Where does all begin? … and where does all end?
I’ve found Flowers for Algernon while I was adrift in the unknown ocean of sci-fi literature. I picked up the book shyly as an uninitiated reader I was. As I still am, in fact. And I was completely absorbed in the universe created by Daniel Keyes, the author who had the guts to imagine what might happen if someone’s intelligence level could be raised through a medical procedure, a mystical “operashun” as it is referred to in some moments throughout the book. Keyes’s novel is more than a well-written narrative piece that takes a grip of the reader and swirls him into the mystery of the unfolding story of the retarded boy, the first one in mankind, who has undergone the experimental operation meant to increase his IQ and make him “normal, as all the other boys”, as his mother used to say.
What Keyes does is raise questions that go beyond Christian dogma, science and ethics: what makes us human? Is it our intellect, our emotions, our ability to introspect and analyse everything that is happening to us?
Flowers for Algernon does not give answers, not even hints. Written as Charlie’s diary, “the progress reports” he presents to his therapist, the novel depicts the evolution and the involution of humanity. The more intelligent Charlie becomes, less human he is. If at the beginning Charlie does not feel loved and socially accepted and believes being more intelligent will put an end to his problems, he ends up discovering that a higher IQ makes the sorrow even deeper. At the same time he acquires knowledge he loses humanity, compassion and friendliness. It is very interesting to watch and reconstruct mentally Charlie’s relationships with his family, especially with his mother, and with those around him. All the suffering he endured as a little boy when he was forced by his mother to be normal and the misunderstood relation with his sister. Charlie understands then how important his past was/is and that he has to deal with this unsolved matters in order to understand and accept himself and the others.
The philosophical debate that is present throughout the novel, further inquires the bias between an infinite brain capacity and feelings and feverish emotions while the story unfolds and lets us witness the evolution and the decay of the man who wanted “to be smart”.