Why was Charlie upset about the incident with the dishwasher in Flowers for Algernon?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Charlie is upset about the incident with the dishwasher because the people are laughing at the boy because he is retarded.  Charlie was once like the young dishwasher, and he is upset not only because of the way the people react to him, but also because he realizes that, at first, he himself "had been amused along with the rest".

Charlie goes to a diner one everning and notices "something familiar about" a new dishwasher there, a boy of about sixteen.  The young man has a certain distinction to his movements, and a certain look in his eyes.  As he is clearing one of the tables, he drops some dishes and stands there, "dazed and frightened, holding (an) empty tray in his hand".  "Whistles and catcalls" emanate from some of the customers, until the owner comes out to see what has happened.  The boy at first cowers, but when the owner just shouts at him, "All right, you dope...don't just stand there!  Get the broom and sweep up that mess.  A broom...a broom...you idiot!", the dishwasher, seeing that he is not going to be punished, smilingly does what he is told.  His "vacant eyes (move) across the crowd of amused onlookers, (and he breaks) into an uncertain grin at the joke which he (does) not understand".

Charlie "(feels) sick inside" as he realizes that, like himself at one time, the child is being made fun of because he is retarded, and doesn't even know people are being mean to him.  Furious at himself and "all those who (are) smirking" at the boy, Charlie jumps up, shouting, "Leave him alone!  He can't understand.  He can't help what he is...but for God's sake, have some respect!  He's a human being!" (June 24).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial