Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Summary and Analysis of Progress Report 17


Charlie is becoming irritable and edgy, and even has thoughts of suicide. He gets in arguments with his neighbors. He has a strange therapy session with Dr. Strauss, during which he seems angry and has a hallucination. He envisions getting closer to the ethereal, to finding God or a lack of God, and realizes that he is only afraid of wasting life. Charlie becomes slower at doing the pencil mazes. He falters at the Rorschach tests. He refuses to see Dr. Strauss. He becomes more forgetful. He is having trouble reading and writing as well.

One night Charlie comes home and finds Alice Kinnian in his apartment. At first he is angry and does not want her to see him deteriorating mentally. Still, they are finally able to make love, and she moves in with him for a little while. Charlie often forgets what he is doing, and soon his motor activity also becomes impaired and he trips over things. He finally asks Alice to leave. He later tries to see Fay but she tells him to go away, and puts a new lock on her door. Charlie forgets how to really read and write. He returns to Mr. Donner’s bakery to get his old job back. A new worker, Meyer Klaus, makes fun of and abuses Charlie until Charlie goes in his pants, just like he used to do when he was afraid. Charlie’s old coworkers like Joe Carp stand up for him, and try to get Klaus fired. Charlie says they should give Klaus a second chance.

Charlie forgets and goes back to the Beekman School where Alice Kinnian teaches. When Alice sees him sit down and try to be in the class again, she runs out crying. Charlie does not understand, only vaguely remembering the operation, and leaves before she comes back. He decides to take himself to the Warren Home. He bids everyone good-bye, and his last wish is for someone to remember to put flowers on Algernon’s grave in the backyard.


This last entry takes place from October 3-November 21. Charlie’s writing becomes erratic, just like his behavior. His style of writing changes from long, clear, and elegant sentences into short chunks, such as the first word/sentence he opens this report with: “Downhill” (213). Charlie prevents himself from committing suicide because he feels as though the life he is living now is one borrowed from the other Charlie, and it is only right for him to return this life. Charlie again addresses the symbol of the window, as he is only ever really able to imagine the young Charlie as staring out of the window. This time the young Charlie is staring out with yearning, waiting to reclaim his life from this older Charlie.

The hallucination scene inside the office of Dr. Strauss begs for literary interpretation. Charlie himself asks, “Is this a hallucination?... Or the things described by the mystics?” (216). He describes himself as a “leaf in an upcurrent of warm air” and then as “an expansive universe swimming upward in a silent sea” (216). Regardless of the poetic imagery, Charlie describes a constant upward movement. This mirrors his rapid ascent in IQ, though ironic given his current decline in IQ. This could be seen as a physical experience of his rise in emotional intelligence, which came about only after, and as an effect of, his cognitive intelligence. The hallucination/mystical experience is filled with images of the sea and of the sky. This could be seen as the expansion of the mind which Charlie has described so often before, of his mind reaching the highest ether and being dragged out into the infinite expanses of the sea. After the rising happens, Charlie finds himself shrinking and then going back into the “cave” (217-8). This can be pinned down as a reference to Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave." He is trapped for a while at the entrance to this cave, and exclaims that he is not yet ready to go down there. He says that he is afraid — “Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been” (218). Charlie must recall the way that Professor Nemur used to treat him like he did not fully exist before the procedure made him smart. Charlie wonders, did I ever exist? And the larger question looms: did this experience of a high IQ cause Charlie to really exist, if only for this little while? He says that Plato’s words now mock him.

Despite his doubts about God, and general indifference about piety, Charlie now invokes God several times, saying “I’ve got to try to hold onto some of the things I’ve learned. Please, God, don’t take it all away” (223), or “Please… please… dont let me forget how to reed and rite…” (235).

When Charlie and Alice make love for the first time, they are again on the same intellectual planes, and now also on the same emotional planes. Charlie describes the transcendent experience in similar terms to the mystical experience he had in Dr. Strauss’s office. He says that his “body was absorbed back into a great sea of space… My body shuddered with giving” (225). The “giving” that Charlie talks about has literal meaning in its sexual context, but is also reminiscent of the “giving” and “receiving” of affection which Charlie puts forth as imperative to the human experience. When he leans over and kisses Alice’s eyes (236), he in a sense blinds her. Love is blind, just like other feelings, and just as intelligence is not. (It is the very opposite of it.)

While watching TV obsessively now in his deteriorated state, Charlie still has flashes of anger. Looking at the TV set, he asks, “Why am I always looking at life through a window?” (228). He is now viewing “real life” through the window of the television set, just as he watched children engage in “real life” through the window of his house when he was a child. The form of the window has changed, but still takes him further back into the past that he is regressing into.

Alice once comes to visit him but he tells her to go away. He says, “I wouldnt let her in because I didnt want her to laff at me” (235). This is the opposite of the former Charlie, who always wanted people to laugh at him so he would feel happy. This shows that Charlie still has a degree of self-awareness, even if he has made the full arc back in terms of his intelligence. His writing has begun to mirror his current mental state.

At the end of this Progress Report, Charlie asks Alice — and everyone else — not to feel bad for him. He has achieved what he really wanted. He says, “I lernd a lot of things… And Im glad I found out all about my family and me… now I know I had a family and I was a person just like evryone” (238). Charlie really just wanted to be like everyone else. Through his intelligence, and through a handful of people who really did still love him and provide him emotional support and affection after his procedure, Charlie was able to be a “normal” person for some time between the extreme periods of alienation.