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Discussion of Flowers for Algernon

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How do you rate Flowers for Algernon?

1 star - Poor, Bad
0
No votes
2 stars - Okay, Fair
0
No votes
3 stars - Good, Like
4
17%
4 stars - Excellent, Love
20
83%
 
Total votes : 24

Discussion of Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » 02 Aug 2011, 18:10

Please use this thread to discuss the August 2011 book of the month, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Do not read this thread if you have not already read the book because this thread will contain spoilers.

What do you think of Flowers for Algernon? I loved reading this book. The only thing I didn't like was that I couldn't get to sleep because I stayed up almost all night reading the book. Most books do not absorb me like that.

Especially at first, the narrative technique reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also greatly engrossed me. In the case of this story, I think writing in the first-person particularly complimented the plot of this story since the reader can observe the changes occurring in Charlie even before Charlie or any of the other characters can see it themselves let alone mention it. With that, I think it also freed the story from needing out-of-place expositions.

There are many levels to this story, I feel.

Particularly at first, the story arouses sympathy for the mentally challenged and a condemnation of those who mock or take advantage of them. At a slightly deeper level, we are shown subtler cruelties towards the mentally challenged in the way that those who are outwardly polite to Charlie and help him still do not consider him-prior-to-his-operation and other mentally handicapped people to even be a real people. Moreover, I think we are shown how their good treatment of him comes from more of a place of condescending self-righteousness.

On an even deeper level, I think the story of Charlie is meant to parallel that of the everyman. In my opinion, Charlie's rapid rise to intelligence mirrors that of almost everyone but simply at a faster and to a greater degree. For instance, one of the first things that comes from Charlie's growth in intelligence is embarrassment about his past actions and thoughts and almost feeling to be a whole new person. Does that not reflect the usual way in which people go from being a child to an adult? Even the way people speak of an inner-child reflects Charlie's externalization of his previous self. Moreover, Charlie's eventual downfall of course mirrors the way in which the elderly begin to revert often at their own frustration particularly brought to light when they cannot do something they previously could. Another point could be the theme of Charlie's emotional problems even when is at his highest intelligence are very similar to the way average adults are haunted, often subconsciously, by issues from their childhood, e.g. the way any psychotherapist can connect any person's troubles to their relationship with their parents and events in their childhood. To that last point, I am reminded of this quote from the book, "Nothing in our minds is ever really gone. The operation had covered him over with a veneer of education and culture, but emotionally he was there--watching and waiting."

I didn't feel resolution in regards to Charlie's relationship with his family, but maybe that's the point... ?

Here is another quote that I find interesting:

"This intelligence has driven a wedge between me and all the people I once knew and loved. Before, they laughed at me and despised me for my ignorance and dullness; now, they hate me for my knowledge and understanding."

"How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes - how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence."

What do you think? Are there any quotes or short excerpts you like from the book? Please post them.
Last edited by Scott on 07 Sep 2011, 08:41, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Number:#2  Postby Geneen Karstens » 04 Aug 2011, 18:27

I really enjoyed the book Flowers for Algernon. I feel a kinship with Charly in that I am aging and although I was certainly not a genius, I had a pretty good mind. Now I notice myself forgetting things that were important and cannot express myself the way I would like.I hope the day never comes when I can't read anymore. That has seen me through many trying times. I have never been in a book club before and I am pushing 75 years. If you would prefer I drop out of your group I would not be upset.
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Post Number:#3  Postby Fran » 04 Aug 2011, 18:35

Geneen Karstens wrote:I really enjoyed the book Flowers for Algernon. I feel a kinship with Charly in that I am aging and although I was certainly not a genius, I had a pretty good mind. Now I notice myself forgetting things that were important and cannot express myself the way I would like.I hope the day never comes when I can't read anymore. That has seen me through many trying times. I have never been in a book club before and I am pushing 75 years. If you would prefer I drop out of your group I would not be upset.


Why on earth would we want you to drop out? Lord knows we are over supplied with representatives of the vampire loving generation ... not that they aren't welcome too. That is the beauty of forums open to all regardless of age, gender, race or anything else. As long as you love books, reading and want to discuss books there's a big welcome for you here on the forums.
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Post Number:#4  Postby Maud Fitch » 04 Aug 2011, 22:01

Geneen Karstens wrote:I really enjoyed the book Flowers for Algernon. I feel a kinship with Charly in that I am aging and although I was certainly not a genius, I had a pretty good mind...I have never been in a book club before and I am pushing 75 years...


All input is welcome, Geneen. You could inspire other 75 year olds to join!
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Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#5  Postby Marci1113 » 04 Aug 2011, 22:46

I absolutely loved this book! I could not put it down. I am fininshing up college right now in which I am majoring in psychology so I found this very interesting. I think there are a variety of themes presented in this book. Many of which have already been discussed. But something I felt was demonstrated from start to finish was- accepting people as they are and most importantly accepting ourselves as we are. Charlie began as a mentally challenged adult who wanted to be smart because that is what everybody wanted him to become. But when he became a genius he was sad, angry and alone. I think this was meant to demonstrate that we should always be true to ourselves and just because we think we would be better off if we were different somehow that is usually not the case. I also think there was a very evident message throughout the book: We should not tamper with things that we don't fully understand because it doesn't always get the desired result.
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Flowers For Algernon

Post Number:#6  Postby AuthorLisaTortorello » 06 Aug 2011, 13:28

It's hard to believe Flowers For Algernon was first a novelette in 1959.

I have read Flowers For Algernon at least 10 times and each time I do I go on that emotional rollercoaster with Charly. Even though I know the storyline now, the ending still gets to me. I am a school teacher and there are so many life-lessons in this story that it never grows old.

A few years ago I read a book entitled, " Algernon, Charlie and I - A Writer's Journey" by Daniel Keyes. This was a very interesting look into Keyes' life and how much of it paralleled events in Flowers for Algernon. It's a very good and insightful read.
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Post Number:#7  Postby Hal3 » 11 Aug 2011, 13:30

"Flowers" is a good example of thoughtful 50s science fiction. It's well written and a compelling story. It was of course turned into a Oscar winning movie, "Charley" because it captured, as people have mentioned, so much that it part of our lives.
I say good example of 50s SF because the 40s and 50s were the heyday of pulp fantasy. A good deal of it included a positive, or at least revealing look, at human nature. It was like TV at the time, shows like Leave it to Beaver, Gunsmoke, the Rifleman. Other fantasy of the time relied more on wide-eyed ideas about space travel, supernatural aliens, and didn't necessarly work toward a message. Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations", losts of Asimov short stuff of the time, and lots of others did carry and nurture a message of some sort. It's the difference between Roddenberry's "Star Trek" and the new "Batman" movies. For Roddenberry exploring space time meant exploring our own natures and that was part of some of the best Science Fiction in the genre's golden age. The effort never really died completely, though the genre has taken a beating. The latest installment of "Tron" is a good example of thoughtful Science Fiction. Ten years before "Flowers", another of the lost masters of short fantasy, Fritz Leiber, wrote a story called "The Man Wnho Never Grew Young." I think of it when I think of "Flowers for Algernon." It too embodies the valient human spirit, caught in forces way beyond the ability to control them, and doing its best. Very good stuff all.
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Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#8  Postby Clovertechie » 11 Aug 2011, 23:20

I've never joined a book club before, so bear with me!

I'm just over half-way through and am enjoying the book thoroughly. (Before I read any of the comments, I could have guessed that the transformation was not permanent.)

The theme that keeps ringing in my mind is acceptance - accepting others as they are, accepting ourselves as we are, and understanding that because someone else is different than ourselves, they are neither higher nor lower, just different. We should never judge ourselves by another's standard - nor should we judge others by our own standard.

Wouldn't the world be a different place if we could learn that one simple truth?
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Re: Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#9  Postby Fran » 12 Aug 2011, 05:56

Clovertechie wrote:I've never joined a book club before, so bear with me!

I'm just over half-way through and am enjoying the book thoroughly. (Before I read any of the comments, I could have guessed that the transformation was not permanent.)

The theme that keeps ringing in my mind is acceptance - accepting others as they are, accepting ourselves as we are, and understanding that because someone else is different than ourselves, they are neither higher nor lower, just different. We should never judge ourselves by another's standard - nor should we judge others by our own standard.

Wouldn't the world be a different place if we could learn that one simple truth?


Hope now you've taken the plunge into a book club you'll stick with us.
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Re: Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#10  Postby Clovertechie » 12 Aug 2011, 10:23

Hope now you've taken the plunge into a book club you'll stick with us.
:D[/quote]

Thanks, Fran, I believe I will!
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Flowers for Algernon

Post Number:#11  Postby Sadmag » 21 Aug 2011, 12:47

I really enjoyed the book. It made me think how quickly we are to criticize others for being different than we are. I also realized that Charlie's co-workers had low self-esteem - it was so easy for them to laugh at Charlie when he had low intelligence. When he was much more intelligent than them, they wanted nothing to do with him.
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Post Number:#12  Postby Simworm » 22 Aug 2011, 05:26

Okay, so I literally just finished reading the book. I loved it! It had a lot of interesting ideas. The idea that stuck out to me was the idea of being treated as human and the vulnerability that come with being human. The idea is pulled out in Flowers for Algernon, when he's becoming intellegent he becomes angry that he's only an experiment or "Exhibit A" in Prof. Nemur's eyes. "The constant juxtaposition of "Algernon and Charlie," and "Charlie and Algernon," made it clear that they thought of us both as a couple of experimental animals." He wanted to be treated as human and not just someone who was created by Prof Nemur and Dr Strauss.

On the other side of that view, the fact that everyone treats Charlie as inferior and that Prof Nemur continues to treat him as an experiment highlights their own humanity and vulnerability. "And how foolish I was to ever have thought that professors were intellectual giants. They're people-and afraid the rest of the world will find out."... "I guess Nemur's fear of being revealed as a man walking on stilts among giants is understandable." I guess this just goes to show that not only is Keyes talking about what it means to be treated as a normal human being but also the fear of being exposed as only human.
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Post Number:#13  Postby Fran » 22 Aug 2011, 05:33

Finished Flowers for Algernon last night (late).
I agree with earlier posts ... this is a superb book & a real page turner. Reading it I kept being reminded of a TV advert (for Bernardo's I think) which had the strap line 'Every childhood last a lifetime' ... as it surely did for Charly. I found the unPC language disconcerting at first but then as the book goes on you begin to realise that it's not words but the attitude behind the words that causes the most hurt to Charly.
I laughed out loud when Charly is trying to understand the Rorschach tests & when he got angry with Algernon because the mouse was more successful than him at the maze tests ... I though that was truly brilliantly observed.
I found myself torn between hating Charly's mother and my heart breaking for her and Matt I really sympathised with. It must be so difficult for parents to cope with intellectual disability and trying to determine the border between what a child may achieve with effort and what will always be totally beyond the child's ability ever to achieve.
The journal style of the book was an inspired choice IMO as it moved through the levels of ability and back again.
This book is a metaphor for all of us as we have all come from a childhood state to various levels of intellectual ability and for many that will reverse as old age and dementia may take over .. the seven ages of man as Shakespeare put it in As You Like It.

A magnificient book, an inspired choice & I'm really glad I read it.
I must see if I can get my hands on the movie and see what way the story was handled for the screen.
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Post Number:#14  Postby Paprika47 » 23 Aug 2011, 07:18

Another newcomer am I - my apologies!

I read Flowers of Algernon many years ago, and I still remember being very much haunted by it. It was the last words that really got me, to be honest: his last wish being for someone to put flowers on Algernon's grave.

The tormenting loneliness that you find in Charlie's narration (in all stages of the book; even when his intelligence is low and he thinks nothing of his coworkers cruelty, you see in how he wishes to be smarter his need to communicate) is heartbreaking. The ignorance of the doctors, of everyone really - anyone who is connected to Charlie: it frustrates and angers the reader as they have to go through a battle of sympathy and hatred for those that mistreat Charlie in their ignorance.

The way it's written is fantastic. Everything counts. The structure, the grammar, the spelling, the punctuation even. By sheer execution it is awe-inspiring.
And then comes the words.

No doubt about it. This book is powerful.
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Post Number:#15  Postby Fran » 23 Aug 2011, 09:39

Paprika47 wrote:Another newcomer am I - my apologies!

I read Flowers of Algernon many years ago, and I still remember being very much haunted by it. It was the last words that really got me, to be honest: his last wish being for someone to put flowers on Algernon's grave.

The tormenting loneliness that you find in Charlie's narration (in all stages of the book; even when his intelligence is low and he thinks nothing of his coworkers cruelty, you see in how he wishes to be smarter his need to communicate) is heartbreaking. The ignorance of the doctors, of everyone really - anyone who is connected to Charlie: it frustrates and angers the reader as they have to go through a battle of sympathy and hatred for those that mistreat Charlie in their ignorance.

The way it's written is fantastic. Everything counts. The structure, the grammar, the spelling, the punctuation even. By sheer execution it is awe-inspiring.
And then comes the words.

No doubt about it. This book is powerful.


Yes indeed ... I had intended to include that powerful last line in my post. It was so moving that after all that had happened Charlie at the end had more affinity with Algernon than with any fellow human.

Oh and welcome Paprika47 hope you stick with the forum & we read more of your posts.
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