There are many examples of both internal and external conflict in Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon," but I will focus on the struggle between Charlie Gordon and his intelligence, which is the central conflict in the story.
Charlie has special needs and longs to be smarter. The framework for "Flowers for Algernon" is a series of progress reports written by Charlie, who undergoes an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. Throughout the course of the story, we see a drastic change in his reports. Prior to the surgery, his spelling, grammar, punctuation, and understanding of his surroundings and the world are limited. After the surgery, we see gradual improvements in his spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as a heightened sense of awareness and a clearer understanding of the world and the people in it.
Charlie becomes increasingly more intelligent after his operation. Although his goal is realized, this intelligence presents a new set of conflicts, which complicate his life. Prior to his surgery, Charlie is unhappy, because he wants to be smart. His lack of intelligence is a source of discontentment, however, as his ignorance prevents him from being aware of the cruelty of the people around him. He does not realize that his coworkers are laughing at his expense; he believes they like him and are his friends. He does not realize that his doctors are taking advantage of him by allowing him to participate in an experimental surgery, even though he does not have the mental capacity to give informed consent. After his surgery, Charlie realizes that the people he thought were his friends were making fun of him all along. He is fired from the job he loved because his coworkers are uncomfortable with his newfound intelligence. He now understands his doctors' corrupt motivations: "When I left afterwards, I found myself trembling. I don't know why for sure, but it was as if I'd seen both men clearly for the first time."
The effects of the experimental surgery are short-lived, and Charlie's intellectual capacity declines. Aware of his regression, he becomes depressed and distances himself from others, including his teacher and love interest, Miss Kinnian. As the effects of the surgery wear off, we see Charlie's writing gradually revert back to the way it was before his operation. His spelling, grammar, and punctuation become increasingly poor. He struggles to understand his loss of intelligence and blames himself for his devolution: "I dont know why Im dumb agen or what I did wrong maybe its because I didnt try hard enuff."
The central conflict in the story is the internal struggle between Charlie and his intelligence. Prior to the surgery, Charlie is dissatisfied and longs to be smart. After the surgery, he sees the world with new eyes, and along with his increased intelligence comes a new set of conflicts and complications resulting from a clearer understanding of the world. When the effects of the operation wear off, Charlie blames himself and struggles to...
understand the loss of his intellect.