Flowers for Algernon

by

Daniel Keyes

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Themes and Colors
Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness Theme Icon
Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality Theme Icon
Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero Theme Icon
Cruelty and Bullying Theme Icon
Love and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Flowers for Algernon, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Ignorance, Intelligence, and Happiness

After Charlie Gordon has his surgery and begins to progress from mental disability to brilliance, he has an argument with one of his coworkers, Fanny Birden. Fanny tells Charlie that it was a sin for Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, because in doing so, they traded eternal happiness for knowledge. The apparent tradeoff between happiness and intelligence is one of the most important themes in Flowers for Algernon

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Intelligence vs. Wisdom and Morality

In Flowers for Algernon, Keyes establishes a tradeoff between intelligence and happiness, and at the same time makes a different point about the relationship between intelligence and wisdom. By the novel’s midpoint Charlie Gordon is a genius: his brain holds a staggering amount of information about the world. And yet in spite of Charlie’s vast knowledge and voracious reading, he finds himself incapable of handling the most basic “real-world” situations. The distinction between intelligence…

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Pride, Hubris, and the Tragic Hero

From the very beginning, the readers of Flowers for Algernon are meant to identify with Charlie Gordon in one important respect: his pride and ambition. Charlie’s pride—his desire for respect, intelligence, and prestige—is at the center of his character: without pride Professor Nemur would never have chosen him to undergo the operation that makes him a genius. And yet Charlie’s pride is his greatest weakness as well as his greatest strength. Through pride, Charlie takes…

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Cruelty and Bullying

Flowers for Algernon studies the relationship between intelligent and unintelligent people, or more generally, between the powerful and the weak. Because Charlie Gordon travels between these two worlds—moving from mental disability to brilliance, and then back to mental disability again—he comes to see the ways in which people mock and bully their intellectual inferiors, partly out of cruelty, and partly out of insecurity.

People of average intelligence bully the mentally disabled, Keyes suggests, because they…

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Love and Sexuality

Arguably the biggest change that Charlie Gordon undergoes in Flowers for Algernon—even bigger than his rise from mental disability to genius—is the change in his romantic life. At the beginning of the novel, Charlie is completely ignorant of the opposite sex (he’s assumed to be straight). He’s never even kissed a girl, and from an early age his mother, Rose Gordon, has impressed upon him that he mustn’t touch women. As he ages…

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