Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Literary Elements


Science Fiction

Setting and Context

New York City; undisclosed time in the near future

Narrator and Point of View

First person narration in written/typed/recorded epistolary reports from Charlie Gordon

Tone and Mood

Suspenseful, thoughtful, and towards the end, depressing. Rapid in both the exposition and the denouement, as Charlie’s exponential growth and subsequent deterioration in intelligence occurs. The writing or typing of his reports mirrors his current intellectual (and emotional) state.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Charlie Gordon is the protagonist. There is no clear antagonist, except perhaps Professor Nemur, who leads the experiment, and Rose Gordon, Charlie’s abusive mother (especially in his flashbacks). Charlie realizes that people have different motivations at different times and nobody is completely good or completely bad.

Major Conflict

A mentally disabled man is the subject of an experiment which gives him superhuman intelligence, and during the course of this temporary enlightenment, he learns an incredible amount about the world and about himself, until he realizes that these effects are exactly that: temporary.


Charlie Gordon accompanies Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss to the Psychological Convention in Chicago, three months after his procedure, where he realizes that his artificial intelligence will only be temporary. He releases Algernon from his cage, and runs out to fly back to New York. He decides that he needs to find himself, and then ultimately decides to leave a valuable impact on the world before his intelligence fades.


Early on, Professor Nemur asks Charlie why he had the motivation to learn to read and write in the first place. Charlie responds by saying, “all my life I wantid to be smart and not dumb and my mom always tolld me to try lern just like Miss Kinnian tells me” (3), which foreshadows the explanation for Charlie’s extreme motivation linked to his mother. Charlie’s uncommon motivation comes from his mother instilling in him the feeling that intelligence would lead to her love. This foreshadows the personal and familial struggles Charlie will endure to discover himself, and the relationship between intelligence and human affection.


Many of Charlie’s painful childhood memories are told using understatements. Despite the severe abuse that he remembers — whether it is his mother beating him, older boys beating him up, or his sister heaping abuse on him — Charlie’s reactions are always calm or understated. This way of conveying his painful memories actually emphasizes their hurtful and terrible nature to readers. For example, when Norma insults and yells at Charlie after he prevents her from getting a dog, Charlie reacts the most violently he has yet to a memory, but it is still mild: “I wish this memory were a photograph so I could tear it up and throw it back into her face. I want to call back across the years and tell her I never meant to stop her from getting her dog… I never meant to do anything that would hurt her at all” (91-2). Despite the painful nature of these memories, Charlie’s reactions are rather muted, and tend to swallow the pain rather than explode in reaction to them.


Many proper names are listed in the conversations that Charlie overhears in the college cafeteria; he also explicitly alludes to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" several times throughout the story.


See Imagery section. Charlie has a vivid way of describing images during his intelligent states.


The way that Charlie talks about his mind expanding is rather paradoxical, as he often describes it through natural images, while his enhanced intelligence is the result of artificial means.


See Allegory section.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



Algernon is often treated as a person; he is definitely a character. He is often a proxy for Charlie.