In Flowers for Algernon, why does Charlie argue with Professor Nemur?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Flowers for Algernon is the title of a short story and novel by Daniel Keyes. It was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning 1968 film Charly.

In all versions of the story, Charlie Gordon is a man of below-average intelligence. Scientists experimenting with memory-improvement techniques perform an experiment on him that increases his intelligence greatly, but which is shown to decrease with time, leaving him with less aptitude than before.

Professor Nemur is the innovator of the memory-improvement techniques, and he intends to use Charlie as the proof of his concepts. However, as Charlie's intelligence increases, he starts to look at Nemur as a glory-seeking phony, too concerned with his own status to dig past surface problems. They have an argument late in the book:

"...we had no control over what happened to your personality, and you've developed from a likeable, retarded young man into an arrogant, self-centered, antisocial bastard."

"The problem, dear professor, is that you wanted someone who could be made intelligent but still kept in a cage and displayed when necessary to reap the honors you seek. The hitch is that I'm a person."

He was angry, and I could see he was torn between ending the fight and trying once more to beat me down. "You're being unfair, as usual. You know we've always treated you well -- done everything we could for you."

"Everything but treat me as a human being."
(Keyes, Flowers for Algernon, Google Books)

Nemur thinks that Charlie should be all-grateful for the improvement in his intelligence, and that his personality changes are not important. Charlie thinks that he should be treated with more personal respect and not like a lab animal. Their clash comes from the difference in opinion on fault; Charlie thinks that Nemur should have taken more care to socialize him and give him the interpersonal skills necessary to get along with his improved intellect, while Nemur considers Charlie's base intellect itself his only concern.

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