What if intelligence could be artificially grafted onto an adult after he grew up? What happens when understanding the world occurs all at once, rather than slowly over time? In his dramatic and often disturbing novel Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes explores intelligence from outside in, and then inside out again, through the character Charlie, who is transported from an IQ of below 70 to one higher than even the neurosurgeons and psychiatrists who transform him.
Charlie's painful odyssey takes him to some of the most humiliating destinations in the human psychological journey, including the shame of realizing that people are laughing at you, not with you. He struggles to integrate his new-found intelligence into a mature emotional adult life, fighting against the guilt of childhood experiences and misconceptions. Keyes delves into very adult themes -- sexual desires, morality, alcohol and escapism, guilt -- with the unabashed honesty of a journal style novel, allowing readers to watch Charlie's internal struggle develop along with his intelligence.
As Charlie's intelligence grows, he comes to realize that what he thought was a happy life was actually fraught with conflict and tension. This novel poses some important questions for us as a society: What is intelligence? Do we value the intelligence of learned information too much over the intelligence of emotional maturity? Can someone ever be happy without self-understanding and self-acceptance?
This novel is packed with rich themes and symbolism, and though it explores some painful topics, it offers readers a chance to connect and empathize with Charlie at every stage of his mental journey. Good food for thought for 10th and 11th graders.