Saturday, April 9, 2011

Excellent Reads: Daniel Keyes' "Flowers For Algernon"

Before receiving this gem for Christmas one year, I didn't know about Daniel Keyes or "Flowers For Algernon." Turns out the novel was great! This is a novel that will be remembered more as a successful novel. While you don't hear much about author Daniel Keyes, who wrote this novel based off of his own experiences as a special needs English teacher, "Flowers For Algernon" goes down in history as being one of the best novels ever to be written.

The book follows Charlie Gordon, who is mentally disabled and has an IQ of 68. After being unable to handle his life with his parents and sister, he is sent to live with his uncle, so he doesn't have to live in an institution. When becoming an adult, he gets a job at the bakery, where everybody loves him for his innocent personality. Then one day, a group of scientists give him the opportunity to participate in an experiment. This experiment has been practiced on a mouse (or a lab rat) named Algernon, and at the moment spoken, this experiment is going well. Algernon successfully completes mazes faster than Charlie, but this only makes him more determined for the future. After conducting surgery, Charlie becomes smarter and smarter, and his life improves. He finds a relationship and becomes smarter than the scientists and doctors who conducted the surgery. However, things aren't as they seem. While Charlie is now intelligent, he is not as lovable to those around him. Then, it turns out the experiment isn't as strong as it seems and Algernon starts to deteriorate (I'm not going to reveal anymore details, but just tell you what you'll find out when reading the summary on the back of the book), which means Charlie may be in jeopardy of not being able to withstand his super intelligence.

I'm going to be straight up, it's a sad book. It's tragic and things aren't always fair, but neither is life in general. Besides, if everybody's life were a novel, they could all be considered tragedies. Everybody always dies in the end of their novel (or their life). What determines the strength to this ending is what legacy somebody leaves, and someone who has done good in their life and has left their life on a high note could somewhat make their ending a bit happier. However, this is an actual novel, showcasing something that happens to those around us. This is a real issue, and whether or not scientists can find a real cure is up in the air at this point. With the major technology and discoveries of this day and age, the answer is a bit more positive than it is negative. Only time will tell.

"Flowers For Algernon" is told in two ways. The first is through journal submissions from Charlie, which begins with misspellings and poor grammar and turns into excellent grammar and an intelligent vocabulary as he grows smarter. The second is through typical narration in which we learn about Charlie's rough childhood and other parts of his life. We see Charlie be able to redeem himself in some ways throughout the novel, though sometimes, you are only on cloud nine for so long.

This novel goes into territory that has not been touched and carves a legacy into this territory. It's a tough, tough world for people like Charlie, but there is also help for people who live with these conditions. "Flowers For Algernon" is a brilliant novel that shows us and makes us feel the pain for people who have mental conditions and are unable to receive the right treatment, and are instead shooed away from society. That was how life was like back in the day, and it's just great to see how people with mental conditions are being accepted by society and receiving treatment and assistance for their problems at this point. This novel gives us such a story that shows true emotion to magnificent events.

"Flowers For Algernon" is something that all high schoolers and college students should be given the opportunity to read. Whether a reader wants to do it on their own time, a science instructor wants to build an assignment around it, or a psychology instructor wants to do the same thing. Any which way is appropriate, because it gives such an insight to the way some human minds operate and whether or not the medicine or surgery they are given is really strong enough. "Flowers For Algernon" succeeds on all accounts.

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