The most meaningful questions will never have definitive answers. Where does the line between right and wrong lie? What is the worth of a human life? Daniel Keyes asks these questions of his readers in his short-story Flowers for Algernon. Thirty-seven-year-old Charlie Gordon’s life takes a major turn when his low IQ is tripled in an irreversible surgery that drastically alters his brain. The advancement of Charlie’s intelligence was in whole a good idea, because it contributed to science, helped him identify his true friends, and provided the opportunity for him to experience life with a more intelligent mind.
Charlie’s journey is certainly not optimal, but his experience may save others from the confinement of impaired life. While the effects of the surgery are still in place, Charlie declares his desire to contribute to technological advancement, specifically artificial intelligence. “Seeing the past more clearly, I have decided to use my knowledge and skills to work in the field of increasing human intelligence levels. Who is better equipped for this work? Who else has lived in both worlds? These are my people. Let me use my gift to do something for them”(300). At the peak of his intelligence, Charlie is able to make observations and contributions to the scientific community that are beyond even the most highly regarded figures in their fields. While certain aspects of Charlie’s personality are compromised for the experiment, one must consider the numerous valuable products produced by Charlie in his most high-functioning stage. Even when intelligence has regressed almost entirely, Charlie is still able to acknowledge that the experiment will be beneficial to other people, many of whom are very similar to him. “So I gess its like I did it for all the dumb pepul like me”(306). Charlie recognizes other people are facing the same challenges he has, and wants to help them. Through all phases of the experiment, Charlie continues to prove he has a strong conscience. He knows that the benefits of his procedure will extend far beyond himself, and he appreciates this. Information obtained from this experiment will influence the way future patients with conditions like Charlie’s are addressed. His empathy and compassion have always been present, but the prior to the surgery, he is unable to take action. Charlie was given the option to make personal sacrifices in order to save other people from living an oblivious life full of constant ridicule and harassment, and knowing it was the right thing to do, he said yes.
This experience is helpful to Charlie in that it leads him to discover his true friendships. It is revealed to him that many of his coworkers who he has considered his good friends have been both physically and verbally abusing him on a daily basis. “It’s a funny thing I never knew that Joe and Frank and the others liked to have me around all the time to make fun of me”(293). This procedure brings Charlie out of the darkness. His constant state of oblivion was putting him in danger. Charlie had been taken advantage of every single day. He had been spending his time with truly cruel people who didn’t consider him human. Charlie being completely unaware further worsens the situation. While Charlie is saddened by his discovery of the vicious, hateful people in his life, nothing brings him more joy than finding his genuine friendships. His previous warped sense of reality had blinded him from realizing his own feelings. “I think from the beginning I had the feeling that [Ms. Kinnian] was an unreachable genius—and very, very old. Now, every time I see her she grows younger and more lovely… The thought of leaving her behind made me sad. I’m in love with Ms. Kinnian”(295). Charlie has always liked Ms. Kinnian, but he has also always liked Joe and Frank. It is not until after the procedure that Charlie is able to truly appreciate the kind people who have been by his side all along, particularly Ms. Kinnian. In his life, Charlie has been robbed of many things, including the ability to feel fundamental emotions that make us who we are, such as love. Miguel de Unamuno stated, “It is sad not to love, but it is much sadder not to be able to love.” For the first time, Charlie is able to love, and to appreciate kindness and true friendship, fulfilling things that prior to the surgery weren’t within his realm of possibility.
Charlie is able to live life with an intelligent mind, which is truly a gift. At a restaurant, Charlie witnesses customers harassing a dishwasher that reminds him a lot of his past self. “I felt sick inside as I looked at his dull, vacuous smile, the wide, bright eyes of a child, uncertain but eager to please. They were laughing at him because he was mentally retarded. And I had been laughing at him too. It infuriated me to think that not too long ago I, like this boy, had foolishly played the clown. This day was good for me”(299). Charlie has become so accustomed to life with increased intelligence that it takes him a while to recognize that the boy is challenged. This encounter is almost identical to many Charlie has experienced before, but this time he has a whole new perspective. When Charlie begins to see what’s going on he proceeds to jump to the boy’s defense, and is the only person in the room to do so. Charlie is given the chance to really see what he was like before, and makes him appreciate the intelligence he now has. Later, as Charlie looks back on life with enhanced intelligence, he paints it in a positive light. “If you ever reed this Miss Kinnian dont be sorry for me Im glad I got a second chanse to be smart becaus I lerned a lot of things that I never even new were in this world and Im grateful that I saw it all for a littel bit”(305). Charlie is grateful for what the procedure brought him, and isn’t bitter or angry that it took place. Charlie had lived a life consumed by the his desperate desire for “becoming smart.” The experiment brought closure. The procedure did not come without great cost, but it had a
Charlie Gordon’s life will leave a lasting legacy. An exemplary man with a kind heart was propelled by a procedure that allowed him to live his life to the fullest, and create a brighter future. Few things come without consequence, and this procedure was not one of them.