Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340
Charlie Gordon begins the book on March 3 with a short introduction, the first of many “Progress Reports” that he writes for Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur. Charlie states that he is thirty-two years old, will turn thirty-three next month, and is currently employed at Donner’s Bakery where he earns eleven dollars a week as a janitor. Although he has an IQ of only 68, he is functional enough to live independently and to attend classes three times a week at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults. As a student there, he attracts the attention of Strauss and Nemur, who are interested in the field of neuroscience. His teacher, Miss Kinnian, helps explain the importance of writing the progress reports. Strauss and Nemur are considering Charlie for a surgical and training program that will greatly increase his intelligence, thus “curing” him of his mental handicap. Because Charlie wants to “be smart,” he agrees to do his best, though he is insecure about his writing ability. Miss Kinnian assures him that his writing is good enough for this purpose, and that he should write just the same as he does in composition class. His poor spelling and grammar in the early progress reports reflect his intellectual ability.
Dr. Strauss encourages Charlie to write everything he thinks about and everything that happens to him. Charlie is frustrated by this because he feels he cannot think anymore of what to write. He ends his first progress report with a traditional letter closing: “yrs truly Charlie Gordon.” Charlie has yet to realize that he is in the eyes of Strauss and Nemur little more than a lab experiment. Miss Kinnian will eventually serve as Charlie's love interest as well as a bridge between Charlie the "test subject" and Charlie "the human being."
The shortness of his first progress report reveals that he has little of interest in his life and in his mind. As the experiment proceeds, Charlie’s growing self-awareness and intelligence will be revealed by the increasing length of each progress report.
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