Charlie anxiously awaits the effects of the operation, as he is still losing his maze races with Algernon. Charlie eats lunch with Burt in the college cafeteria and overhears the students discussing art, politics, and religion. Charlie does not know what these subjects are, but he longs to understand them. He goes back to work at the bakery, where his coworkers Joe Carp, Gimpy, and Frank Reilly taunt him. Charlie does not understand that he is the butt of their jokes. He writes that his coworkers sometimes refer to “pull[ing] a Charlie Gordon,” and Gimpy uses the phrase to describe a new employee’s misplacement of a birthday cake. Ever eager to improve himself, Charlie asks Mr. Donner if he can learn to be an apprentice baker, but Donner tells him that he should focus on his cleaning.
Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur bring Charlie an odd television-like machine that plays images and speaks to him while he sleeps to help him “get smart.” Charlie is skeptical; he complains that the machine keeps him awake and makes him tired at work. However, one night the machine triggers a memory, a recollection of the first time Charlie went to Alice’s class, determined to learn to read. Charlie begins attending therapy sessions with Dr. Strauss, though he is not sure what purpose they serve. Dr. Strauss explains to Charlie the concept of the conscious and subconscious mind, and says that the television-like device is designed to teach Charlie’s subconscious while he sleeps. Dr. Strauss also gives Charlie a dictionary.
After work one day, Frank and Joe take Charlie to a bar, where they urge him to dance like a buffoon and then abandon him. Not comprehending that he is being made fun of, Charlie laughs along. Back at the lab, Charlie finally beats Algernon in a maze race. He also begins to remember more about his family. Charlie recalls one time as a child when his sister, Norma, mocked him for saying he wanted to be a painter. Alice comes to teach Charlie in the laboratory. They begin to read Robinson Crusoe, the hardest book -Charlie has ever encountered, and together they work on his -spelling skills.
Charlie shocks everyone in the bakery by proving that he is capable of working the dough mixer, and he gets promoted. He finishes Robinson Crusoe and, wanting to know what happens to the characters after the novel ends, becomes frustrated when Alice tells him that the story does not continue beyond the end of the novel. Charlie recovers another memory from his childhood, an episode from Norma’s infancy: Charlie had tried to pick Norma up to stop her from crying, but his mother screamed at him and told him never to touch the baby.
Alice begins to teach Charlie about grammar and punctuation. He does not immediately grasp the concepts, but one night something clicks in his mind. In the entry of April 8 it is clear that Charlie has mastered punctuation, literally overnight. Frank and Joe take Charlie out again and make him dance with a girl, but this time Charlie realizes that they are mocking him, and he suddenly experiences anger and confusion. He dreams about the girl who had danced with him and wakes up with the sheets “wet and messy.”
Charlie recovers more memories. He recalls a time when his Uncle Herman protected him from bullies. Charlie also remembers an incident in which a childhood companion nastily rewrote a Valentine’s note Charlie had written to a girl at his school, making the girl’s brother furious and forcing Charlie to move to a new school.