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Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes

Important Quotations Explained

Progress Report 17

Key Facts

And he said that meens Im doing something grate for sience and Ill be famus and my name will go down in the books. I dont care so much about beeing famus. I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me.

Here, in his “progris riport 6th,” Charlie recounts a conversation he has with Nemur shortly before his operation. Nemur cannot guarantee that Charlie’s procedure will be successful, but he is trying to make Charlie feel good about his participation in the experiment nonetheless. Nemur’s attempts to impress Charlie with promises of fame and great contributions to science reveal his true motivations. It is Nemur who wants his name to “go down in the books,” not Charlie. On the contrary, Charlie’s reason for wanting to be intelligent is purely social: he wants people to like him. Charlie knows that his retardation has cut him off from most of society, but his powerlessness does not upset him. Charlie does not long to join society to increase his social standing; rather, he longs to join primarily because he is lonely. In Charlie’s mind, intelligence is the quality that will gain him entry into a world of friends. The resulting irony is that when Charlie does become incredibly intelligent, he finds himself even lonelier than before.

“And I hate school! I hate it! I’ll stop studying, and I’ll be a dummy like him. I’ll forget everything I learned and then I’ll be just like him.” She runs out of the room, shrieking: “It’s happening to me already. I’m forgetting everything . . . I’m forgetting . . . I don’t remember anything I learned any more!”

This passage, from Progress Report 12, is part of one of Charlie’s flashbacks to his childhood, in this case the incident when Norma demands her parents give her a dog because she has received an A on her history exam. After her father denies Norma the dog because she refuses to allow Charlie to help care for it, Norma angrily threatens her parents. She feels that Charlie is getting preferential treatment because he is retarded, and she suggests that perhaps she should become a “dummy” like him to receive the same treatment. Though Norma is clearly being absurd and sarcastic, for a moment it seems that she genuinely envies Charlie’s retardation—the only time in the novel when anyone perceives Charlie’s disability as an advantage. Listening to Norma rant, however, Charlie can hardly feel that he is in an enviable position. His disability, which he cannot help, makes his sister miserable.

Norma’s threat to lose her intelligence is meant to be just as ludicrous as the notion that Charlie could gain intelligence by his own will. Of course, many years later, Charlie does in fact gain intelligence. Norma’s remark—“I don’t remember anything I learned any more!”—is a cruel joke meant to upset her parents, but it also foreshadows exactly what happens to Charlie at the end of the novel.

We were the main attraction of the evening, and when we settled, the chairman began his introduction. I half expected to hear him boom out: Laideezzz and gentulmennnnnn. Step right this way and see the side show! An act never before seen in the scientific world! A mouse and a moron turned into geniuses before your very eyes!

This passage appears in Progress Report 13, when Charlie and Algernon accompany Nemur and Strauss to the scientific convention in Chicago where they are presenting their findings. The researchers treat Charlie and Algernon as exhibits, and Charlie grows increasingly upset that he is being treated as more of a laboratory animal than a human being. At the convention, Charlie’s feeling of victimization reaches a new level of intensity. He is surrounded by an entire auditorium of scientists who are curious to see him not as an individual but merely as the result of Nemur and Strauss’s experiment. Charlie feels as though there are hundreds of Nemurs all eyeing him clinically, and that he is there not so much to enlighten the scientists as to entertain them. He imagines the chairman of the conference as a carnival barker, touting Charlie and Algernon as a “side show,” the portion of the circus where so-called freaks are put on display. Charlie imagines the chairman callously referring to him as a “moron,” grotesquely proving that he is not the least bit concerned with Charlie’s feelings. This paranoid fantasy is the height of Charlie’s sense of being objectified; it leads him to assert his independence by running away from the conference with Algernon.

I wasn’t his son. That was another Charlie. Intelligence and knowledge had changed me, and he would resent me—as the others from the bakery resented me—because my growth diminished him. I didn’t want that.

This passage comes from Progress Report 14, when Charlie goes to visit his father, Matt, hoping to talk with him and learn more about his own childhood. However, Matt does not recognize Charlie, and Charlie cannot bring himself to tell Matt who he really is. This reluctance emphasizes the feeling of split identity Charlie experiences as he grows smarter. When Charlie notes his intelligence increasing, he starts to have a sense that the “other” Charlie—his former mentally disabled self—watches over him, remaining present in the back of his mind. In this quotation, Charlie realizes why he feels he cannot and should not reveal his identity to Matt: Charlie is no longer that “other” self that he imagines, and therefore is no longer the same Charlie who was Matt’s son.

Though Charlie longs to connect to and understand his past, he realizes that he has traveled too far to be able to present himself as the same person he used to be. He believes that rather than being happy for his son’s massive gains in intelligence, Matt would feel betrayed if he were to discover that the articulate and bright man before him is Charlie. Charlie thinks that Matt would feel “diminished” by Charlie’s intelligence, not just because Charlie is now far smarter than Matt is, but also because Matt invested so much energy into relating to his son as a mentally retarded boy. For years, Matt dealt with the difficulty of having a retarded son, and he also faced the greater difficulty of trying to persuade his irrational wife to accept Charlie’s disability. Charlie fears that if a new, brilliant Charlie were to come along all these years later, Matt would feel that he had wasted all of his emotional energy and might even feel cheated. Charlie is effectively two people now, but neither person can have a whole life or a whole history.

P.S. please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he would have more frends. Its easy to have frends if you let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of frends where I go.

These words constitute Charlie’s second-to-last postscript in his final progress report. Having decided to go live at the Warren State Home and cut himself off from all the people he has known, Charlie writes farewells to Alice and Dr. Strauss, but he saves a special word of advice for Nemur. Throughout the novel, Nemur is portrayed as a humorless and intensely career-focused man lacking in human compassion. For a time, at the height of his genius, Charlie’s own intellectual self-absorption threatens to turn him into a similarly cold individual. Upon discovering that his bakery coworkers used to tease him for sport when he was mentally retarded, Charlie becomes understandably angry and embittered, hating the idea that he was the subject of such mockery.

Unlike Charlie, Nemur has not been the target of cruel jokes, but he is nonetheless insecure and fears any challenge to his authority. Near the end of the novel, Charlie comes to learn that intellectual superiority is not the most important goal of a human life. He is able to steer himself away from becoming like Nemur, learning to love and forgive other people. Now, in this report, written after he has fully reverted to his original state, Charlie tries to pass on some of what he has learned to Nemur. Although Charlie is no longer capable of articulately expressing his emotional discoveries to Nemur, his words nonetheless ring with the truth of experience. Nemur would indeed have “more frends” if he were not so focused on maintaining a pointless sense of superiority. Charlie finds that, despite the vast intellectual gulf that separates him from Nemur, the lessons he has learned apply just as much to an esteemed scientific researcher as they do to a simpleminded man confined by mental disability.

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Flowers for Algernon

by prenticeni14, November 21, 2013

Charlie's "friends" laughed at him because he was cognitively impaired, and in the beginning, he wasn't really sure why so he just laughed along with them.

Is this a math test

by jesustilapia, January 14, 2014

What kind of a menial task is this? How does acing this quiz show any kind of deep reading comprehension? Memorizing the plot is so darn-diggity shallow that I would be ashamed to answer these questions.


9 out of 30 people found this helpful

the correct term is mental retardation

by MarinaOKim99, August 18, 2014

I know for one thing, it's rude to say that people who are special needs are the R word, BUT the correct term is mental retardation; the R-word comes from the Italian word "ritardando", which means to stop.
And another thing: Petite means SMALL. Petite just means having a SLIGHT BUILD. That's because the word "petite" is a French word just means you're short.

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