Charlie Gordon's primary internal conflict concerns his struggle to become intelligent in order to assimilate into society as a typical, accepted individual. As an intellectually disabled man, Charlie struggles his entire to life to be accepted by his family members and peers. Charlie's struggle to gain acceptance is expressed through his desire to become intelligent.
Charlie reasons that if he were to become intelligent, he would gain admiration and respect from his family and peers. He demonstrates incredible ambition and work ethic as a mentally disabled man to increase his intelligence and even learns how to read after taking classes at the Beekman College Center. Charlie also hopes that the experimental operation will dramatically increase his intelligence, which will allow him to assimilate into society and be accepted by others.
Tragically, Charlie's operation leads to another significant internal conflict as he struggles with his traumatic past. After Charlie becomes a genius, he further alienates himself from his peers and society as he continues to deal with his acceptance issues. It is only after Charlie reaches his peak intelligence and grows emotionally that he is able to overcome his internal struggle to gain others' approval. Charlie finally gains self-assurance and embraces his past before he regresses back to a mentally disabled man.