"Flowers For Algernon," a short story by Daniel Keyes, first published in 1959 and then later turned into a novel, is a work of science fiction that questions the role and ethics of science. It is unsurprising, then, that the theme of being superstitious is discussed, functioning as a...
"Flowers For Algernon," a short story by Daniel Keyes, first published in 1959 and then later turned into a novel, is a work of science fiction that questions the role and ethics of science. It is unsurprising, then, that the theme of being superstitious is discussed, functioning as a means of comparing two ways of seeing the world: a scientific versus a superstitious mode of thinking. Even though it is not investigated in great depth, this character trait provides a contrast with the later development of Charlie’s character and therefore serves as a way to see how much he is changed by the scientific experiment being undertaken.
The story is divided into sections called "progress reports" written by the central character, Charlie, and follow his progress from before the beginnings of the experiment, during it, and after it. The progress report on March 10 marks an important moment in the story: it is the day of Charlie’s operation and thus the final day in his ‘normal’ life. Everything that happens to him after this time is influenced and changed by the experiment. It is therefore the last day that he is truly himself before being modified by the operation intended to make him more intelligent. By describing his superstitious nature, we get a chance to consider the contrast between his two modes of thinking.
This clash in modes of thinking—scientific versus superstitious—is summed up very clearly in a few lines in the progress report. Charlie writes:
I got my rabits foot and my lucky penny and my horse shoe. Only a black cat crossed me when I was comming to the hospitil. Dr Strauss says dont be supersitis Charlie this is sience. Anyway Im keeping my rabits foot with me.
Rabbits feet, horseshoes, and lucky pennies are all typical, recognizable superstitious symbols intended to bring good luck. The use of such talismans is associated with a superstitious belief system rather than a religious or scientific way of seeing the world. Later in the story, when he is becoming a genius, it is hard to imagine that he would pay any attention to superstitious beliefs or the idea of luck because his thinking becomes much more scientific and rational.