Note: Flowers for Algernon is told in the form of “progress reports” kept by Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded man who is chosen as the subject of a laboratory experiment designed to increase his intelligence.
In his first “progris riport,” Charlie has an IQ of sixty-eight and is a poor speller. He is thirty-two years old, has a menial job at Donner’s Bakery, and takes Miss Alice Kinnian’s literacy class three times a week at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. Dr. Strauss, who along with Professor Nemur is a director of the experiment, has instructed Charlie to write everything he thinks and feels in these progress reports.
A man named Burt Selden has given Charlie a “raw shok” test. Burt shows Charlie a stack of white cards with ink spilled on them—called a Rorschach inkblot test—and asks Charlie to tell him what he sees in the ink. The literal-minded Charlie, unable to grasp the concept of imagination, says that he sees only spilled ink. He worries that he has “faled” the test.
Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur have tested an intelligence-building procedure on animals and are now looking for a human subject. Alice has recommended Charlie because of the eagerness to learn he has displayed in her literacy class. When Strauss and Nemur question Charlie about this eagerness, Charlie mentions that his mother encouraged his education as a child. The doctors tell Charlie that they need permission from his family to go ahead with the operation, but Charlie is not sure where they live or whether they are still alive. Charlie worries that staying up late to work on reports is making him tired at his bakery job, where a coworker recently yelled at him for dropping a tray of rolls.
A woman gives Charlie a test in which she shows him pictures of people he has never seen and asks him to invent stories about them. As with the “raw shok” test, Charlie does not understand the point of making up stories and tells the woman that as a child he would be hit if he lied. Burt then takes Charlie to a psychology laboratory, where he shows Charlie a mouse named Algernon who has already undergone Strauss and Nemur’s experimental surgery. Burt has Charlie compete with Algernon by attempting to solve a maze on paper while Algernon runs through an identical maze. Algernon beats Charlie every time.
Charlie says that the scientists have located his sister and have received her permission to proceed with the operation. He listens to a conversation between Strauss, Nemur, and Burt. Though Nemur fears that dramatically increasing Charlie’s “eye-Q” will make him sick, Strauss argues that Charlie’s motivation to learn is a great advantage. Nemur tries to explain to Charlie that the operation is experimental and that they cannot be certain that it will succeed in making Charlie smarter. There is even the potential that the operation will succeed temporarily but ultimately leave Charlie worse off than he is now. Charlie is not worried, however, as he is thrilled to have been chosen and vows to “try awful hard” to become smarter.
I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me.
Charlie is in the hospital awaiting his operation. Alice visits him, and Charlie senses that she is concerned. He is nervous but still excited by the prospect of becoming smarter, and he cannot wait to beat Algernon in a maze race. Charlie also looks forward to being as intelligent as other people so that he can make friends.