Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In this story, which was the basis for the film Charly (1968), Charlie travels from ignorance to great intelligence and back again. Ironically, that same journey takes him from innocence to disillusionment to innocence recaptured. Charlie’s fleeting intellectual prowess carries an exorbitant price: an excruciating awareness of the cruelty that he has suffered at the hands of his coworkers. Charlie also finds pain in self-knowledge. He hides a picture of “the old Charlie Gordon” from himself in the hope of escaping the specter of his former illiteracy and childish naïveté, but he is haunted by the suspicion that he always saw—even through the veil of his dullness—his own isolating inferiority. He writes, “A child may not know how to feed itself, or what to eat, yet it knows of hunger.”
Charlie’s expanded intelligence fails to deliver the expected benefits. Although he delights in his newfound capacities for reading, memory, and logic, Charlie finds himself in a lose-lose situation with people. He writes on April 30: “The intelligence has driven a wedge between me and all the people I once knew and loved. Before, they laughed at me and despised me for my ignorance and dullness; now, they hate me for my knowledge and understanding.”
Fanny Girden, one of Charlie’s coworkers, invokes the Garden of Eden story from the Bible to explain the fear that Charlie’s intellect provokes: “It was evil when Eve listened to...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
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