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Flowers for Algernon - Themes

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Hannah MacNeil

on 22 October 2013

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Transcript of Flowers for Algernon - Themes

Flowers for Algernon - Themes
Mistreatment of the Mentally Disabled
Throughout the entire novel we see that Charlie is clearly discriminated because he is mentally disabled. The most profound cruelty we think is how Charlie's mother is very offensive towards him. Rose cannot come face to face with the fact that her son is mentally disabled therefore she forces him to learn new things that he is not able to remember. If he cannot remember to do things, or controls things such as using the bathroom he will get slapped or yelled at. There are many things that we think are sad that happen to Charlie throughout the novel. Some of the things we find sad is when company comes over to the Gordon's house, Charlie must go to the cellar until they are gone. Charlie also wasn't allowed outside to play where the neighbors could see him. Rose tried many things to try to make Charlie smart. Some of the things Rose tried include things like bringing him to the phony Dr. Guarino, but no matter what Rose did there was just no way for Charlie to become more intelligent. When Rose had her second child she was so ecstatic to realize that she would have a normal child. She completely shut out Charlie and later sent him away to the Warren State Home because she thought that having Charlie around was bad for Norma, Charlie's younger sister. Rose did not settle for what was right in front of her because she wanted have a perfect family that society said we should, but with having Charlie she became depressed, knowing that she couldn't have that '"normal lifestyle" that society excepts.

Tension between intellect and emotion
Charlie’s mental disablement affects both his intellectual and emotional development. This illustrates the difficulty of developing both aspects at the same time without conflict. Charlie is initially kind and trusting but as Charlie’s intelligence increases he becomes cold, arrogant, and very disagreeable. The more he understands about the world around him, the less he takes part in human contact. Progress Report 12 Charlie was at his loneliest point in the story. This is the part of the book where Charlie decides that becoming a genius has erased his love for Alice.

Professor Nemur and Fay indicate the incompatibility of intellect and emotion in the experiment. Nemur is brilliant but humorless and friendless, whereas on the other hand Fay acts foolishly and illogically because she is ruled entirely by her feelings. It is only with Alice’s encouragement that Charlie finally realizes he does not have to choose between his brain and his heart. The extremes that were represented by Nemur and Fay. Charlie learns to integrate intellect and emotion, finding emotional pleasure in both his intellectual work and his relationships. It is in this phase of the book and experiment that he finds true fulfillment with Alice.
The Persistence of the Past and Present
As everyone knows, once Charlie receives his surgery, he becomes intelligent at a very fast pace. Even though Charlie becomes smart mentally right away, he doesn't become emotionally matured as quickly. As a result Charlie feels that he is ready for a serious relationship since his mind is telling him he is capable of having one. Since Charlie is taking in so much on a intellectual level and not on an emotional level he feels that he is in love with Alice and often gets frustrated with himself when he feels that he cannot get anywhere close with Alice because "someone" is watching him. This "someone" that Charlie refers to often throughout the novel is the old Charlie (Charlie before the surgery).
The old Charlie is a scared, mentally disabled boy whose mind is imbedded with not thinking of girls in any sexual manner. When Charlie has any close intention to making love to Alice he sees old Charlie standing there scared. When Charlie has his surgery, all of his childhood memories do not come to him all at once but rather at moments that recall a distant memory. Charlie is confused at first why he is seeing old Charlie. As his memory progresses throughout the novel, he realizes that old Charlie's motivation is based on his mother's constant nagging to not look at girls in any sexual way.

In the book, Charlie moves next door to Fay Lillman and he quickly develops an emotional bond. Whenever Charlie became close to making love to Fay he did not feel as if he was being watched by old Charlie and it was with his conclusion that he said "Perhaps she was right for me at this emotional level".
As Charlie becomes more matured he realizes that the reason that old Charlie got nervous whenever he would get close to Alice was because loving Alice was like loving his mother or sister through old Charlie's eyes. So when old Charlie saw Charlie kissing Alice he imagined it as his mother or sister and if young, mentally disabled Charlie ever thought that way about his mother or sister he would get slapped.

The persistence of the past and present also takes on a huge way that Rose reacts in the present when Charlie visits her at her home. Rose is between emotions of being terrified, to being caring and then being angry at Charlie. When Rose sees Norma hugging Charlie, Rose automatically thinks that Charlie is thinking of sex in his mind. Rose reacts by grabbing a knife and threatening to never think of his sister in any sexual way and he should never be with normal people. Even though moments early Rose was ecstatic to hear that Charlie was smart, she forgets all of that once she sees Charlie near Norma and only seeing the mentally disabled boy.
Another factor towards the mistreatment of the mentally disabled is the way that Charlie's friends at the Donner's Bakery treat Charlie.
They take Charlie to bars and tell him it will be funny if he goes on tables and dance with a lamp shade on his head or they force women to dance with him. They clearly understand that Charlie has a disability but yet they take advantage of him. Once going further in the book, Charlie realizes that his "friends" at the bakery weren't actually his friends but merely used him as a "good laugh". Charlies intelligence rapidly increases and his co-workers, Joe , Gimpy and Frank, turn against Charlie because instead of them being the ones that are smart, it is Charlie and they are also scared of him.
After Charlie has his operation he wants to treat other people with a mental disability, how he wishes his friends would have. When Charlie is at the diner, and he notices others laughing at a retarded busboy, he stands up and demands an understanding to the boy's humanity, that he is also a person. Later on Charlie visits the Warren State Home, to know what it is like "if' he ever has to move there while he is still in control of his body. As Charlie is taking a tour of the home, he fears the patients there, He is scared of the dull-faced patients because he knows that he was once one of them and could possibly be in their shoes again. So consequently he only gives some smiles, with not much warmth. towards them.
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