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In Daniel Keyes' novel Flowers for Algernon, the main character has an experimental operation to increase his intelligence. After the surgery radically improves Charlie's intelligence, his outlook on life changes significantly. Ironically, these changes are not positive in terms of Charlie's happiness.
Before the operation, Charlie is functional but moderately mentally retarded. He can hold down a job and take care of himself, but he is not able to discern subtle shades of meaning or recognize the hidden intentions of others. Before the operation, although he wants to become “smart” and feels the effect of his limited intelligence, he is a generally happy person. He values companionship and sees the good in others, even when they are not particularly nice to him.
After the operation, with his increased ability to see beyond the superficial and into the true motivations of others, he realizes that he has been an object of ridicule at the hands of his fellow workers, who he had thought of previously as friends. This leads Charlie to the following observation:
“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.”
With his newfound intelligence, which reaches the level of genius, he begins to work on the problem of his inevitable intellectual demise. Where in his previous life he would have accepted his failure, he now becomes obsessed with the challenge, which he cannot meet.
Finally, his most significant relationship, with his teacher, Miss Kinnian, becomes romantic as his intelligence increases. However, with the rise in his mental abilities he also becomes more self-conscious, with a greater sensitivity to how others see him. For this reason, when he realizes that the positive effects of the operation are going to wear off, he demands that Miss Kinnian not see him any longer. He is willing to give up his most positive and rewarding relationship to preserve what is left of his dignity. The old Charlie never would have thought of things that way.
After the surgery, Charlie’s attitude towards people he thought were his friends changed and he saw them as people who ridiculed him because of his low IQ. After the operation he becomes disappointed because the change he expected was not immediate, but his hope is restored and he develops a positive attitude after assurances are made by Doctor Strauss, who tells him that his intelligence will improve as it did with Algernon, the first successful test subject. He develops a strong personality and uses his new developed intelligence to help at the factory. Charlie displays some level of self consciousness as seen through his inability to further communicate with Miss Kinnian. Later on, Charlie’s intelligence begins to wane, but he remains positive and does not regret the process, instead he congratulates himself.
In the book Flowers for Algernon a man named Charlie is told by his teacher, Alice, that he can be a part of an experiment that may help to increase his intelligence. Charlie is scared but agrees to the experiment. He likes the two scientists that want to do the experiment and believes that they see him as a person.
Charlie is also employed in a factory where the workers play jokes on him because of his disability. As Charlie becomes more intelligent he begins to understand that to one of the scientists he is no more than a test subject like the mouse, Algernon. He also recognizes that having superior intelligence changes things.
The people in the factory are no longer comfortable having Charlie around them, because they know he is now smarter than them. Charlie begins to feel alone and isolated from the others.
Charlie also begins to have romantic feelings for his teacher. Charlie becomes more cynical about the people in his life as his intelligence open his eyes to the truth behind the jokes that had been played on him and the scientist's insecurity with his intelligence.
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