Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Charlie Gordon is a gentle, happy, thirty-two-year-old with an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 68. For seventeen years, he has worked at Donner’s Bakery, a job his Uncle Herman found for him. He also attends evening classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults to learn to read and write. His teacher, Alice Kinnian, recommends him for a research experiment on intelligence conducted by Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur. This experiment, funded by the Welberg Foundation, has already been successful on a white lab mouse named Algernon, so the researchers are ready for a human participant.
Professor Nemur tells Charlie to keep a journal in the form of progress reports for the experiment. The first such “progris riport,” dated in early March, documents Charlie’s illiteracy and strong hope to be selected for the “operashun.” Charlie worries that he will fail the personality and intelligence tests, especially after Algernon beats him when they compete in solving puzzles. He also describes, in a childlike manner, his desire to increase his intelligence to participate fully in discussions and make more friends.
Despite Professor Nemur’s reservations, Charlie is selected to undergo neurosurgery along with enzyme and hormone treatments intended to triple his intelligence. He is nervous about the operation and brings a rabbit’s foot and other superstitious objects with him to the hospital. After the successful operation, he is...
(The entire section is 752 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is one of the classic science fiction novels of the 1960’s. It conveys a moving story about a mentally retarded man gaining genius-level intelligence, only to slowly and tragically regress to his former state. It is widely considered to be one of the most important novels ever written about the nature of human intelligence. The novel won the 1966 Nebula Award.
The novel was expanded from a novella of the same title, which itself won a Hugo Award in 1960. “Flowers for Algernon” (1959) told the story of Charlie Gordon, a thirty-year-old man with an IQ less than 70 but with an intense desire to learn. He is chosen to be the first human subject in an experiment aimed at surgically correcting his brian in a way that is hoped will triple his IQ. The same technique appeared successful on a laboratory mouse named Algernon. The entire story is told through journals written by Charlie, documenting his feelings and experiences as he increases his intelligence to genius level, then slowly and tragically returns to his former limited intellectual abilities. In 1992, science-fiction readers and professionals voted it the best science-fiction novella ever written.
In the novel, Keyes better detailed Charlie’s intellectual rise and fall, adding startling details about his early life with his parents and sister, who later abandoned him. Although not as stylistically effective as the novella, the novel...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Charlie Gordon, thirty-seven years old and with an IQ of 68, dreams of being smart. Intelligence, he imagines, lies somewhere in the domain of reading and writing—a belief that has made him the hardest-working pupil in Miss Kinnian’s class for slow adults. Charlie is so “motor-vated” that Miss Kinnian recommends him as a test subject for an experimental surgical procedure that promises a threefold increase in intelligence. Excited by the prospect of having his dream come true, Charlie begins his diary at the request of Dr. Strauss. Each “progris riport” reveals Charlie’s thoughts, feelings, and fears as his intelligence rises dramatically, then plummets.
With a childlike eagerness to please, Charlie faces psychologists who attempt to administer personality and intelligence tests. Try as he may, he can see neither pictures in the “raw shok” inkblots nor stories in the scenes of the Thematic Apperception Test. Charlie fares no better in his contests with a white mouse named Algernon. Algernon runs through a maze box as Charlie attempts the same maze with pencil and paper. Algernon always wins.
Charlie is troubled by preoperative fears, but his rabbit’s foot and a gift of candy see him through. The operation entails little discomfort and recovery is rapid, but Charlie is disappointed when he notices little immediate rise in his intelligence. Dr. Strauss advises patience, pointing out that Algernon’s progress was slow after...
(The entire section is 763 words.)
Flowers for Algernon is told as a series of "Progress Reports" written by Charlie Gordon, a thirty-two-year-old man with an IQ of 68. As Keyes's novel opens, Charlie has volunteered to be the subject of an experimental surgical procedure that would more than triple his IQ. Although Charlie is of subnormal intelligence, he is unusually motivated, taking night-school classes at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults. At first, he is afraid he won't be chosen for the project. He doesn't understand what to do when he is asked to tell what he sees in inkblots, and when he traces through a diagram of a maze in competition with Algernon, a mouse who is running an actual maze, Algernon always wins. Nonetheless, Charlie is chosen by the scientists in charge of the project— Professor Nemur, the psychologist who developed the technique, and Dr. Strauss, the neurosurgeon who performs the actual operation. After the surgery, Charlie returns to his job as a janitor at Donner's Bakery, where nobody is aware of his operation.
The sad state of Charlie's life prior to the surgery is made clear when Joe Carp and Frank Reilly, whom Charlie regards as his friends, take him out to a bar, get him drunk, make fun of him, and leave him to find his way home.
As time passes, however, it becomes obvious that Charlie is getting smarter. At the bakery, he successfully operates a complicated machine that mixes baking dough. His performances on the...
(The entire section is 1821 words.)
Part I—Charlie Becomes a Genius
Flowers for Algernon is told as a series of "Progress Reports" written by Charlie Gordon, a thirty-two-year-old man with an IQ of 68. As Keyes's novel opens, Charlie has volunteered to be the subject of an experimental surgical procedure which would more than triple his IQ. Although Charlie is of subnormal intelligence, he is unusually motivated, taking night school classes at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults. At first, he is afraid he won't be chosen for the project. He doesn't understand what to do when he is asked to tell what he sees in inkblots, and when he traces through a diagram of a maze in competition with Algernon, a mouse who is running an actual maze, Algernon always wins. Nonetheless, Charlie is chosen by the scientists in charge of the project—Professor Nemur, the psychologist who developed the technique, and Dr. Strauss, the neurosurgeon who performs the actual operation.
After the surgery, Charlie returns to his job as a janitor at Donner's Bakery, where nobody is aware of his operation. The sad state of Charlie's life prior to the surgery is made clear when Joe Carp and Frank Reilly, whom Charlie regards as his friends, take him out to a bar, get him drunk, make fun of him, and leave him to find his way home.
As time passes, however, it becomes obvious that Charlie is getting smarter. At the bakery, he successfully operates a complicated machine...
(The entire section is 1852 words.)
Progress Report 1 Summary
Charlie Gordon begins the book on March 3 with a short introduction, the first of many “Progress Reports” that he writes for Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur. Charlie states that he is thirty-two years old, will turn thirty-three next month, and is currently employed at Donner’s Bakery where he earns eleven dollars a week as a janitor. Although he has an IQ of only 68, he is functional enough to live independently and to attend classes three times a week at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults. As a student there, he attracts the attention of Strauss and Nemur, who are interested in the field of neuroscience. His teacher, Miss Kinnian, helps explain the importance of writing the progress reports. Strauss and Nemur are considering Charlie for a surgical and training program that will greatly increase his intelligence, thus “curing” him of his mental handicap. Because Charlie wants to “be smart,” he agrees to do his best, though he is insecure about his writing ability. Miss Kinnian assures him that his writing is good enough for this purpose, and that he should write just the same as he does in composition class. His poor spelling and grammar in the early progress reports reflect his intellectual ability.
Dr. Strauss encourages Charlie to write everything he thinks about and everything that happens to him. Charlie is frustrated by this because he feels he cannot think anymore of what to write. He ends his first progress report with a traditional letter closing: “yrs truly Charlie Gordon.” Charlie has yet to realize that he is in the eyes of Strauss and Nemur little more than a lab experiment. Miss Kinnian will eventually serve as Charlie's love interest as well as a bridge between Charlie the "test subject" and Charlie "the human being."
The shortness of his first progress report reveals that he has little of interest in his life and in his mind. As the experiment proceeds, Charlie’s growing self-awareness and intelligence will be revealed by the increasing length of each progress report.
(The entire section is 340 words.)
Progress Report 2 Summary
The next day, March 4, Charlie goes to Professor Nemur’s lab for the first of many tests. Charlie begins this progress report by expressing fear that he failed the test and will no longer be considered for the experiment.
Charlie describes the “psych dept” as a long hall that includes a lot of little rooms with only a desk and chairs. In his assigned room, he meets Burt, who is to give him the test. Burt’s white coat makes Charlie think that Burt is a doctor. Charlie admits that he cannot remember Burt’s last name. Because he confesses more than once to his trouble remembering things, Charlie is evidently concerned that his memory issues will also prevent him from being considered for the experiment.
Charlie is apprehensive at the beginning of the test. He says it is the same fear he has experienced at the dentist. Burt tells Charlie to relax and gives him the Rorschach Inkblot Test, an "exam" in which a person is shown several pictures of inkblots and is then asked to describe what images he or she sees there. Charlie’s fear deepens because he thinks this test is similar to the ones he failed in school. Plus, he remembers once spilling ink and being punished for it. Charlie tells Burt that he sees black and white ink on a card. Thinking that the test is over, he gets up to leave, but Burt informs him that he is not through yet. He tells Charlie that people see pictures in the inkblots. Charlie puts on his glasses, thinking that this might help him to see the pictures, but again he sees only ink. Again and again Burt urges Charlie to try to see images, but Charlie does not yet have the imaginative powers to see anything other than inkblots. When Burt tells him to imagine that there is something on the card, Charlie tells him that he imagines an inkblot. In frustration, Burt breaks his pencil point.
(The entire section is 333 words.)
Progress Report 3 Summary
On March 5, Charlie meets with Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur to discuss the Rorschach test. Charlie defensively tells them that he did not spill the ink on the cards, nor could he see anything in the blots as Burt wanted him to. Strauss and Nemur assure Charlie that they may still be able to use him. When Charlie says that Miss Kinnian never gave him any tests except reading and writing, Dr. Strauss mentions that his teacher said he was the best pupil as far as effort and motivation. Charlie explains that he went to Beekman University Center because he wanted to be smart. His mother always told him to “try harder” to be smart, but he never was able to make much progress in school. Even in Miss Kinnian’s class, Charlie confesses that he has no long-term memory.
Strauss and Nemur explain to Charlie that the experiment they want to do has worked only with animals so far. They are not even sure that it will work on humans, but Charlie says he does not care, even if it hurts. He promises that he will work hard and get smart if they will use him for the experiment.
The doctors explain that before they can perform the surgery, they will have to get permission from his family. As a handicapped person, he is not deemed competent to give them legal permission. Charlie says that his uncle Herman, who used to take care of him, is dead. He has not been in contact with his parents or his younger sister, Norma, for some time, but he thinks they live in Brooklyn. Strauss promises that he will try to get in touch with them for permission.
Charlie confesses that writing the progress reports had caused him to lose sleep. He is clumsy at work, dropping things and making his supervisor, Gimpy, angry. Charlie counts him as a friend, even though Gimpy yells and laughs at him. At this point in the novel, Charlie cannot tell the true nature of the relationships that he has with others. Charlie looks forward to Gimpy’s reaction when Charlie becomes smart after the operation.
(The entire section is 360 words.)
Progress Report 4 Summary
On March 6, Charlie reports that he returned to the lab for more tests. The lab tester tells Charlie that he is going to take a “Thematic Apperception Test.” Charlie asks her how to spell it for his report, which shows that even before the operation, Charlie is “trying hard” to be smart. His focus is now on doing the “right” things in order to be viewed as a fitting candidate.
In the Thematic Apperception Test, Charlie is shown pictures of people. Initially, Charlie thinks this test will be easier than the Rorschach Test because he can actually see what is in the picture, unlike in the inkblots. The tester tells him that he must make up a story about the people in the picture, but Charlie refuses, believing that “telling stories” is the same as lying. He offers to tell her stories of his family, since he knows they are real, but the tester wants him to tell stories about the people in the pictures. When Charlie refuses, she angrily puts the pictures away. Charlie declares his indifference, hiding the fact that he too is becoming frustrated with his failure.
Charlie then meets with "Burt Seldon," making note of the name that he could not remember the day before. Burt gives Charlie a sheet of paper containing a maze (or as Charlie thinks, “amazed”), telling him to draw a line from start to finish. Charlie is unable to accomplish this, so after numerous tries, Burt takes him to the animal testing center. He shows Charlie a maze on a wooden table and introduces Charlie to Algernon, a mouse who has had the operation that increases intelligence. Burt shows Charlie how Algernon can run through the maze, testing false leads, until he successfully reaches the end and emits a squeak of satisfaction. Burt then has Charlie use a similar maze equipped with an electric stylus that will give a small electric shock when he goes down the wrong path. Algernon’s maze is set up to replicate the one used by Charlie, and the man and the mouse race against each other. Charlie is amazed that Algernon beats him every time, but eventually Charlie learns to complete the maze, although not as fast as Algernon. Charlie is astonished that “mice are so smart.” Even though he is beaten by Algernon, the tests show that Charlie is able to learn at some level, making him a more fitting candidate for the intelligence enhancement surgery.
(The entire section is 412 words.)
Progress Report 5 Summary
On the same day, March 6, Charlie is present during a discussion among Strauss, Nemur, and Burt Seldon. Charlie’s sister, Norma, has been found and has granted permission for the operation. Professor Nemur, however, is hesitant about using Charlie. Strauss states that Charlie is the best candidate of all those tested. Burt adds that Miss Kinnian recommends him as the best of all her pupils at Beekman University, the source for the test subjects. Strauss emphasizes that Charlie has a high level of motivation for a person with a 68 IQ. He explains to Charlie that "motivation" is something that Algernon has as well; for the mouse, the motivation is cheese. Charlie is confused, since he says he did not have cheese that week.
Professor Nemur is worried that raising Charlie’s IQ from such a low level to an extremely high one could seriously harm Charlie. The conversation gets technical, so Charlie tries to dictate the words as he hears them. Using asterisks for words he does not completely catch, Charlie demonstrates that he has some measure of self-monitoring, another key factor in the possible success of the experiment. It is evident from the conversation that Professor Nemur is intent on creating a race of “intellectual supermen,” of which Charlie will be only the first. Strauss points out that, unlike Charlie, most people at a 68 IQ level are hostile, uncooperative, dull, apathetic, and hard to reach. Charlie’s good nature makes him an ideal candidate.
Professor Nemur tells Charlie that the experiment has worked only on animals like Algernon. The scientists are not sure of the effect on humans. There might be no difference, or there might be a temporary increase in intelligence that will decrease eventually to a level even lower than what Charlie has now. Charlie might thus be even less independent and would need to return to the Warren group home for care, unable to live by himself or support himself with the wages from his job at Donner’s Bakery. Charlie, however, is not afraid. He believes in the luck of his rabbit’s foot. Dr. Strauss tells him that even if the experiment fails, Charlie will be making a significant contribution to science. Charlie vows to try hard to make the experiment a success, grateful for the second chance at life that the surgery offers him.
(The entire section is 391 words.)
Progress Report 6 Summary
It is March 8, and Charlie is prepared for the operation. Numerous visitors come to wish him luck. Burt Seldon brings him flowers from the people at the psych department (flowers will also play a role at the end of the story, functioning as bookends to Charlie’s new life). Charlie has his rabbit’s foot and his lucky penny to take with him into the operating room. Dr. Strauss chides him for being superstitious: the operation does not involve luck, the doctor says; it is "science." Charlie is confused because he believes that "science" is simply something that helps you have good luck. Joe Carp, a coworker from Donner’s Bakery, brings him a chocolate cake and tells him to get better soon. On Professor Nemur’s orders, Charlie has told his colleagues that he is sick. The true purpose of the procedure is top secret at the moment, in case the experiment does not produce the hoped-for results. Miss Kinnian also visits and straightens his room. Charlie thinks that his teacher likes him because he tries harder than all the other students at the school.
Professor Nemur ends the visitation hours, insisting that Charlie needs rest. Charlie asks if he will be able to beat Algernon in the maze following his operation. Charlie’s motivation at this point is to show himself smarter than a mouse. He looks forward to being able to read and write better. He hopes to be able to find his parents and sister. He imagines how surprised they will be when he shows up at their door, as smart as a “normal” person.
Professor Nemur tells Charlie that if the surgery proves successful, it will revolutionize humanity’s intellectual capabilities. More people will receive the same surgery all over the world. Charlie is doing something great for humanity, and he is sure to become famous. Charlie does not care so much about being famous as he does about being smart. At the moment, however, he is concerned about not being able to eat before his operation. Professor Nemur, whom Charlie calls a “grouch," takes away his chocolate cake.
(The entire section is 354 words.)
Progress Report 7 Summary
Following the operation, Charlie’s eyes are bandaged for three days. It is not until March 11 that he can write another "progress report" (which Hilda, the nurse, shows him how to spell correctly). He tells of his fear prior to the procedure, of being wheeled into an operating room with tiers of doctors waiting to view the historic surgery. Dr. Strauss tries to calm Charlie, but when his arms and legs are strapped down, his fear increases significantly. After the anesthesia mask is lowered, Charlie calmly goes to sleep.
When Charlie awakens, he finds that his eyes are bandaged and he cannot remember the surgery at all. Burt monitors Charlie, taking his vital statistics, recording them for “science,” as Charlie says. Burt further explains the importance of the progress reports, which will record what Charlie thinks and feels as the experiment progresses. As Charlie rereads his reports, he cannot understand how they will tell anyone anything. He is looking forward to being able to carry on a conversation with his fellow workers at Donner’s Bakery. He has been watching and listening as they discuss religion, politics, and current events. He hopes that soon he will be able to take part.
Hilda, Charlie’s first nurse, says he is brave to have an operation on his brain, something that she would never allow. She questions the morality of the operation, telling Charlie that if God had wanted him to be smart, He would have made him so. She urges Charlie to pray for forgiveness for letting the doctors operate. Charlie, however, cannot see why it is sinful, but he becomes scared once again. The next day, Charlie has a new nurse, Lucille, to replace Hilda, who has been moved to the maternity ward because of her conversation with Charlie. Charlie asks Lucille where the babies in the maternity ward come from; she becomes embarrassed and leaves without answering his question. This is one of the things that Charlie hopes to learn when he becomes smart.
Charlie is frustrated to find out that he is not immediately smart after the operation, as he had hoped. Miss Kinnian tells him that he will become smart slowly and must work hard. This makes no sense to Charlie, who was working hard at being smart before the operation. Miss Kinnian explains that the surgery will allow Charlie to remember more of what he learns. He promises that he will try hard; Miss Kinnian expresses her faith in him.
(The entire section is 414 words.)
Progress Report 8 Summary
In the days following the operation, Charlie becomes increasingly frustrated. He thinks the puzzles, the games, and especially the progress reports are “stupid.” He gets headaches from trying to remember as Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur want him to. Miss Kinnian assures him that he will get smarter, but it will happen without his realizing it.
Charlie eats lunch with Burt in the college cafeteria. He listens to the students around them and hopes that he will soon be able to have similar conversations about serious topics. Burt promises him that eventually he will be smarter than the students. Charlie almost tells the students that he will be very smart like them, but Burt interrupts him, as the experiment is still secret. He explains that Professor Nemur does not want his colleagues to laugh at his theories of intellectual enhancement.
Almost two weeks after the operation, Charlie is given permission to go back to the bakery. When he shows up for work, the other men poke fun of his bandages, asking if he had "brains put in." Charlie discovers that Mr. Donner has hired a boy to take over the deliveries that Charlie used to make. When Charlie is concerned that he will lose his job, Mr. Donner explains that he had promised Charlie’s uncle that he would take care of Charlie and give him a job for the rest of his life. Charlie is relieved and enjoys the joking around of the other men, though it is actually mean-spirited name-calling directed at Charlie. Whenever someone makes a mistake, they call it making a “Charlie Gordon.”
At night, Charlie is connected to a subliminal teaching machine. Dr. Strauss explains that it will help Charlie get smarter even as he sleeps. Charlie, however, is upset that he cannot sleep because of the noise. Eventually Dr. Strauss lowers the volume. The machine is also intended to help Charlie’s long-term memory. Charlie eventually remembers how he came to Beekman University to learn with Miss Kinnian. A coworker at the bakery had a cousin who was a student there. Through this connection, Charlie was registered as a student too.
At a work party, the other men make fun of Charlie and trick him into getting drunk. They leave him alone on the streets. Charlie is lost and frightened until a policeman takes him home. Charlie vows never to drink whiskey again.
On March 29, twenty days after the operation, Charlie finally beats Algernon at the maze. Charlie...
(The entire section is 499 words.)
Progress Report 9 Summary
On April Fools' Day, Charlie’s coworkers plan to play a trick by getting Charlie to run the bread-making machine, a task that usually takes a year in baking school to accomplish. When Charlie is able to do this, and to do it better than the previous worker, the crowd is silenced and eventually becomes sullen.
In his studies, Charlie is progressing rapidly. He is able to look up words he does not know how to spell. In addition to his subconscious nighttime routine and his lessons with Miss Kinnian, Charlie is able to read independently. His memory also is improving. He remembers several incidents from his childhood. He connects an incident involving a girl in his class with his blossoming feelings for Miss Kinnian. When Charlie’s coworkers take him to a party and convince a girl to dance suggestively against him, Charlie becomes aroused, and that night he has a nocturnal emission. Dr. Strauss tells him that his intellect is maturing more than his emotions, and Charlie admits that he does not understand women at all.
One important outcome of his experience at the party is that he realizes his coworkers are not his friends: their laughter is the result of mockery, not camaraderie. He is shocked and depressed to discover he has been made a fool. He becomes very sensitive to any insinuation of laughter at his expense. When Burt has him again try the Rorschach Test, Charlie grows angry. He begins to see pictures in the inkblots, but he still feels that somehow Burt tricked him the first time.
Charlie’s dreams center on childhood experiences of being humiliated by others. He recalls a fellow student writing a dirty note to a girl and signing Charlie’s name to it. He remembers being knocked down and urinated upon by a group of boys. His reactions indicate that he is becoming more emotionally mature, seeing relationships in a truer light than he had previously.
Charlie’s personal reading expands. His IQ is now 100, the statistical average for intelligence. His progress reports are more detailed as well as grammatically correct. His self-revelation in the reports begins to bother him, as he knows that they are being read by Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur. He plans to keep some of his reports private.
(The entire section is 384 words.)
Progress Report 10 Summary
Charlie’s intelligence grows, including his problem-solving abilities. He devises a new layout of the mixing machines at the bakery, increasing the speed of production. Mr. Donner is impressed, giving him a raise and a bonus. Charlie wants to celebrate with his coworkers, but the men are becoming distant, even afraid of Charlie. Charlie believes that with time they will get used to the changes in him.
He remembers the times when Frank tormented him and Gimpy stood up for him. In one incident, Gimpy wanted to teach Charlie how to make rolls, promising a medal made out of a tin lid. Patiently showing him, Gimpy repeated the steps over and over, but Charlie could not remember. In disappointment, Gimpy told him to go back to his seat. Charlie felt like crying. As he returned to his chair and his comic book, Gimpy quietly gave him the medal anyway. In reflection, Charley sees how kind it was of Gimpy to do this. Previously, Charlie had thought only of the many times his coworkers at the bakery had made fun of him. His increasing intelligence has led him to a level of maturity at which he can also see the good.
As Charlie matures, so do his emotions. Because his fellow workers at the bakery do not want to celebrate his raise with him, he decides he will ask Miss Kinnian. He decides he had better ask Dr. Strauss or Professor Nemur their thoughts on this plan. Dr. Strauss has agreed that Charlie has reached the point where not all of his thoughts should be read. He allows Charlie to keep some of the progress reports private, to be examined only when the final report to the Welberg Foundation, which had funded the grant for the experiment, was due.
Charlie drops by the office to ask the advice of the scientists and overhears them arguing. Used to being treated as invisible, Charlie listens to their conversation. Professor Nemur plans to reveal the results of Charlie’s operation to a convention in Chicago in six weeks. Dr. Strauss believes strongly that this is still too soon, as Charlie is still progressing. Professor Nemur feels that the concern over regression is past, that nothing can go wrong now. Professor Nemur pulls rank as the senior member of the team, and there is quite a bit of name-calling. Charlie decides to wait until the next day to ask about his date with Miss Kinnian.
Charlie hangs around the college cafeteria more, listening in on the conversations of the students. He feels he can so...
(The entire section is 549 words.)
Progress Report 11 Summary
It is May 1, and Charlie asks Miss Kinnian (Alice) out for dinner and a movie. He is obsessed with her closeness, the times when they accidentally touch. He is unsure of himself and how he is supposed to react. He is bothered by the unreality of the movie, that all its conflicts were wrapped up nicely but artificially. He is at the point of being angry, but Miss Kinnian calms him down, pointing out that he is rapidly becoming more analytical. At the end of the evening, Charlie is not sure how he is supposed to act. His awkwardness reveals that he is still emotionally immature despite his now genius-level IQ. They agree that it was probably not a good idea for them to have gone out, and Miss Kinnian prevents Charlie from moving too far physically.
Charlie’s dreams give him material for introspection, especially in regard to women. He remembers seeing his sister naked in the bathroom, confused by their physical differences. Her menstrual blood confused him even more, thinking that she was hurt and terrified that he would be blamed.
At the bakery, he notices that Gimpy is undercharging customers and splitting the difference with them. Knowing this is dishonest, he is unsure what he should do. If he does nothing, he will be complicit in the stealing. If he says something, Gimpy will be fired and it is unlikely that he will easily get another job due to his club foot. He asks Professor Nemur for advice. The scientist tells him it is none of his business and that he should ignore it. Dr. Strauss says that he has a moral obligation to report it. Wanting Alice Kinnian to break the tie, he asks her advice. She tells him that he must decide for himself. He is surprised to realize that he can trust himself. He approaches Gimpy, telling him the situation as if it happened to a friend of his, though Gimpy is aware of what Charlie is saying. Charlie warns him that if he does not stop stealing, he will report it to Mr. Donner. If he stops, then he will say nothing.
Charlie and Alice go to an outdoor concert. When the two get physically close, Charlie hallucinates that he sees himself as a teenage boy exposing himself. He remembers his mother beating him for getting an erection. Charlie is bothered by the hallucination, which prevents him from kissing Alice good night as he had planned.
Charlie is fired from his job at the bakery. His coworkers once made fun of him for being “dumber” than they were, but now...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
Progress Report 12 Summary
It is June 5, one week until the convention in Chicago, and Charlie has not filed any progress reports for two weeks. Professor Nemur is upset because he feels Charlie is jeopardizing the presentation. Charlie understands this, especially now that the Welberg Foundation is paying him a salary. But he is irritated that Nemur keeps referring to him as a "lab specimen." Charlie reminds him that he is a person.
Dr. Strauss suggests that Charlie learn how to type, since Charlie is frustrated that his thoughts now come much faster than he can write them down. He does not pursue a romantic relationship with Alice Kinnian, but he is still tormented by dreams of the teenage Charlie. He remembers when his sister Norma came home with an A on a test, which meant that she could have the dog her mother promised. When Charlie offered to help Norma take care of her dog, his sister became upset, either wanting the dog all to herself or not having it at all. Charlie later overheard her tell friends that Charlie was not really her brother, just someone they took in because they felt sorry for him. Charlie regrets all that Norma lost by having him as a brother.
Charlie decides to pick up Alice at Beekman University. When he goes into the classroom to see his old classmates, Alice is clearly annoyed. A quarrel ensues, and Alice says that Charlie is so far above her intellectually that he seems condescending and bored when she does not follow his conversation. Charlie, she thinks, has changed from the warm, loving person he used to be into a cold, smug intellectual. She is constantly insecure around him, trying to study at home to keep up at least an appearance of an intellectual relationship. When Charlie leaves, he realizes that she is right: he has grown beyond her. While he feels a sense of relief that the relationship is over, he feels sad that he is no longer in love with her.
In a fit of loneliness, he walks from Washington Square to Central Park where he meets a woman. She tells him her life history of being married to an abusive sailor and her subsequent infidelities. Charlie feels an animal attraction to her and responds to her invitation to go somewhere for sex. As they walk to his rooms, she opens her coat to reveal that she is five months pregnant. Charlie is repulsed, seeing only his mother when she was carrying his sister. He explodes, telling her she is filthy. He grabs her shoulder and she screams. He runs away, but...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Progress Report 13 Summary
Charlie fears flying, so he is acutely nervous when he boards the plane for Chicago. He thinks about crashing, which leads him to reflect on the existence of God. He had always thought of Him as akin to Santa Claus. His mother believed in God, feared Him, and prayed to Him. Charlie’s father, however, thought of God as one of his wife’s relatives whom he did not want to associate with.
Charlie’s anxiety heightens when he is requested to put on his seat belt. He flashes back to an incident in his childhood when he was around five years old. His mother (and unwillingly his father) took him to a quack doctor who claimed to be able to cure Charlie’s mental handicap. Charlie was strapped down, so frightened that he messed his pants. Although the doctor promised him that he would become smarter, he never did. Charlie began to associate fear and shame with being strapped down. Following the birth of his sister, a "normal" child, Charlie’s mother did not worry about Charlie’s being “cured."
As Charlie enters the hotel where the convention is held, he reflects that Guarino, the quack doctor from his childhood, had at least treated him as a human being, something that Professor Nemur does not do. At the convention, Charlie feels more than ever that he is a lab specimen. The other scientists question him about numerous topics, all of which he addresses with depth and insight. When Charlie notices that Nemur is feeling angry and left out, he deflects a question concerning the type of retardation that Charlie had over to Nemur. When Nemur goes into great technical detail about the treatment, the other scientists lose interest. Charlie realizes that Nemur has not read the latest research on neuropsychiatry, especially that which relates to Charlie’s case. Charlie realizes that Nemur knows less about the brain than Charlie does.
As the presentation gets underway, Charlie’s resentment grows. He considers releasing Algernon from his cage. As Nemur presents his research, Charlie realizes that Nemur did not take into consideration the rate of increase when he predicted that Charlie’s increase in intelligence was permanent. Charlie realizes that, after all, he may slide back to his previous condition, perhaps into an even lower-level IQ. He realizes that the scientists did not understand what they had done. Charlie releases Algernon from his cage, causing mass panic. As everyone scrambles, trying to catch...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Progress Report 14 Summary
Charlie sees a newspaper picture of his mother and sister, who were questioned by a reporter following Charlie’s escape with Algernon from the convention. From the article, Charlie learns the address of his mother, as well as the fact that his father and mother have separated and his father owns a barbershop in the Bronx. The sight of his mother’s face reminds him of the final showdown between his parents: his mother wanted Charlie to be placed in the Warren home, but his father instead takes him to his brother Herman’s.
Charlie finds an apartment in midtown New York City. He continues his studies and builds a new maze for Algernon. Across the hall is a free-spirited painter named Fay. Sexually attracted to her, Charlie keeps his distance, fearing the re-emergence of the shadow Charlie.
Deciding to visit his father, Charlie shows up at the barbershop. His father does not recognize him, so Charlie asks for a shave and haircut. He asks his father if he knows who he is. Matt Gordon is fearful, so Charlie leaves without revealing his identity.
Fay brings Algernon a female mouse for companionship. When she later comes to Charlie's apartment following an altercation with another man, she almost succeeds in convincing Charlie to go to bed with her. Charlie gets drunk, and during his drunken episode he reverts to the old Charlie, which startles Fay. Charlie goes on an “anti-intellectual binge,” going to the movies and afterward to a bar. One of the busboys is mentally handicapped. The other customers are making fun of him, and Charlie is laughing along when he realizes what he is doing. He shouts out for everyone to leave the boy alone—he is a human being.
The next day he calls Alice Kinnian and tells her that he will return to the lab after he has finished a few projects of his own. He goes to visit her and comes close to making love to her, but the shadow Charlie shows up and prevents it once again. He goes back to his apartment, visits Fay, and eventually manages to make love to her, no longer caring if the shadow Charlie watches.
One day in July, Algernon bites Fay. He also attacks Charlie, who sees that the female mouse that Fay brought has been bitten and gashed by Algernon. It is clear that Algernon is becoming aggressive and antisocial. Charlie knows he has to get the mouse back to the lab to determine if what is happening to Algernon is happening to himself.
(The entire section is 427 words.)
Progress Report 15 Summary
Charlie returns to the lab with Algernon. He has gone over Nemur’s head and received authorization by the Welberg Foundation to head the investigation into Algernon’s reversion. Nemur is furious but has no other option but to aid Charlie in any way he can. If Charlie cannot come up with an explanation, then Nemur’s entire life’s work will have been proved valueless. If Charlie does determine the cause and can correct it, not only Charlie but Nemur and the rest of the crew will benefit.
After examining Algernon, Burt determines that the mouse has lost much of his ability to problem solve. Charlie wonders if the regression is the result of Algernon being away from the lab for so long. Burt works with Algernon to see exactly at what level the mouse is functioning now. Looking around the lab, Charlie notices one door. Asking Burt what it is, he is told that it is the place where “test subjects” (animals) are frozen and then incinerated. Charlie makes Burt promise that if Algernon should die, the mouse will be given to Charlie rather than be put in the incinerator.
The incinerator makes Charlie wonder what the contingencies are if his own intellectual enhancement proves to be temporary. Nemur reluctantly tells him that if the surgery proves unsuccessful, Charlie will be sent to the Warren state home, with all financial obligations and future living expenses paid for by the Welberg Foundation. Norma, Charlie's sister, insisted on that condition before she granted permission for the surgery. Charlie is furious that he will be sent back to the place from which Mr. Donner had rescued him. Eventually, he sees that it is the most acceptable solution (better than the incinerator, he thinks). He announces to Nemur that he wants to visit the Warren home to see what it is like while he is still able to make some kind of judgment about his future life.
Charlie continues his work at the lab. He refuses Fay permission to visit his workplace, fearing the consequences should Fay and Alice meet each other. He dives deeper into the study of psychology but finds that much of the research is based on “wishful thinking.” This does not give him hope of finding a way to reverse Algernon’s (and perhaps his own) intellectual regression.
(The entire section is 390 words.)
Progress Report 16 Summary
Charlie goes out to the Warren state home. He is initially shocked at the condition of the four thousand residents. They are classified into “tidy” and “untidy,” depending on their level of independence. He contemplates that eventually he will most likely be one of those residents.
Alice and Fay meet at Charlie’s apartment. Alice is intrigued by the carefree nature of the other woman, but she is more concerned about Charlie’s drinking. Eventually, Charlie feels that Fay becomes too possessive. He moves a cot into the lab, and Fay finds another boyfriend.
Charlie works almost around the clock on his investigation of the intellectual regression of Algernon. He knows that his own time is limited, and thus he must find the answer before his own regression commences. He feels that he keeps going down blind alleys, similar to the mazes that tested Algernon, who is now unable to complete them. At a party for the Welberg Foundation, Charlie is confronted by Professor Nemur’s wife. Unable to take her condescension, Charlie tells Nemur that he is tired of being treated as a lab specimen. He was a person even before the operation, and now he must race against time to find the errors in Nemur’s work. He leaves the party and walks home.
Charlie finds the solution to his investigation, only to prove that the intellectual progression is temporary, with the regression equal to the rise in intelligence. As fast as Charlie advanced within a few months, he will fall just as swiftly. He sends off a paper on what he calls the “Algernon-Gordon Effect” to Professor Nemur. He breaks the news to Alice, who cries when she hears. Nemur confirms Charlie’s findings.
Charlie decides he must visit his mother before his regression has reached the point where he can no longer function independently. He wants her to see he is the “normal” person she always thought he could be. When he goes to his old home, he finds that his mother is suffering from senility and is taken care of by Norma. Only for brief moments is she lucid enough to recognize Charlie and to take pride in his accomplishments. When Norma comes home, she tells him that she had tried to visit him before his operation. Their mother had told her that Charlie was dead. She is sorry for the way she had treated Charlie when they were children. Charlie can tell that she has matured. He promises to send her money as long as he can. He cries as he...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Progress Report 17 Summary
Charlie can feel the deterioration accelerating. He thinks about suicide as a means to avoid the inevitable, but he cannot take the shadow Charlie’s life from him. He feels that he has simply borrowed his life and now must return it. He is becoming irritable and aggressive. He plays the stereo turned up loudly all through the night, not wanting to go to sleep and waste whatever time he has left. Eventually the landlord reports him to the police. He shatters the records and leaves them lying on the floor.
At his last therapy session with Dr. Strauss, Charlie has a strange episode in which he imagines that he is trying to get into a cave full of light but keeps banging into the entrance. He is afraid of the nothingness that he knows will come. He tells Dr. Strauss that he will not be back for more therapy sessions. There is no point since they both know what is going to happen.
At the lab, Charlie is finding it more difficult to type his reports. He is becoming more uncoordinated. He cannot do the mazes as fast, so he tells Burt he does not want to do them any longer. When Charlie tries to do the Rorschach Test, he finds that he cannot even remember what he was supposed to see. As with the therapy sessions, Charlie tells Burt that he will not be back for further tests.
Algernon has died, and Charlie keeps putting flowers on his grave in the backyard. He tries to read Milton, but he cannot remember all the words. He flashes back to his mother trying to teach him to read. He desperately wants to retain at least some of what he has learned.
One night as he walks the streets he forgets how to get back home. A policeman escorts him back, and when he wakes up he finds Alice there. She says she wants to make the most of the time they have left. Charlie manages to push away the shadow Charlie and make love to Alice, which he finds is so much different than sex with Fay. Eventually, Charlie becomes lethargic and tells Alice to leave. His motor skills are deteriorating along with his cognitive abilities. His landlady makes sure he has food, paid for by Dr. Strauss and the others.
Charlie intends to go to the Warren state home while he is still able to function independently. However, he goes back to the bakery and asks Mr. Donner for his old job back. A new worker, Klaus, makes fun of him, twisting his arm and not letting him go to the...
(The entire section is 555 words.)