Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (4/5)

The back says: Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone's jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

I say: I’d wanted to read this for a very long time, and am now quite pleased with myself for finally buying and reading it; even though I was a tad disappointed by the way it ended.

It was too predictable.

However, the novel does pretty much what it says on the tin. When Charlie decides to take part of the experiment he is told to keep a journal, and at first I found his writing quite annoying to read. He only has an IQ of 68 at the beginning, and, therefore, a childlike persona; but the ease of reading his updates grew along with his IQ. The heart-breaking part of this novel was very predictable at the beginning; the fact that he would soon realise the way that people treated him before wasn’t right, and often downright cruel. What I didn’t expect was the way that people reacted to his increasing intelligence; but then I didn’t know exactly how malicious some of the people Charlie called his friends really were.

Most of his path towards genius was expected, but Keyes kept throwing me a few curveballs every now and then. Like how isolated Charlie started feeling after a while of not having anyone to discuss things with; and how disillusioned he became when he realised that all the professors he had looked up weren’t nearly as gifted as he had thought. But then again, he did become rather insufferable and it was difficult to comprehend how someone who once had been subject to so much ridicule wasn’t more self-aware.

The bullied somehow turned into the bully.

One of the most poignant moments was when Charlie says:
“It may sound like ingratitude, but that is one of the things that I resent here – the attitude that I am a guinea pig. Nemur’s constant references to having made me what I am, or that someday there will be others like me who will become real human beings.
How can I make him understand that he did not create me?”
- p 101

It’s hard for me to understand treating people of lower intelligence as anything but people, or like people of lower value. Yes, I myself previously referred him as “childlike,” but that to me is not so much reducing as relating to – pedantry, some may say; but not to me. You meet and acknowledge people on their level, and that is why I didn’t understand how Charlie could become so arrogant when he became a genius. It didn’t sit well with me at all, but there you go.

I guess.

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