Charlie takes Alice Kinnian to a movie and then to dinner. He realizes that he has very strong romantic feelings for her, which she pushes off for now. He has memories of being afraid of women, of his mother threatening him when he sees his sister Norma naked (and realizing that women have different bodies).
Charlie realizes that Gimpy has been stealing from Donner for years when he sees the man undercharge customers, and then take the remaining amounts. He tries to talk to Nemur about this, who only makes Charlie feel more and more that he was treated as an object before his operation. Strauss is not much help either. He talks to Alice, who tells him that he himself needs to decide whether or not to tell Mr. Donner about Gimpy. Charlie ultimately insinuates to Gimpy that he knows that Gimpy has been stealing from Donner, which causes Gimpy to be furious at Charlie, but also causes him to stop stealing.
Charlie and Alice agree to go to a concert in Central Park together. Here, they both realize they have feelings for each other. However, Charlie is unable to approach her sexually, and has a hallucination of his teenage self crouching nearby and watching with anxiety. He realizes that he is still sexually and emotionally underdeveloped.
Charlie is fired from his job at the bakery, since Donner and the bakery workers feel too uncomfortable around him now. Everyone except Fanny Birden signed a petition to get him fired. Charlie pleads with Mr. Donner, but to no avail. He realizes that his intelligence has driven a wedge between him and those he cares about. He runs to Alice’s apartment and asks her to hold him; they talk about how quickly his intelligence is progressing.
Charlie takes Miss Kinnian out on a movie and dinner date, during which he is painfully aware of her every movement, their every accidental touch, and most of all, how much he likes her. This awareness and self-awareness has been growing and growing since his operation. During the movies, they first watch a war movie, and then a psychological film which has an unbelievable premise and poor narrative execution. Charlie is enraged at the piece of art, and says that “This kind of picture is a lie” (60). In some ways, Charlie’s period of increasing and then eventually decreasing intelligence can be viewed as a kind of strange psychological film, or story. In the end, it is a sort of lie, since in his degenerated state the only thing he will remember is that he used to not be so unaware.
When he wants to kiss Alice, he thinks about what he has read in novels, and tries to piece together his reality from fiction (something that people do in general though). Furthermore, on May 3, he realizes that he is not only constructing his current reality with what he’s read in fiction, but also with what comes to him from his past. “One of the things that confuses me is never really knowing when something comes up from my past, whether it really happened that way, or if that was the way it seemed to be at the time, or if I’m inventing it” (64), he says, recognizing that, to some extent, the past is a fiction on which humans impose their narratives. This is especially relevant in Charlie’s case, where there is a strict break between his “dumb past” and his “smart present (and future).” The entire story struggles with these questions, exploring to what extent the present is constructed from the past, and to what extent humans themselves impose on the past. With his newfound self-awareness, Charlie actually tries to remember the past, but also tries very hard to understand the past in a coherent way. He uses the “free association” technique Dr. Strauss taught him, using Alice Kinnian as a springboard into his darker memories about women. He realizes that he is allowed to love women, especially now. He knows that he is a person, and “I was somebody before I went under the surgeon’s knife. And I have to love someone” (66). Intelligence is not a counter for love, nor a replacement; instead, it helps people realize how much they actually need this essential human feeling.
Charlie also has his first moral dilemma, watching Gimpy steal money from Donner. With help from Alice, he learns to use his own autonomy and his own knowledge to come up with the right decision. He says, “Ironic that all my intelligence doesn’t help me solve a problem like this” (69) — that is, a moral or ethical problem. Watching Gimpy, he also realizes that he is only seeing a limited part of humanity, and knows that there are many people who could be and are taking advantage of others.
When Charlie takes Alice to the date in Central Park, she tells him about how to listen to Debussy. She says, “Don’t think about it… Feel it. Let it sweep over you like the sea without trying to understand” (76). This information is almost counterintuitive to what Charlie should be trying to do, after having just acquired the mental faculties to think and understand. However, Alice helps him realize the power of emotion (which is, perhaps, something to be fully realized only after intelligence — a topic the book questions and challenges). Furthermore, the simile of the “sea” is an image of nature, something which counters Charlie's present state since he is a product of artificiality. Yet Alice is right that the great forces of nature, such as the sea or wind or the cosmos, cannot really be understood in the end. This reference to the sea is a faint, vague allusion to the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (whom Keyes named the mouse Algernon after); Swinburne often used large, sweeping metaphors and similes such as images of the sea.