Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Metaphors and Similes

Hour Hand (Simile)

“You wont notise it for a while like you dont notise how the hour hand on the clock moves.” (20)

Dr. Strauss describes the effects of the experiment to Charlie, who is impatient that he cannot see the effects yet. Strauss alludes to time, which is a central thematic element in the story.

Born Blind (Simile)

“I’m like a man born blind who has been given a chance to see light.” (82)

Following the arc of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” Charlie sees himself as someone who has been in darkness for the whole of his life, and imagines intelligence as something positive and enlightening. He has idolized intelligence for a very long time before he understands its nuanced effects.

Big Hole in Wall (Simile)

“It was like a big hole opened up in the walls of my mind and I can just walk through.” (34)

Charlie’s description of the way he is retrieving his memories is also reminiscent of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” in which a prisoner is suddenly freed to walk out of the walled cave. All of a sudden, the mental block that was in Charlie’s mind has been removed, and he can walk freely back to his memories to find himself.

Visiting Warren (Simile)

“I could see he was upset about the idea of my visiting Warren. As if I were ordering my coffin to sit in before I died.” (169)

Charlie knows that he has to visit the Warren Home, even if it upsets Nemur. However, Charlie is coming to terms with the inevitable end of all human lives — of all human “maze” races — and so he makes preparations for his eventual settling place, as morbid as it is.

Leaf through Air (Simile)

“Upward, moving, like a leaf in an upcurrent of warm air.” (216)

During Charlie’s mystical experience/hallucination in Dr. Strauss’ office, he almost completely uses images of nature to describe his visionary ascent into the ether. Like a leaf, Charlie has since realized how small and insignificant humans can really be, and he is simply moving through the passage of time like a leaf through air.

Language as Barrier (Metaphor)

“He reminds me that language is sometimes a barrier instead of a pathway.” (88)

After Charlie becomes intelligent, he realizes that he has crossed over onto the other side of his original intellectual barrier. His use of complex language trips people up, just as his inability to use language correctly tripped people up before his procedure.

Docile Pup (Metaphor)

“Did you think I’d remain a docile pup, wagging my tail and licking the foot that kicks me?” (94)

Charlie speaks angrily to Alice when his intelligence increases at an exponential rate and he becomes cynical and suspicious. He no doubt has in mind the way his mother treated him, even saying that she would treat him like an animal and put him in a cage once.

Storms (Metaphor)

“[Rose] was two people to me… my sister knew the storm warnings, and she would always be out of range whenever my mother’s temper flared – but it always caught me unawares.” (129)

Charlie uses another nature metaphor when approaching the tenuous relationship with his mother. The “storms” which frequently happened between himself, his mother, and his sister Norma need to be (and are) resolved during the story in order for Charlie to love women healthily.

Cathedral (Metaphor)

“And other times there would be tenderness and holding-close like a warm bath, and hands stroking my hair and brow, and the words carved above the cathedral of my childhood.” (129)

Charlie talks about his mother’s uneven treatment of him as a child. He uses the metaphor of a “cathedral” because of its religious implications, and how his mother was the only religious one in the family. At the same time, the imposing nature of the cathedral and its function as an institution imply being trapped as well as being sheltered.

Expanding Universe (Metaphor)

“I am an expanding universe swimming upward in a silent sea.” (216)

During his mystical experience/hallucination in Dr. Strauss’ office, Charlie describes his own mind as an expanding universe as he imagines himself going upwards in the universe. He has realized that, in a way, the human mind is its own universe, containing worlds of knowledge and emotion. It exists in another world of nature and ever-expanding mystery.