“Had I not seen the Sun, I could have borne the shade; but light a newer wilderness, my wilderness has made.”
Have you ever thought about the question “Which is worse: not knowing who you are and being happy, or becoming the person who you always wanted to be and feeling alone?” If you’re hesitant to make a decision and want to find an answer, “Flowers for Algernon” might be the book that can give you some inspiration.
Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction written by Daniel Keyes in 1966. It differs from many other science fictions in that it doesn’t have heavily featured elements of technology. The book is written from a first-person perspective. In the beginning, two researchers, Dr. Strauss and professor Nemur, perform an operation on a mouse named Algernon to make it smart. They want to test the procedure on human, and the protagonist, a mentally disabled man named Charlie, wants to become smart so much that he agrees to undergo the risky operation and records the his progress in reports, which documents how the operation initially makes him smart, but ultimately results in his regression to his previous state of mental disbility.
The way the author shows the change in Charlie’s intelligence is novel and surprising, through word spelling. Before Progress Report 8, Charlie made spelling mistakes in almost all the words he wrote, but after the operation, he gradually learned to read and write. As a result, the spelling mistakes began to decrease, and eventually, he could write like a normal person. Unfortunately, in the end, Charlie realized that his memory was fading, and he began to lose the ability to read and write. When I saw him return to a state where he misspelled almost all the words and didn’t know about punctuation, I could feel the desperation and pain he felt. This reminds me of a short poem written by Emily Dickinson: “Had I not seen the Sun, I could have borne the shade; but light a newer wilderness, my wilderness has made.” If Charlie hadn’t had the chance to become intelligent, he could have endured his disability. But when he tasted the ability to read and write like a normal person, and even surpass them, he became afraid of being a stupid person again. The strong emotional impact results from the special way the author displays the change in Charlie’s IQ. The story is simple yet intriguing and thought-provoking. It is a cruel metaphor that reveals the sad and grief-stricken parts of our lives.
Charlie always wanted to be smart because he wanted to have friends and to be liked by others, and he hoped his mother would be proud. But the reality was just the opposite. Although he became a genius as he had always wanted, people began to distance themselves from him. Sometimes it is just hard to have things both ways.
The old Charlie always smiled and remained positive all the time. Everyone at the bakery liked him because he didn’t understand what teasing was. He laughed along with others and never got angry, just like a naive and innocent child. However, after he became intelligent, he started to realize that the people he used to consider good friends were making fun of him all the time. They liked to keep him around just to tease him. He became angry every time they teased him and started to talk down to others and make them feel dumb sometimes. His emotions became more and more unstable, and he shouted to vent his anger more frequently. He was struggling and angry with himself. He thought that it was he who made the people at the bakery hate him, feel like idiots, and caused himself to be fired.
The operation not only made Charlie smart but also allowed him to experience emotions he had never felt before. He learned the feeling of love and fell in love with his teacher, Alice. However, every time he tried to approach love, memories of his disastrous childhood would come flooding back, clearer than ever before. He remembered how his mother hated him and always wanted him away, how his sister didn’t want others to know he was her brother, and how other children made fun of him. These recollections were like nightmares that overwhelmed Charlie, making him suffer from the pain. But as Charlie’s intelligence surpassed that of most people, Alice began to feel duller every day compared to him. It was hard for them to find common ground to discuss, so she decided to leave, and Charlie became alone again.
However, just when everyone believed that the operation was a success and Charlie would be a genius forever, something went wrong. One day, Dr. Strauss discovered that Algernon’s intelligence had begun to fade, and the mouse was acting strangely. Algernon couldn’t bear the thought of losing his intelligence and refused to live as he had before. He stopped eating and waited for death to come. When Charlie saw Algernon die in his hands, it was like seeing his own fate. Although Algernon was just a mouse in others’ eyes, Charlie felt a deep connection with him, a feeling of sympathy, since he wasn’t different in essence from Algernon. He, too, was an experimental subject, a sacrifice of the experiment.
At first, Charlie exerted all his efforts in trying to figure out why it was happening and how to stop it. But he eventually realized that the old Charlie Gordon loved people with all his heart, whereas now his heart was overwhelmed with his intellect. So he decided to be the old Charlie Gordon again, warm-hearted, kind, and positive, but dull and simple. Maybe that was his best destiny. Sometimes, only people with a heart full of love can have the key to happiness, not those with high intelligence.
Charlie is the epitome of all human beings. He went through the entire life of a normal person in just several months. The old Charlie represents the time when we are still naive children, without worries and understanding of the world around us. The smart Charlie represents the time when we grow into teenagers and adults, absorb knowledge, have more things to worry about, and begin to struggle with our feelings. The cruel metaphor is that we are all going to go through the process of growing up, facing emotional struggles, and feeling lonely.
Boyun(Iris) Liu, is an eleventh grader who is a passionate reader and reviewer. She hopes that her reviews can ignite people’s curiosity towards those books. She invites you to join in the literature adventure — and hopes you can have a great time!