Describe the relationship between Charlie and Algernon in the novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Charlie, a mentally handicapped human, and Algernon, a mouse, are both "lab rats" used for an experiment. They are forced to compete with each to solve mazes meant to test their intelligence.

Charlie identifies with and develops feelings of compassion  for the mouse. However, at first, Charlie dislikes the mouse...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Charlie, a mentally handicapped human, and Algernon, a mouse, are both "lab rats" used for an experiment. They are forced to compete with each to solve mazes meant to test their intelligence.

Charlie identifies with and develops feelings of compassion  for the mouse. However, at first, Charlie dislikes the mouse because it beats him all the time. He also has competitive feelings towards it. Charlie records the following:

 He says it took a long time with Algernon before he got 3 times smarter then he was before. Thats why Algernon beats me all the time because he had that opera· shun too. That makes me feel better. I coud probly do that amazed faster than a reglar mouse. Maybe some day III beat Algernon. Boy that would be something.

As Charlie's intelligence increases and he beats the mouse, he develops compassion and sympathy for the creature.

They let me hold him for a minit. Hes not so bad. Hes soft like a ball of cotton. He blinks and when he opens his eyes their black and pink on the eges. I said can I feed him because I felt bad to beat him.

Charlie's emotions gain more sophistication. Through his feeling that Algernon is being treated poorly, he expresses his sense that his own treatment by the scientists is wrong. He decides he will befriend Algernon.

I dont think its right to make you pass a test to eat. How woud Dr Nemur like it to have to pass a test every time he wants to eat. I think I'II be frends with Algernon.

Because of his identification with Algernon, Charlie can see ahead of time what his own deterioration will be like. Algernon bites him one day and Charlie records the following:

He was unusually disturbed and vicious.

When Algernon dies, Charlie mourns for the mouse, who was so much like him.

I put Algernon's body in a cheese box and buried him in the back yard. I cried.

Through his unfolding relationship with the mouse, we track Charlie's growth in both intellectual and moral awareness and his sad decline. We understand more clearly, too, the way Charlie has been used as nothing more than a lab animal.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the beginning of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Charlie is both a little fascinated and a little resentful of Algernon because Algernon beats him so easily when they have their maze race. 

"Anyway that test made me feel worser than all the others because they did it over 10 times with difernt  amazeds and Algernon won every time. I dint know that mice were so smart" (Keyes 4).

As the story continues, however, Charlie begins to realize the connection he and Algernon have. They have both had the same kind of surgery, so Charlie can predict his own future by what is happening to Algernon. He sees Algernon becoming smarter and smarter, and Charlie's own intelligence keeps pace with Algernon's. Charlie becomes very attentive to Algernon. Of course when Algernon begins to change, Charlie sees what that may mean for him as well.

"They've been feeding Algernon, who now refuses to work the shifting-lock problem. Everyone identifies me with Algernon. In a way, we're both the first of our kind. They're all pretending that Algernon's behavior is not necessarily significant for me. But it's hard to hide the fact that some of the other animals who were used in this experiment are showing strange behavior" (Keyes 31).

By the time Algernon dies, Charlie sees himself deteriorating and knows his own fate. He and Algernon are kindred souls. Charlie buries Algernon in his back yard, and he cries for both of them. He knows they will always be tied together by the experiments and through the affection Charlie had developed for Algernon.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team