In Flowers for Algernon, what are some advantages Charlie has pre-surgery when his IQ is still very low that he no longer has after the surgery is successful?  

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randroid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most striking aspect of Flowers for Algernon is the astonishing character development that Charlie undergoes throughout the book. In many areas, his development is not only continuing, but beginning for the first time. Below are four of the advantages Charlie had pre-surgery that he no longer had the same way after his surgery--his simplistic approach, trust, repression, and belief in people.

Simplistic Approach

Even though Charlie is 32, he still functions like a child. His simplemindedness allows him to traverse a world that is very confusing to him by approaching the world from a very simplistic perspective. For instance, in the diary entry entitled "martch 5" Charlie takes a Rorschach test, which he doesn't understand because he is supposed to imagine what the inkblot splatters look like, something he can't figure out. This can be seen as an advantage because it allows him to function in a world with less anxiety due to his limited understanding. After the surgery, he is no longer innocent, and is exposed to many more things that cause him stress and worry than before.


Charlie trusts his coworkers before the surgery, and believes that their pranks and taunts are just playful teasing. After the surgery, he realizes that they were never his friends, and that he cannot trust them. He realizes that trust must be earned, and that he did not have an accurate conception of what was really going on in his life.


Charlie had been repressing many painful memories from his childhood involving his parents and his sister. One advantage of this repression was that he did not have to deal with the pain of realizing that his family mistreated him and the trauma of his past. After the surgery, the memories begin to come back, and he has to deal with them.

Belief in people

In the beginning of the book, Charlie has an innate belief in the goodness of people. This gives him a peace of mind that he no longer has after the surgery, when he realizes that many people are cruel and do things that he considers morally questionable. One example is when Charlie catches one of his coworkers cheating their boss by overcharging customers and pocketing the rest of the money. He had always thought this co-worker was an honest man due to his belief in people, but now realizes that he is a thief.

To add some dimension to this answer, we can say that these advantages can be debated either way and posed as negatives. One could say that Charlie's simplicity held him back from experiencing many wonderful things, not just negative things. Perhaps Charlie's readiness to trust stopped him from finding out who his friends were. His repression held him back from being a healthy person and understanding where his flashbacks were coming from. And finally, his belief in people led him to be taken advantage of in many instances.

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Flowers for Algernon

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