Themes in Flowers for Algernon
Charlie’s Struggle between Intellect and Emotion
“The more intelligent you become the more problems you’ll have, Charlie. Your intellectual growth is going to outstrip your emotional growth” – Dr. Strauss (p. 47)
Before the surgery, Charlie’s mental disability affected both his intellectual and emotional development. Therefore, after the surgery Charlie must develop both aspects together and they inevitably conflict. As we see in the novel, Charlie struggles to find a balance between intellect and emotion and throughout the novel he searches for a way to combine his intelligence and human feelings.
When the novel begins, Charlie is initially warmhearted and trusting, but as his intelligence increases he grows cold, arrogant, and disagreeable. The more he understands about the world, the more he distances himself from human contact. At his loneliest point, in Progress Report 12, Charlie shockingly decides that because of his super intelligence, he is no longer in love with Alice.
We can also see this conflict represented in the opposing characters of Nemur and Alice. Professor Nemur, an obsessive, career-driven academic determined to make a name for himself as a great scientist, represents one extreme—the idea that intelligence is everything in human life. Nemur believes that nothing besides intellect matters and that mental disability makes an individual less than human. Alice, as a compassionate and generous teacher of disabled adults, represents the opposite perspective—the idea that kindness and feeling are more important than intelligence. Both Nemur and Alice frustrate Charlie, Nemur because of his arrogant dismissal of Charlie’s former life, and Alice because of her disinterest in Charlie’s new mental powers.
What do you think is the author’s message about intelligence from Charlie’s memory pages 115-118?
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