Flowers for Algernon Symbols and Motifs

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Symbols and Motifs By Amber Wang
In Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, there are many motifs and symbols. According to Dictionary.com (2013), a motif is: “a recurring subject, theme, idea, etc., especially in a literary, artistic, or musical work.” On the other hand, a symbol is, according to the same website: “something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign.” However, unlike motifs, it is usually not recurring. Both motifs and symbols are literacy devices commonly used by authors to help develop and add shape to the major themes within a text. In a way, they are similar to metaphors. For example, in Flowers for Algernon, windows were a major motif used to represent the divide between Charlie and the rest of society. The Allergy of the Cave presented by Greek philosopher Plato drew parallels between Charlie’s intellectual journey and the prisoners inside the Cave. The Bible was also a comparison of Charlie’s character development, this time through Adam and Eve with the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Algernon, the mouse, was a motif within himself as he foreshadows Charlie’s future. Finally, knives were repeatedly used to show Rose’s abuse from his childhood affecting his adult life. All these motifs are carefully chosen by Daniel Keyes to represent different themes within Flowers for Algernon. One of the most obvious motifs was windows. Charlie was often shown looking through a window when in a flashback. His childhood memories frequently involved windows and he stated that “. . . most of my memories of the street are framed by the window, with me always inside watching the children play”. Keyes (1959, p. 259) This showed the segregation between his disability and the outside world. Windows also symbolised the emotional divide between the old Charlie and the new Charlie. After the operation, the intelligent Charlie often imagined the retarded...
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