Flowers for Algernon

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Flowers for Algernon is a short sci-fi classic, written by American, Daniel Keyes, in 1959, with more food for thought than I have ever encountered between so few pages.

Charlie Gordon is a mentally-disabled baker’s gofer, with friends in low places, who harbours a huge thirst for knowledge and no capacity to learn. Offered an opportunity to be a pivotal part of a dangerous scientific experiment that involves first operating and then chemically manipulating his brain in a bid to raise his IQ 68 level to who knows how high, Charlie grabs it. Instructed to record his experiences on a daily basis, Flowers for Algernon is written in the form of Charlie’s diary.

 

Algernon is the laboratory mouse that has undergone similar experiments. The rodent’s intelligence superiority both fascinates and frustrates Charlie, and no one is more pleased than Charlie when his own intelligence surpasses Algernon’s ability. But when Charlie’s new lab-made IQ goes on to surpass the abilities of the scientists and researchers, Charlie finds himself just as set apart from society as he was when mentally disabled. And why does Algernon begin to act strangely? Is he regressing? And if so, will Charlie?

I’m not a huge reader of sci-fi or fantasy, but this book has a good deal to say about human nature and behaviour. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I will consider some of its words for the rest of my days.

Quotes from Flowers for Algernon:

‘She said for a person God gave so little to you did more than a lot of people with brains they never even used.’

‘So I still don’t know what IQ is, and everybody says it’s something different. Mine is about a hundred now, and it’s going to be over a hundred and fifty soon, but they’ll still have to fill me up with the stuff. I didn’t want to say anything, but I don’t see how if they don’t know what it is, or where it is – how they know how much of it you’ve got.’

‘I am just as far away from Alice with an IQ of 185 as I was when I had an IQ of 70. And this time we both know it.’

‘He’s just an ordinary man trying to do a great man’s work, while the great men are all busy making bombs.’

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