Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Summary

Starting on March 3, a mentally disabled man named Charlie Gordon starts coming into a lab as a test subject for a possible experiment. He is 32 years old, and works as a floor sweeper and performs other lowly tasks at a bakery. He found this job at the bakery through his Uncle Herman, who was best friends with Mr. Donner, the owner.

Charlie does poorly on the tests that the lab shows him, such as the Rorschach, Thematic Apperception, and maze races against a white lab mouse named Algernon. Still, his teacher at the school for mentally disabled adults has set Charlie up as a candidate for this experiment because of his extreme motivation. Charlie shows the most enthusiasm for learning and desire to be smarter out of all the candidates, even those smarter than him. Psychology Professor Nemur and neurosurgeon Dr. Strauss select Charlie.

The operation will artificially enhance a man’s IQ to a superhuman level. Charlie undergoes the operation and slowly increases in intelligence levels. Nemur and Strauss give Charlie a machine which teaches him while he sleeps, while also helping bring to the surface his repressed memories. Eventually Charlie’s learning skyrockets, and his writing, reading, and thinking all improve. He is promoted at work, and his coworkers begin to resent him. He remembers things from his childhood, such as the relationships in his family. His mother desperately wanted him to be normal, and would beat him as punishment. His father sided with him but often gave up on him. He also has a sister named Norma, who was quite mean and condescending to him when they were children.

Charlie develops feelings for Alice Kinnian, his teacher from the school for mentally disabled adults and also his tutor while he is learning at the lab. Charlie begins to realize that Nemur and Strauss are also only normal human beings who hope that the experiment goes well. Charlie takes Miss Kinnian out on a couple of dates, and while she clearly reciprocates his feelings on the second one, they are unable to move forward because Charlie hallucinates his teenager self watching them every time he tries to kiss her.

Charlie’s intelligence continues to rise and rise. His coworkers at the bakery petition for him to be fired, and Mr. Donner sadly lets him go. Charlie’s intelligence surpasses that of Alice’s, and makes her feel inferior; he also realizes that he no longer loves her because of his intelligence, and only feels gratitude towards her.

Nemur, Strauss, and the graduate student on the team Burt Selden take Charlie with them to present at the International Psychological Convention in Chicago. There, Charlie is infuriated by the way Nemur treats him as merely a lab specimen, and how he did not really even consider Charlie a human being before the procedure. Charlie also realizes at this presentation that his enhanced intelligence is only temporary, and that he has limited time before he slides back into mental impairment. Charlie lets Algernon out of his cage, wreaking havoc at the conference, and then takes the mouse with him and flies back to New York. He begins living on his own in New York, continuing his studies and research. He befriends the artist Fay Lillman living across the apartment hall, and strikes up a purely sexual relationship with her. Charlie realizes that whatever he does with his time left must be meaningful for other people. He contacts the research sponsoring foundation directly, and is given permission to conduct independent studies on the experiment at hand. Alice visits Charlie and he realizes that he does still love her; she learns that he is still alive. When Algernon shows increasing erratic and injurious behavior, Charlie contacts the original lab team, and goes back there to finish his research on why the enhanced intelligence will not last.

Charlie realizes that intelligence that is not tempered with human affection means nothing. He expresses this angrily at a cocktail party with Nemur and Strauss, and finally confronts Nemur about his treatment of the mentally disabled. Charlie also prepares for his impending regression, and feels as though he has only borrowed the life of the former Charlie, who is still waiting to get it back. Charlie visits the Warren State Home and Training Center, an institution for the mentally disabled, where he plans to go after he has regressed. Charlie finishes his research and titles it the Algernon-Gordon Effect, and explains that the mental deterioration holds a direct relationship with the artificial increase in intelligence. He has hopes that his research will help many people in the future.

Charlie visits his mother and sister and somewhat resolves things with them. He realizes that his mother has developed dementia. Charlie is finally able to consummate his love to Alice, after solving repressed sexual issues with his mother and sister. Algernon dies, after showing grave signs of deterioration first in motivation for activity, and then general motivation to live. Charlie buries him in the backyard of the lab. Charlie’s own deterioration follows, and while Alice lives with him for a short while, he soon asks her to leave. As he regresses back into his former state, Charlie even reclaims his old job at the bakery for a short while, and once accidentally attends one of his old classes that Alice teaches, causing her to cry and flee the classroom. He decides to institutionalize himself on November 21, and his last wish is for someone to remember to put flowers on Algernon’s grave in the backyard.