This was a book from my "Books mentioned on ‘Friends’ reading challenge".
I took my time reading this novel. At one point I just had to stop and pick up something lighter. Something that didn’t make me want to bury myself in a hole, because of how horrid the human race is.
“He makes the same mistake as the others when they look at a feeble-minded person and laugh because they don’t understand there are human feelings involved”
Flowers for Algernon is a heartbreaking journey of a man who was born deficient, but with the help of science was made into a genius. From a retarded person to the highest level of intelligence.
This book deals with a lot of issues (which can pose as triggers to some readers) bullying, domestic abuse, anger issues and sexual mentality.
There seems to be no perfect solution for Charlie, the main character. Before the operation he was eager to learn and eager to please other people, he always smiled and loved everybody (even if the people treated him horribly), but he was retarded. Charlie wanted nothing more than to learn to read and write, for he believed that it would make him into a normal person. That he would be just like everybody else.
After the operation, Charlie rapidly gains intelligence and his IQ surpasses the IQ’s of those who “created” this new brain for him. Instead of becoming just like everybody else Charlie becomes even more isolated.
“I find no pleasure in discussing ideas any more on such an elementary level. People resent being shown that they don’t approach the complexities of the problem – they don’t know what exists beyond the surface ripples”.
Charlie realizes that everybody he ever thought of being smart are actually very uneducated, and that the doctors he used to look up to and worship, have very limited knowledge even on the subjects they call themselves experts in.
But it is not an intellectual journey of Charlie that makes this book. It is his emotional one. As his intelligence grows he starts to realize how unfairly he was being treated, how he was always taken advantage of because he was retarded. And the worst of it all? His oppressed childhood memories start resurfacing.
Charlie spirals into a journey to find who he is and who he was his whole life, while trying to adjust to his new life as a “lab-rat-genius”.
There are many horrid characters in this book, but nobody is half as bad as Charlie’s mother. A mother, who is abusive of her son. A mother, who grows to resent him because he is not normal. A mother who is so desperate for the good opinions of other people that she hides her son in shame. A mother who picks up a knife and says that he is better off dead, than alive and not-normal.
“He tries to scream again, but all that comes out is a muffled choking that makes him want to throw up. He feels the wetness and the stickiness around his legs, and the odor tells him that his mother will punish him…”
Through many painful flashbacks we realize that if Charlie was only given a chance. If only his mother didn’t abuse him, if only he wasn’t raised in fear. If only people gave him more time to understand, to try and learn on his own time and terms. If only he wasn’t pushed into the mold of “normal”. Charlie might have turned out different.
For the doctors might have given him new intelligence, but he was left to his own devices when it came to the psychological trauma of his childhood. Trauma that left him emotionally damaged.
Alice was another character, besides Charlie's mother, that I absolutely couldn’t stand. Alice was Charlie’s first and only love. She took pity on him before he went to the operation and was with him through it all as a friend, and at some instances more than a friend. But once his intelligence took off and very quickly surpassed her own she decided that it was not good for her to see him. Because he was making her feel stupid, and she didn’t like that.
What kind of a horrid human would tell a person, who was retarded and felt stupid his whole life, that she can’t be with him for those reasons? It gets better…She comes back and begs to be with him when his brain starts declining and he is back at her intelligence level once more. Maybe I got the whole point of Alice’s character wrong. Maybe she had a bigger purpose. I just couldn’t see it over the hatred I felt towards her.
I felt bad for Charlie all throughout the book. Even when his intelligence made him a jerk. Even when his morals went out of the window. Because at the end of the day all he wanted was to be normal. He wanted to please his parents. He wanted them to be proud of him even if just once in his lifetime. He wanted to understand himself.
Before the operation he was treated as a half human, because of his disability. After the operation he was treated as a lab rat. He just wanted to be treated as a human being.
The thing that angered me the most was how none of the people who claimed to be helping Charlie, and the likes of him, were actually doing it to help. They were doing it for their own selfish reasons: in the name of science, or to feel better about themselves. The only good Samaritans in this book were the people from Warren hospital for retarded. While many people donated money, or did research to “help” the problem. Those workers did it from the love in their hearts. They took on a job that not many people would dare to do. They had an understanding that all those disabled people needed were attention and love. I really wish that there was more about the Warren hospital in the book. As that is the angle this issue should be addressed from.
This is a novel that will speak differently to different people. It will anger some, it will sadden some and it will shed light of understanding for others. It is one classic that should not be passed by.