Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Flowers for Algernon Analysis

After the short story “Flowers for Algernon” received a Hugo Award in 1960, the tale of Charlie Gordon was embraced by a wide mainstream audience. In the early 1960’s, a television adaptation titled “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon” appeared on The U.S. Steel Hour, with Cliff Robertson playing Charlie. After the Nebula Award-winning novel appeared in 1966, a feature film adaptation, Charly (1968), also starred Robertson, who received an Academy Award for his portrayal. Widely anthologized and taught in schools throughout the United States, the story also was the basis for a 1980 Broadway musical.

At the heart of its appeal is its unsensational use of a speculative premise, that surgery can radically boost intelligence, as the basis of a moving allegory. Charlie is like many people who reach a peak only to foresee and then experience their inevitable decline. Although the novel is considerably longer than the short story (its extended time frame approximates the human gestation period), both use compression to intensify the drama of this experience.

Notwithstanding the fact that the novel has been criticized as inferior to the short story, its extended narrative enabled Daniel Keyes not only to exploit his story’s commercial potential but also to explore a variety of story elements in greater depth. The cultural tendency to look on the retarded Charlie as a nonperson is one such element. Charlie’s psyche also is delineated in greater detail.

Although Flowers for Algernon bears some resemblance to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) “the animus of Charlie and his doctors softly echoes that of the monster and Victor...

(The entire section is 396 words.)