Flowers for Algernon

Language, Shame, and Charlie Gordon College

“Even a feeble-minded man wants to be like other men,” writes Charlie Gordon, the narrator of Daniel Keyes’ novel Flowers for Algernon. (Keyes, 184) This novel is known for its apparent respect and understanding of mentally handicapped people. But, as Brent Walter Cline points out in his article “You’re Not the Same Kind of Person: The Evolution of Pity to Horror in Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon”, the novel actually treats mental handicaps as massively devaluing to a person. While some of the plotlines and character interactions help readers start to see mentally handicapped people as valuable, there is also endless negative language used to describe mental disability. Although Flowers for Algernon is praised for treating mentally handicapped as complex, the constant and strong negative language used to describe mental handicaps ultimately leaves the reader feeling otherwise.

The scientists who use Charlie in their experiment are the most obvious example of using shameful language to describe retarded Charlie. To these scientists, Charlie Gordon is a test subject first, and a human being second. Especially after the operation, the team of scientists hold very little respect for handicapped Charlie. This disrespect...

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