6 December 2011
Ignorance is Bliss
“Ignorance is bliss” is a world famous quote from an old poem written by Thomas Grey. It highlights the inherent relationship between ignorance and happiness. Ignorance is often presented in a negative light- its positive aspects never explored. Daniel Keyes’ short story Flowers for Algernon demonstrates the possible benefits to living in ignorance, through Charlie, a man with a mental disability who has his intelligence tripled through a scientific experiment. His journey of realization supports the fact that living in ignorance is often easier and more satisfying than living with the burden of awareness. People who are ignorant, or unaware of their surroundings, can never be negatively affected by them. Before the operation that increases his intelligence, Charlie is oblivious to the derogatory way that people treat him. He is happy to receive any kind of attention. He is blissful. Charlie does not understand the meaning behind the insults, and is therefore not affected by them. One of his progress reports states, “Joe Carp said what did they do Charlie, put some brains in? That made me laugh. They’re really my friends and they like me ” (Keyes 4). Had Charlie been as intelligent as the average person, he would have been hurt by the statements his ‘friends’ make. Being ignorant, he remains happy. Joe and Frank get Charlie intoxicated and force him to perform undignified tasks, such as mopping toilets, while everybody watches and laughs at him. Charlie writes in his diary, “Joe said Charlie is a card when he’s potted. I don’t know what that means but everybody likes me and we have fun” (Keyes 5). He does not recognize that his ‘friends’ are being cruel. He recalls, “I went out to buy a newspaper and coffee for Joe and Frank and when I came back there was no one there. I looked for them all over till late” (Keyes 5). A rational, reasonable person would be devastated if they received such treatment from their best friends. A person who is ignorant, however, does not see a problem with it. They remain happy. When his special needs school teacher Miss Kinnian tries to warn Charlie about cruel people in the world, he responds, “All my friends are smart people, but they’re good. They like me and they never did anything that was not nice.” Charlie recounts in his journal, “Then [she] got something in her eye and she had to run out to the lady’s room” (Keyes 6). Charlie is clearly blind to the demeaning way that his ‘friends’ treat him. This lack of knowledge therefore does not hurt him. Miss Kinnian who is intelligent, is not directly affected, however still feels sorrow for Charlie. This is a clear indication that the ignorant person is happier than the intellectual. There is a great contrast between the way ignorant and intelligent people think. The ignorant are not aware of the cruelty of the world, and are therefore rarely troubled by it. Charlie is immune to the way he is treated by others, simply because he is not aware that it is derogatory. His ignorance is what allows him to continue to be happy.
Charlie chooses to partake in an experimental study that has the potential to increase his intelligence. The operation is a success. As a result of the vast growth in Charlie’s IQ, his life after the operation changes immensely. He not only realizes that his ‘friends’ are not as good as they seem, but he drives them away. With his new intelligence, Charlie has no choice but to accept reality, ultimately costing him his happiness. As Charlie’s intelligence increases, so does his awareness of others’ behavior towards him. He realizes that the men he thought were his friends simply ridicule and bully him. In his diary, he writes, “I never knew that Joe and Frank and the other liked to have me around all the time to make fun of me. I’m ashamed” (Keyes 8). Before the operation, in his state of ignorance, Charlie feels accepted, happy, and blissful....
Cited: Allin, Bill. "Why Intelligent People Tend To Be Unhappy." Scribd. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/8778/Why-Intelligent-People-Tend-To-Be-Unhappy>.
Gray, Thomas. "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College." Poetry Foundation. Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173566>.
Keyes, Daniel. "Flowers For Algernon." Fantasy and Science Fiction. Mercury Press, 1959. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://dorinta19.bizland.ro/FLOWERS%20FOR%20ALGERNON%20.htm>.
Kruger, Justin, and David Dunning. "Unskilled and Unaware of It." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999. Web. 17 Nov. 2011. <http://people.psych.cornell.edu/~dunning/publications/pdf/unskilledandunaware.pdf>.
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