In my opinion “Flowers for Algernon” written by Daniel Keyes is a successful short story because of Keyes superbly formed Characters, his brilliant format used and the many different themes he featured throughout the story.
“Flowers for Algernon” is a short story about a man of low intelligence, Charlie Gordon, who is asked to take part in a new breakthrough operation to improve his intellect. He hopes that one day he will become happy because he is smarter, but instead he becomes more isolated and unhappy than he was to start with. The story could have been named “Flowers for Charlie” because presumably Charlie would have suffered the same fate as Algernon, but this would mean I would know what was to happen to Charlie and would take some of the interest out of the text. The format in which Keyes wrote this story was very important to its success. It was written in diary form with Charlie Gordon being the author of the diary. I believe that it was written like this because it is a very personal form of writing, it gave me, the reader, a great view of just how rapid Charlie s progress and regression was and it is almost as if I was marking his progress reports the way Dr. Strauss and Dr. Nemur would have done. I think Keyes chose to make Charlie the narrator because he came across as very innocent and it is because of this innocence that I thought I was getting the whole of the story, when really Keyes is manipulating me into believing the story just because I believed Charlie. e.g. Some of the story lines are a little ludicrous, like the part when Charlie lined up the factory machines a new way saving the factory 10,000 pounds a year in labour. It is a bit far fetched that no one else in the factory had noticed this before, but still I believed it because it came from the hand of Charlie. Upon reading the story the first time Keyes was not apparent to me, but he was there making me play the part of Judge and Jury and because I was in effect in Charlie s mind throughout the story, I was able to come to conclusions much faster. Like the way I condemned what Dr Strauss and Dr Nemur were doing by using Charlie as a guinea pig, it was not a decision I came to at the end of the story, it was an opinion I had formed from very early on. Keyes also used Charlie to tell the story because he wanted me to laugh at him then most likely feel sorry for him later on, he has used humor along with pathos so that I got an insight into how the other people in the story must have felt after mocking Charlie. For Example, when Charlie was invited to a party with Frank and Joe and they made him dance with Ellen and every time he danced past the pair of them they would stick out their feet in order to trip him up.
I found this incident funny at first, but then realised the seriousness of Charlie s misplaced trust. Another example of this mockery is when anyone in the factory does something wrong they are told “You really pulled a Charlie Gordon! These are only some of the things that made me laugh when I read this story and after I had finished it I had a feeling of guilt because of the way I scoffed at Charlie despite the fact that it is a fictitious story.
Charlie Gordon suffers many changes throughout the story. Many of his main characteristics change during his period of reform, many don t. One property of Charlie which remains the same is his ambition, he is motivated and zealous to the end. Unlike many other people with the intelligence level of Charlie (before his operation). Charlie had great motivation, his desire was to become smart, hoping that it will make him happy:
“They said how come you went to the adult nite scool all by yourself Charlie. How did you find it. I said I asked pepul and sumbldy told me where I shud go to lern to read and spell good. They said why did you want to. I told them becaus all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb.”
This shows me that Charlie is different from other unintelligent people in that he is not lazy. He put the effort into finding the night school and I think this is a reason as to why Charlie is picked to participate in the experiment and although he is deserving of the chance he was given he did not deserve what happened to him as a result. One thing that changes about Charlie is his vulnerability, prior to the operation he is a very gullible, impressionable person, he doesn t realise that people use him and he is unable to judge who he should be friends with. I think this comes across in the incident with the police man:
“But I got a headache and a big lump on my head and black and blue all over. I think maybe I fell but Joe Carp says it was the cop they beat up drunks sometimes. I don t think so. Miss Kinnian says cops are to help people.”
This incident shows Charlie s poor judge of character and highlights his innocence which featured so much throughout the story. It is important that the author makes a big deal of these incidents because they provide a good contrast between Charlie before and after the operation. Another contrast in Charlie s personality is his ability to love, although he was always a considerate person he was never able to look further than that, deep down he was very lonesome until this point:
“I don t understand why I never noticed how beautiful Miss Kinnian Really is.” “Now, every time I see her she grows younger and more lovely.”
This shows to me that Charlie was intimidated by Miss Kinnian because he saw her as some kind of genius. He wasn t able too see through the intelligence to the beauty until he became moderately smart. It all added to the complexity of the character that Keyes created. Sadly one thing that Charlie suffered from almost the whole way through the story was extreme loneliness. when Charlie became smart he thought he was happy, he had discovered friendship and love but it came to a point when Charlie became too clever, he had gone right off of the scale and he found himself becoming more isolated the cleverer he got. Just before his regression he had become so smart that he was no longer able to communicate with normal people on a day to day basis on what he thought were ordinary topics. He was starting to become lonely again:
It had got to a point that Charlie had realised his dream then all that he had was snatched away from him as he started his decline into what I assume will be death because of what happened to Algernon.. For the death of Charlie I am supposed to blame the scientists, they took advantage of Charlie without taking into account his feelings, it appeared to met that they treated him like another lab rat and explained the operation to him in terms he didn t fully understand. Although it is also partly the fault of Miss Kinnian as she is very influential to Charlie she naively encouraged him to take part and for that she felt a great deal of guilt. Although sad, it would surely have been better for Charlie to live his life the way it was not realising how he was mocked or used by his so called friends. I have shown that although Charlie suffered many changes in the story, his personality always showed shades of on one thing, loneliness.
Daniel Keyes has incorporated many different themes into “Flowers for Algernon”. The main ones being experimentation, discrimination and isolation. These themes both then and now are very important and I think go along way to account for the story s success. The book featured in the story Robinson Crusoe was used because it has many parallels with the story it too was written in diary form and features many of the same problems e.g. Isolation and Loneliness. If “Flowers for Algernon” had been centered around less topical subjects I do not think it would have been as successful.
I think I have shown here that Flowers for Algernon is a successful short story because of the way that Daniel Keyes manipulated me with his format, used themes that kept the story popular and built a character which required my and every readers sensitivity.