Flowers for Algernon


Plot Summary

Flowers for Algernon opens with Progress Report 1 or, as it is spelled in the text, “Progris Riport 1.” The progress reports serve as chapters in the novel, and they are written by Charlie Gordon, a developmentally disabled or “mentally retarded” man of 32 years. In the first progress report, the poor spelling and punctuation of which reflect Charlie’s mental capacities, we learn that Charlie has been selected for an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. He has been recommended for the procedure by Alice Kinnian, his teacher at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults, who believes that Charlie has exceptional motivation to learn. Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur, the research scientists conducting the experiment, have asked Charlie to document his experiences in these progress reports, which form the entire narrative of the novel. As Charlie’s intellectual abilities shift throughout the novel, the changes are reflected in the quality and tone of his writing.

As the novel opens, Charlie is employed at Donner’s Bakery in New York City, where he has worked for 17 years as the janitor and delivery person. Charlie describes the other employees at the bakery as his friends, but it is clear from some of the anecdotes he describes that Charlie is often the butt of their cruel jokes. Charlie does not understand that they are mocking him, and he tends to laugh along with them. Charlie undergoes a series of psychological tests as the researchers attempt to determine whether he is a good candidate for the surgery. The most notable of these is a maze-solving competition against a lab mouse named Algernon, who has also had the experimental surgery. Throughout the novel, Algernon’s progress is paralleled with Charlie’s own, and Charlie develops a great affection for the mouse.

After Charlie has the surgery, he is disappointed that it has not made him “smart” overnight. However, Alice explains to him that the change...

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