In "Flowers for Algernon", why is Charlie chosen for the operation?

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hgarey71's profile pic

hgarey71 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes, the story is told from the perspective of Charlie, a developmentally disabled thirty-seven-year-old man whose greatest desire is to be smart. From his limited perspective, we learn that scientists are interested in conducting an operation to improve the intelligence of a person. Charlie is recommended by Miss Kinnian, his tutor at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. Charlie has an IQ of 68, and the scientists expect that to be tripled through the operation. Through Charlie's progress reports, readers see his strong desire to please, to learn, and to pass the Rorschach tests he is given. He seems to have no ability for abstract thought, however, which is necessary to discovering images on the inkblot test. 

"Dr Strauss and Dr Nemur say it dont matter about the inkblots. I told them I dint spill the ink on the cards and I coudnt see anything in the ink. They said that maybe they will still use me. I said Miss Kinnian never gave me tests like that one only spelling and reading. They said Miss Kinnian told that I was her bestist pupil in the adult nite scool becaus I tryed the hardist and I reely wantid to lern. They said how come you went to the adult nite scool all by yourself Charlie. How did you find it. I said I askd pepul and sumbody told me where I shud go to lern to read and spell good. They said why did you want to. I told them becaus all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb. But its very hard to be smart. They said you know it will probly be tempirery. I said yes. Miss Kinnian told me. I dont care if it herts." 

Charlie is chosen because of his strong desire to learn, his limited intellectual capacity, and his teacher's recommendation. 

"Their going to use me! Im so exited I can hardly write. Dr Nemur and Dr Strauss had a argament about it first. Dr Nemur was in the office when Dr Strauss brot me in. Dr Nemur was worryed about using me but Dr Strauss told him Miss Kinnian rekemmended me the best from all the people who she was teaching. I like Miss Kinnian becaus shes a very smart teacher. And she said Charlie your going to have a second chance. If you volenteer for this experament you mite get smart. They dont know if it will be perminint but theirs a chance. Thats why I said ok even when I was scared because she said it was an operashun. She said dont be scared Charlie you done so much with so little I think you deserv it most of all. So I got scaird when Dr Nemur and Dr Strauss argud about it. Dr Strauss said I had something that was very good. He said I had a good motor-vation. I never even knew I had that. I felt proud when he said that not every body with an eye-q of 68 had that thing. I dont know what it is or where I got it but he said Algernon had it too. Algernons motor-vation is the cheese they put in his box." 

It is left to the reader's inference whether or not Charlie had the mental capacity to make an informed choice in this matter, which lends itself to critical thinking about ethics in medicine. 

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Charlie is chosen for the operation because of his tremendous drive and motivation to improve himself and smarter. He is probably the most motivated student at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults where he takes classes with Alice Kinnian. She is so impressed with Charlie's drive that she recommends Charlie for the procedure. The doctors obviously want someone with strong motivation because there will be so much work after the operation. "Before the operation, Charlie is perceived as a 'good, simple man' and a 'likeable, retarded young man.' His main goal in undergoing the operation is "to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of friends who like me.'"

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