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Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Summary


Here you will find a Flowers for Algernon summary (Daniel Keyes's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Flowers for Algernon Summary Overview

Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged individual in his thirties, undergoes an experimental surgery after being selected by a group of scientists led by Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur. This surgery, aimed at escalating his intelligence, was suggested by Alice Kinnian, his teacher at an adult learning center. The narrative revolves around Charlie's progress reports which he was asked to document by the lead scientists. Employed at Donner's Bakery located in NYC, Charlie, oblivious to the mockery directed at him by his fellow employees, views them as friends. After a series of tests and the surgery, Charlie's intellect begins to expand gradually with Alice's help, and he starts recalling suppressed memories of his childhood, mainly involving his mother's resentment towards his abnormality. As his intelligence heightens, Charlie discovers his attraction towards Alice, and after confronting a thieving coworker, he is let go from his job at the bakery. His relationship with Alice grows closer, but each time they become intimate, he experiences panic due to past traumatic experiences with his mother. Charlie attends a scientific convention with the scientists and Algernon, a mouse who had undergone the same procedure, and after realizing an error in Nemur's hypothesis, he suspects his intelligence gain might be temporary. He runs off to New York with Algernon and focuses on his own research, also beginning a sexual relationship with his neighbor, Fay Lillman. However, as Algernon's intelligence regresses and he eventually dies, Charlie fears the same fate. Deciding to confront his past, he visits his mentally unstable mother and his sister, which he finds both uplifting and devastating. After finding the flaw in the operation, proving that his intelligence boost will be temporary, Charlie sends Alice away as he senses his former self returning. His coworkers empathetically welcome him back to the bakery, but he forgets his past romantic relationship with Alice and decides to check into a facility for mentally challenged adults. He requests the readers of his progress reports to place fresh flowers on Algernon's grave.

progress report 1

In the initial "progris riport", Charlie is a 32-year-old man with an IQ of sixty-eight, struggling with spelling. He has a lowly position at Donner's Bakery and attends Miss Alice Kinnian's lessons for reading and writing at Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults three days a week. Dr. Strauss, one of the leaders of the experiment alongside Professor Nemur, has directed Charlie to record all his thoughts and emotions in these progress reports.

progress report 2

Burt Selden, a gentleman, presents Charlie with a "raw shok" assessment. Charlie is given a set of white cards, each stained with ink—a Rorschach inkblot test—and is asked to interpret the patterns. Charlie, lacking any imaginative prowess, states he only perceives spilled ink. He frets over the possibility of having "faled" the test.

progress report 3

The intelligence-enhancement method by Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur has been tested on animals and now they need a human test subject. Charlie, recommended by Alice due to his keenness to learn in her literacy class, is considered. When asked about his eagerness, Charlie brings up his mother's encouragement toward his education. However, to proceed with the procedure, the doctors require his family's consent but Charlie is uncertain about their whereabouts or if they're even alive. Concerns arise as Charlie, who works at a bakery, fears his late-night work on reports is affecting his day job, particularly after an incident of dropping a tray of rolls that resulted in a coworker's outburst.

progress report 4

A lady presents Charlie with a task where he's asked to fabricate tales about strangers from their pictures. Similar to the "raw shok" test, he struggles to comprehend the need for fabricating stories. He discloses that he was punished for lying in his childhood. Charlie is then introduced to a mouse named Algernon by Burt at a psychological research center. Algernon, being the recipient of the experimental surgery by Strauss and Nemur, is pitted against Charlie in a maze-solving competition. Despite Charlie's efforts, Algernon triumphs each time.

progress report 5

Charlie reveals that the researchers have found his sister and got her approval for the surgery. He overhears a discussion between Strauss, Nemur, and Burt. Nemur is apprehensive about the potential risks of significantly enhancing Charlie’s intelligence, while Strauss sees Charlie's desire to learn as a significant benefit. Nemur clarifies to Charlie that the surgery is a trial and they aren't sure if it will effectively increase his intelligence. It might even be a temporary success but eventually leave Charlie in a worse state. Regardless, Charlie is excited to be selected and promises to “try awful hard” to become smarter.

progress report 6

Charlie waits in the hospital for his surgery. Alice comes to see him, and he notices her worry. Although he's anxious, the idea of increasing his intelligence thrills him. He eagerly anticipates outsmarting Algernon in a maze competition. More importantly, he hopes that his newfound intelligence will help him gain friends. "I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me."

progress report 7

Several days post-surgery, Charlie notes no significant changes. A nurse, Hilda, helps him improve his spelling, including the phrase “progress report.” She also shares her view that perhaps Nemur and Strauss are meddling with divine design by trying to increase his intelligence. Hilda is replaced the following day. When Charlie innocently inquires the new nurse about procreation, she is flustered and avoids answering. Alice pays a visit and upon hearing Charlie's disappointment about his unchanged intellect, she comforts him by expressing her belief in him.

progress report 8

Waiting eagerly for the surgery's results, Charlie still finds himself losing to Algernon in maze contests. During lunch with Burt, he overhears college students discuss topics such as art, religion, and politics. Although he doesn't comprehend these topics, he yearns to. After lunch, he returns to his bakery job, enduring jokes and mockery from his colleagues Joe Carp, Gimpy, and Frank Reilly. They often use the term “pull[ing] a Charlie Gordon” to denote a mistake, but Charlie is unaware that he's the joke's target. His desire to improve leads him to ask Mr. Donner about becoming an apprentice baker, but he is advised to stick to cleaning duties. Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur provide Charlie a strange, TV-like device that displays images and speaks to him in his sleep as a tool to “get smart.” Despite initially being skeptical and annoyed by the device's disruptive nature, Charlie experiences a memory recall initiated by the device – his first day at Alice’s class, poised to learn to read. Dr. Strauss conducts therapy sessions with Charlie, explaining the conscious and subconscious mind and the purpose of the TV-like device. He also gifts Charlie a dictionary. One day after work, Joe and Frank lead Charlie to a bar, encouraging him to perform a foolish dance before leaving him behind. Unaware of their mockery, Charlie laughs along. At the lab, Charlie finally outperforms Algernon in a maze race and begins remembering his family. He particularly recalls an instance when his sister Norma ridiculed his aspiration to be a painter. Alice starts teaching Charlie at the lab, introducing him to Robinson Crusoe - the most challenging book he's faced yet, and they start working on his spelling skills together.

progress report 9

Charlie impresses his bakery colleagues by showing his ability to operate the dough mixer, leading to a promotion. He completes reading Robinson Crusoe but gets upset when Alice informs him that the tale ends with the book. A childhood memory surfaces, revealing a time when he was scolded by his mother for trying to soothe his baby sister, Norma. Alice starts to tutor Charlie in grammar and punctuation. Though he struggles initially, he soon makes a breakthrough. By April 8, his understanding of punctuation is evident. A night out with Frank and Joe ends with Charlie feeling humiliated and angry when he realizes they're making fun of him. He dreams about the girl he danced with, only to wake up to soaked sheets. Charlie's recall of past experiences continues. He remembers his Uncle Herman defending him from bullies and an incident where a classmate cruelly altered a Valentine's note he'd written, causing an upheaval that led to his change of school. Charlie's literacy and memory skills rapidly improve. When taking another Rorschach test, he becomes frustrated, believing Burt had previously instructed him to find hidden patterns. However, after listening to a tape recording of his initial test, he realizes that Burt's instructions remained consistent; Charlie had previously lacked the cognitive ability to understand them. Hearing his own simplistic speech on tape shocks him, and he decides to keep some progress reports personal, though he isn't entirely sure why.

progress report 10

Charlie revamps the bakery machinery, improving efficiency to earn a higher wage. He recollects an incident where Gimpy tried teaching him to bake rolls, but he failed. Despite his improved intelligence, his peers are unsettled by his transformation. To celebrate his salary increase, he invites Alice for a movie but is unsure if it's fitting. On agreeing to keep some of his reports confidential, Charlie feels more at ease documenting personal experiences. Charlie hears Nemur and Strauss disputing about revealing their initial results at a forthcoming Chicago convention. Despite Strauss's hesitations, Nemur insists being the research team's senior member. This petty squabble makes Charlie see the scientists as imperfect and prone to errors despite their intellect. He makes friends with some college students and enjoys discussing Shakespeare with them. A conversation on God makes him realize the vastness of religion. He has a flashback triggered by a dream where he sees his mother shouting, “He’s normal! He’s normal!” when he was only six. He remembers his father trying to make his mother accept his intellectual disability, and his mother punishing him for soiling his pants. Lastly, he recalls the names of his parents, Matt and Rose.

progress report 11

Charlie begins calling Alice by her first name and confesses his feelings for her during a movie date, but she insists they should refrain from a romance due to the ongoing experiment. He struggles with emotional issues that his books can't resolve, and a disturbing childhood memory involving his sister’s underwear surfaces. Charlie finds out Gimpy has been stealing from the bakery, leaving him conflicted about reporting this to Mr. Donner. He seeks advice from Nemur and Strauss. While Strauss encourages him to inform Donner, Nemur advises against it, asserting that Charlie, before his transformation, couldn't be held accountable for his actions. This angers Charlie, and he consults Alice who tells him to trust his instincts. Eventually, Charlie realizes his ability to make moral decisions. He confronts Gimpy about his dishonest practices before reporting him to Donner. Overwhelmed, Gimpy reluctantly agrees to change. Charlie realizes he loves Alice as he acknowledges her role in his development. His intellectual growth surpasses most, leaving him disinterested in his college professors. Charlie and Alice attend a concert in Central Park. He hallucinates about a teenager spying on them, which he interprets as a sign of his emotional immaturity despite his high IQ. Donner fires Charlie due to pressure from his staff, and Charlie is taken aback by his emotional attachment to his job. Fanny, one of his coworkers, empathizes with Charlie but is also fearful of his transformation. She shares the story of Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge with him. Later, Charlie visits Alice's apartment, but a traumatic childhood memory inhibits their intimacy, causing Charlie to break down and sob himself to sleep.

progress report 12

Charlie's relationship with Nemur is deteriorating, as Nemur increasingly sees him as a lab experiment rather than a person. Nemur is frustrated that Charlie has fallen behind on his progress reports, but Charlie feels they are too demanding and hamper his learning about the world. Strauss encourages Charlie to learn typing, so he does. After his meltdown in Alice’s apartment, Charlie suffers from nightmares for three nights. He repeatedly dreams of a bakery and a version of his intellectually disabled past self. He recalls an episode from his childhood when Norma, his sister, asked for a dog as a reward for her good grades. Norma wanted the dog all to herself, which resulted in their father deciding not to get a dog at all. This upsets Charlie, who just wanted Norma to like him. Charlie visits Alice at the Center for Retarded Adults, where he used to attend. Alice is distressed by his visit and tells him he's changed; he's become cold and aggressive. Charlie counters, saying he has just learned to protect himself. Alice confesses she feels insecure around him now due to his intellectual prowess. He leaves Alice’s apartment, feeling distant and realizing his love for Alice has turned into a fondness as his intelligence has risen. Charlie starts aimlessly wandering New York streets at night. One evening, he encounters a distressed woman in Central Park who shares her issues and proposes to sleep with him. Charlie almost accepts until she mentions being pregnant. This triggers a memory of his pregnant mother, which he links to her giving up on him and investing her hopes in Norma. Enraged, he grabs the woman's shoulder, causing her to scream and a crowd to gather. Charlie flees and hears the woman claiming he assaulted her. He feels a strange desire to be caught and punished but cannot understand why.

progress report 13

Charlie starts using a tape recorder for his progress reports while on a flight to Chicago. He is heading to a scientific convention where Nemur and Strauss will present their initial findings, with Charlie and Algernon as the main highlights of the presentation. As the flight begins, Charlie feels uneasy strapping his seat belt due to a feeling of confinement. This feeling brings back a childhood memory of a fake doctor named Guarino. His mother took him to Guarino in hopes of making Charlie's intelligence normal. Despite the doctor being a fraud, Charlie doesn't hold any resentment, as Guarino was always caring and never made Charlie feel less because of his disability. The memory also recalls Charlie's father's bitterness about the costly therapy sessions which delayed his dream of opening his own barbershop. At the end of the flight, Charlie no longer feels uneasy with his seat belt. At the hotel, Charlie engages in discussions with numerous scientists and students. He is able to effortlessly discuss a myriad of topics, from economics to linguistics due to his expansive knowledge. When he overhears Nemur discussing the experiment, he inquires about an article in the Hindu Journal of Psychopathology. Charlie is astonished to find out Nemur and Strauss don't speak Hindi. This realization ignites frustration in Charlie and he accuses the scientists of being frauds. Burt calms Charlie down and reminds him to be more understanding of others' limitations. During the convention, Charlie is on stage for Nemur and Strauss’s presentation. He learns about Algernon's erratic behavior at its intelligence peak through Burt's paper and is upset that this information was kept from him. He is also irritated at being portrayed as subhuman before the surgery. In the midst of Nemur's speech, Charlie identifies a scientific error in the experiment. He discovers they didn't account for enough observation time to determine if Algernon's intelligence boost is permanent. This discovery prompts Charlie to release Algernon from his cage, causing chaos in the auditorium. Charlie manages to retrieve Algernon and flees the convention. He boards a flight back to New York with plans to lay low from Nemur and Strauss for a while. The newfound idea that his intelligence could fade instills a fresh sense of urgency in Charlie.

progress report 14

Charlie discovers an interview with his sister Norma in a newspaper. The article reveals that his family believes him to be dead, having been institutionalized at Warren State Home years ago. He also learns his father, Matt, no longer lives with his mother and owns a barber shop. This brings back memories of his mother's growing resentment towards him following Norma's birth. Moving into a city apartment, Charlie constructs a complex maze for Algernon and meets his quirky yet attractive neighbor, Fay Lillman. Her bohemian lifestyle is a stark contrast to his tidy habits. In an attempt to reconnect with his past, Charlie visits Matt's barber shop. His father fails to recognize him, treating him like a regular customer. Recalling the night his mother threatened his life, Charlie tries to reveal his identity to Matt but withdraws due to their awkward interaction. Despite performing well in his new maze, Algernon starts showing signs of distress, throwing himself at the walls. Fay introduces a female mouse, Minnie, as a companion for Algernon. After an evening of drinking at Charlie's apartment, Fay questions Charlie's sexuality when he falls asleep before they can become intimate. This incident makes Charlie realize his old self is still present within him. Seeking human interaction, Charlie spends a day in public places. He stands up for an intellectually disabled busboy at a diner, reminding the patrons to treat him with respect. He confides in Alice about his emotional disconnection and contemplates whether his old self would panic if he were intimate with Alice while pretending she is Fay. His experiment fails, leaving him feeling guilty for attempting to manipulate her. Returning home, Charlie awaits Fay and becomes sexually assertive when she arrives. As their affair continues, Charlie stops feeling the presence of his old self. He decides to focus on the experiment again. When Algernon attacks Minnie and bites Fay, Charlie grows worried about Algernon's increasing aggression.

progress report 15

The organization funding Charlie's experiment, the Welberg Foundation, consents to Charlie working at Beekman without reporting to Nemur. Upon his return to the lab, Charlie finds Burt resuming his work with Algernon. However, he's taken aback when he sees that Algernon's problem-solving skills appear to have deteriorated. Concerned about his own future, Charlie inquires Nemur about any backup plans in case his intelligence fails. Nemur reveals that if Charlie's cognitive abilities deteriorate, he'll be transferred to Warren State Home. This prompts Charlie to plan a visit to Warren to understand what might be in store for him.

progress report 16

Charlie is left disturbed by a visit to Warren Home, fearing he will soon be among the downtrodden residents. A deaf-mute boy especially troubles him, as he struggles to show kindness when it's sought from him. One evening, Alice comes over to Charlie's place at the same time Fay also arrives. Surprisingly, the women get along well, and they spend the night chatting and drinking. Alice shares her concerns regarding Charlie's relationship with Fay, fearing it's hampering his work. Despite making love to Fay, Charlie finds himself thinking of Alice. He dives deeper into his work, spending nights at the lab. Fay moves on, but Charlie remains focused on his work. Algernon's health worsens, which motivates Charlie to find the root cause to aid future research. At a party held by the Welberg Foundation, Charlie hears Strauss discussing the value of failed experiments. Charlie drunkenly tries to interject but is cut off by Strauss. The guests are irritated by Charlie's behaviour. Nemur accuses Charlie of ingratitude, to which Charlie retorts that he is derided whether he's a genius or a fool. Nemur labels Charlie as cynical and self-centered. Charlie, looking at his reflection, sees his old self, vowing to fight against his re-emergence. He goes home feeling miserable, agreeing with Nemur's accusations. Charlie makes a significant intellectual discovery and writes a paper on it. He coins the term "Algernon-Gordon Effect" to explain the rapid decline of intellect after an artificial boost. Despite his growing absentmindedness, Charlie comforts Nemur, Strauss, and an upset Alice. Algernon dies, and Charlie buries him in his backyard, marking the grave with flowers. During a visit to his mother, Rose, Charlie attempts to gain her trust and explain his accomplishments. However, Rose's delusions make communication difficult. Charlie gives her his paper, which makes her proud. Norma, Charlie's sister, comes home and is happy to see him. They share a long conversation, where Norma apologises for her past cruelty. The peaceful moment is shattered when Rose threatens Charlie with a knife to protect Norma from his sexual thoughts. Leaving in tears, Charlie sees a vision of his younger self in the window.

progress report 17

Letting people laugh at you makes friendship easier. I'm sure I'll have many friends where I'm going. Pondering over ending his life, Charlie chooses to continue his scientific notes. During a therapy session with Strauss, he experiences a profound hallucination, seeing himself in the depths of his mind symbolized by a red, throbbing flower. He struggles with lab tests, finding the maze tasks and Rorschach test particularly baffling. He informs Burt that he won't return to the lab. Strauss tries to reach out to Charlie at his home, but is turned away. Charlie attempts to read Paradise Lost, a book he once loved, but can't understand it anymore. He remembers his mother insisting he wasn't mentally challenged, just lazy. In frustration, he destroys the book. Alice decides to stay with Charlie. They share an intimate moment, which brings them closer than ever. However, Charlie can't bear the idea of Alice watching his decline. He informs her that he might ask her to leave and never return. Charlie finds his own paper on the Algernon-Gordon Effect incomprehensible. His memory is failing and he can't recall the languages he learned. His motor skills are deteriorating, and he becomes fixated on TV. Alice's attempts to help spark his anger. He accuses her of denial reminding him of his mother. He asks her to leave, and she does. Charlie questions if he can delay his mental decline. Despite failing memory, he wonders if learning new things might help. His writing deteriorates, more errors creep in. He becomes a voyeur, watching a bathing woman from his window. Alice visits, but he refuses to let her in. Charlie, almost back to his original state, begins working at Donner's Bakery again. He won't take money from Alice and Strauss. When a new worker, Meyer Klaus, bullies him, his old friends defend him and assure him of their support. Charlie forgets that he no longer attends Alice's class and shows up. Seeing his regression, Alice flees in tears. Realizing that he stirs pity in others, Charlie decides to move to the Warren Home. In his last notes, he expresses gratitude for his brief experience of intelligence and understanding of his family. He vaguely remembers his smart self, looking and walking differently. He bids farewell to Alice and Dr. Strauss, and advises Professor Nemur to be friendlier. He signs off with a request to place flowers on Algernon's grave.

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