keyes’ verdict on the matter—there is a crucial part of humanity that is based in decency, kindness, and dignity, and this has nothing to do with one’s IQ. Charlie used to have this quality, but he seems to have lost it amidst his tumultuous mental changes.
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Charlie can’t stand listening to Alice. He orders her to leave immediately. He accuses Alice of pushing him, just like his mother. When Alice denies this, Charlie yells for Alice to leave. She leaves the apartment, weeping.
In this heartbreaking scene, it finally seems clear that Charlie is regressing emotionally as well as intellectually. He’s not just losing his intelligence, but also his wisdom.
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October 25. Charlie tries to stave off his mental decline by teaching himself new things. He goes to the library and tries to read as much as he can—even when he doesn’t understand the books.
Charlie’s struggle to remain intelligent is both heartbreaking and inspiring. The fact that we know Charlie won’t succeed also gives his attempts a tragic nobility.
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Charlie sees Fay in his apartment building, but she avoids Charlie as much as possible—she seems frightened of him. Charlie also gets a visit from Mrs. Mooney, his landlady. She brings him soup and other food. Charlie knows that either Alice or Doctor Strauss has arranged for Mrs. Mooney to take care of him.
At the beginning of the novel, Charlie depended entirely on other people’s generosity. Now, we’ve returned to where we started.
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November 1. Charlie tries to read as much as he can, but he gets frustrated with himself for not understanding the books. He reads “a book about a man who thought he was a knight.” Although he recognizes that the story has a “hidden meaning,” he can’t understand what the hidden meaning is. This makes him angry, because he knows that he used to understand.
We can deduce that the book Charlie reads is, appropriately enough, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes—a novel in which a man loses his mind after reading too many books.
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November 2. Charlie spends his evenings watching a woman in another building. Every night she takes a bath, and Charlie enjoys watching her.
Charlie still clings on to some sense of sexuality, but it’s becoming cruder and more immature.
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November 5. Charlie spends all day sitting in his apartment. Mrs. Mooney brings him food and suggests that he’s being lazy. Charlie tries to read books, but has to look words up in the dictionary. He puts flowers on Algernon’s grave, even though Mrs. Mooney finds this silly. Finally, Charlie tries to visit Fay, but she tells him to leave her alone.
Although Charlie is becoming less intelligent, he seems to be more in touch with his innate sense of decency again. This is symbolized by putting flowers on Algernon’s grave, the motif that also gives the book its title.
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November 9. Charlie gets headaches. His TV is broken, and the woman who takes baths at night pulls down her window shade, so that Charlie can no longer watch her.
The woman prevents Charlie from “peeping” at her any longer—a subtle symbol of the fact that Charlie is quickly losing all sense of sexuality.
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November 10. Mrs. Mooney sends “a strange doctor” to see Charlie. Charlie tells the doctor that he used to be a genius. Charlie gets annoyed with this doctor, since he clearly doesn’t believe Charlie.
As we come full circle, Keyes suffuses his book with dramatic irony once again. We know that Charlie used to be a genius, even if the doctor doesn’t.
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November 11. Alice and Doctor Strauss visit Charlie, but he refuses to let them into his apartment. Later on, Mrs. Mooney visits Charlie, and suggests that Charlie get a job. Charlie remembers his job at the bakery, but doesn’t want to go back. Nevertheless, he knows that he needs a job, since he doesn’t want to depend on other people—as he says, “I wont take charety from anybody.”
Charlie’s fundamental characteristic is his pride and ambition, and we can see this very clearly here. Charlie refuses to accept charity from anyone: he wants to feel competent and self-sufficient, even when he’s not.
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Novemerb 15. Charlie looks back on his old progress reports, but can’t understand most of the words. He also buys pornographic magazines from the drugstore, but when he has “funny dreams” about the women in them, he decides not to read them anymore.
Charlie has lost his intelligence, his sexuality, and his curiosity. The question remains: has he kept anything from his time as a genius?
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November 16. Alice visits Charlie, but Charlie refuses to see her. This makes Alice cry, and she explains that she’s the one who’s been sending Charlie money and food. Charlie decides that he needs to get a job immediately. He prays, “don’t let me forget how to reed and rite.”
In this heartbreaking section, Charlie reveals that he doesn’t really remember his time with Alice. Although Charlie once felt sincere romantic love for Alice, he can’t remember this feeling any longer. Keyes also shows Charlie’s regression through the deterioration of his spelling and grammar.
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November 18. Charlie goes back to the bakery and asks Mr. Donner for his old job. Mr. Donner sadly agrees, saying, “Charlie, you got guts.” Charlie resumes work as a janitor. He tells himself that even if his coworkers make fun of him, there was a time when he was smarter than they were.
Here, we see that Charlie does, in fact, remember something from his time as a genius. He’s gained a new perspective on life, and knows how to see the bright side of things, even when people make fun of him. As Mr. Donner says, he has guts.
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At work, a new hire named Klaus mocks Charlie, daring him, “Say something smart.” Charlie tries to ignore Klaus, but Klaus grabs Charlie by the arm and threatens to hurt him. This makes Charlie cry and soil himself. Joe Carp angrily pushes Klaus away from Charlie, saying that Charlie is a “good guy.” Later, Joe and Gimpy tell Charlie they’re going to convince Mr. Donner to fire Klaus. Charlie tells them that they shouldn’t fire Klaus—Klaus has a wife and a kid. Charlie says this because he remembers the experience of being fired. Gimpy nods and tells Charlie that Charlie “has friends here.”
Another suggestion that Charlie’s time as a genius wasn’t a waste arrives in this section, when Klaus tries to bully Charlie, and Charlie still stands up for him. It seems that Joe and Gimpy have also gained some wisdom and maturity over the course of the novel: their experience with Charlie has taught them to be kinder and more accepting of their intellectual “inferiors.” They now protect Charlie from bullies instead of bullying him.
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November 21. Charlie goes to Miss (Alice) Kinnian’s class at the adult learning center, forgetting that he’s not in the class anymore. Alice begins to cry and runs out of the classroom.
It would seem that Charlie has forgotten almost everything about his love affair with Alice—as suggested by the fact that he no longer calls her Alice, but “Miss Kinnian,” as he did at the book’s beginning.
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Charlie decides that he’s going to go to the Warren Home. He doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him—not his coworkers, and not Miss Kinnian. He tells Miss Kinnian, “If you ever reed this Miss Kinnian dont be sorry for me.” Charlie explains that he got to meet his family and learn about science, so he doesn’t regret the operation at all.
In this section, Keyes provides his most compelling answer to the question, “Was Charlie’s experience as a genius all for nothing?” Contrary to what we might think, Charlie has gained something from his time as a brilliant man. He’s reached a resolution with his childhood trauma, has experienced the pleasures of discovery, creativity, and artistic appreciation, and has been able to potentially help many others as well.
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Charlie remembers a book he read when he was intelligent. He thinks about the man who read the book, and imagines him “from the window.”
Charlie’s situation is now tragically reversed. As a genius, he had visions of himself as a mentally disabled man or child, but now Charlie can only remember his time as a genius via a hallucination of a man with a book, separated from him by a “window”—as was the case with his earlier visions as well.
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Charlie says goodbye to Miss Kinnian, Doctor Strauss, and everyone else. He asks Professor Nemur not to be such a grouch, and points out that it’s easier to make friends when you let people laugh at you. He also asks that someone put more flowers on Algernon’s grave.
Keyes steers his novel toward a bittersweet conclusion, as Charlie seems to return to “blissful ignorance”—bitter because he’s ignorant, but sweet because he’s blissful. And yet Charlie has gained something from his experiences that he still retains: a sense of respect, empathy, and wisdom, and memories of connections to many other people. All this is ultimately represented by his request for “flowers for Algernon,” as Charlie still feels a sense of connection to the mouse, and retains a kindness and empathy that has nothing to do with his IQ.
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