In Flowers for Algernon, how did the treatment by his parents as a child affect Charlies' adult relationships?

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In Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, Charlie Gordon is a developmentally challenged young man who undergoes a risky surgical procedure in order to boost his intelligence. Charlie has had a sad childhood, suffering verbal and possible physical abuse from his mother. In fact, his parents ultimately gave him up because he was disabled, although his father would have accepted and loved Charlie as he was.

This abandonment will stay with Charlie throughout his life and hamper his ability to interact emotionally with other adults when he becomes intelligent. For instance, he has strong romantic feelings for his teacher, Miss Kinnian. However, as his intelligence soars, he ironically finds it difficult not to be pedantic. Miss Kinnian can no longer keep up with him in discussing certain scientific topics, and they have a bad interaction. Charlie writes:

I am very disturbed. I saw Miss Kinnian last night for the first time in over a week. I tried to avoid all discussions of intellectual concepts and to keep the conversation on a simple, everyday level, but she just stared at me blankly and asked me what I meant about the mathematical variance equivalent in Dorbermann's Fifth Concerto.

When I tried to explain she stopped me and laughed. I guess I got angry, but I suspect I'm approaching her on the wrong level. No matter what I try to discuss with her, I am unable to communicate.

Yet, when he sees other people taunting another young boy who is mentally challenged, he shouts at them. He sees himself in the boy and has compassion for him. He ultimately decides to try to help others who have challenges and disabilities. He writes,

Seeing the past more clearly, I have decided to use my knowledge and skills to work in the field of increasing human intelligence levels. Who is better equipped for this work? Who else has lived in both worlds? These are my people. Let me use my gift to do something for them.

Sadly, Charlie begins to deteriorate, which was a risk that was spelled out before the operation. As he declines, Miss Kinnian comes to see him. He tries to retain his dignity.

Miss Kinnian came to the door but I said go away I dont want to see you. She cried and I cried too but I wouldnt let her in because I didnt want her to laugh at me. 1 told her 1 didn't like her any more. I told her 1 didnt want to be smart any more. Thats not true. I still love her and I still want to be smart but I had to say that so shed go away.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 3, 2019
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