There are certain books that, no matter your background, opinions or where you are in life, will change the way you look at the world. These books are few and far between, but once you find them, they stay with you forever. Flowers for Algernon is one such novel. A heartbreaking story from the perspective of a mentally disabled man, Flowers for Algernon shows his innocent views of the world change as he comes to understand reality, as well as the devastating losses he faces.
Flowers for Algernon follows the story of Charlie Gordon, a middle-aged man born with an exceptionally low IQ but a strong desire to better himself. He is chosen as the subject of an experimental surgery that hopes to raise his intelligence. Slowly, Charlie's IQ rises until it surpasses those around him. But along with the delight accompanying his newfound intelligence comes sadness as Charlie realizes the cruelty of reality, which his handicap prevented him from seeing before. As Charlie tries to come to terms with the world around him, the doctors find a complication with Charlie’s surgery that may revert him to his significantly lower IQ, and Charlie faces losing everything: his intelligence, his understanding, and the relationships that he developed after his surgery.
Author Daniel Keyes takes a unique perspective, choosing to write the entire novel in the form of journal entries done by Charlie. In doing this, Keyes captures the reader’s attention from the very beginning, where he uses poor pronunciation and countless spelling errors to give the reader a sense of what Charlie’s life is like.Through Keyes’ precise word choice, spelling and the increasing depth of the journal entries, we see a subtle shift in Charlie as his IQ rises. The change in the quality of Charlie’s writing not only leaves the reader wanting to go on, but presents the story in a more engaging way than if it had simply been done through another character’s perspective.
By reading Charlie’s journal entries, one can not only could see the shift in his intelligence but connected with him much more personally, leading to a more emotional story. You can almost feel Charlie’s pain as he looks at the way society treats the mentally handicapped, and how it once treated him. As Charlie looks back on his heart-wrenching past, we as readers feel the same regret and anger on Charlie’s behalf. The same is true as Charlie is faced with losing his increased IQ. We realize what his intelligence means to him and watching him cope with this loss is devastating.
Charlie’s story is ultimately a tragedy, one of loss of his innocence, his hope and his trust. Flowers for Algernon is an absolutely unforgettable novel, one that teaches many of life’s harsh lessons and shows us the world from an utterly unique perspective.