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Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes “It’s lonely at the top” or when light goes out or FREUD WAS HERE 04-1959

If you're looking for psychosexual development cues from the author, you will not be disappointed.

Number one: Castration

{When she gets out of the tub to dry herself I see that her body is different from mine. Something is missing}

{They all run after the farmer’s wife, she cut off their tails with a carving knife}

{There is the clothes hamper he finds Norma’s underwear with dried blood. What had she done wrong? He was terrified. Whoever had done it might come looking for him}

Number two: anal phase

{He sobs and covers his face with his hands as he dirties himself. It is soft and warm and he feels the confusion of relief and fear. It is his, but she will take it away from him as she always does. She will take it away and keep it for herself}

If you also count the genital phase and the constant fight between the ID and the superego, they're almost all there! Given that Flowers for Algernon was written in the sixties, the redundant usage of Freudian theories doesn’t shock me, and it makes for pages fertile in fuck-top interpretations. Or is that just my subconscious talking?

Psychobabble put aside, the story is touching. Charlie Gordon is an attaching character, before and after his IQ jump of some hundred points. Not that a nice main character as anything to do with the potential awesomeness of a novel (it undermines it in my humble opinion) but this type of attachment was of a different kind; more like a mama-bear affection. Don’t you want to attack theses elementary school kids with a dull and firm object? Makes his ignorant mother suffer a slow and painful death? But at the same time, you kind of understand:

“He (Nemur) makes the same mistake as the others when they look at a feeble-minded person and laugh because they don’t understand they are human feelings involved. He doesn’t realize that I was a person before I came here.”

They can’t interact humanely with him, because they are too IGNORANT to interact with a simple-minded individual.In this book, we see what would happens if the victim outsmarts the abuser enough to laugh at him.

There is so many different way to approach this novel.Partly because I’m lazy, and party because I have puffy eyes after finishing the damn thing, I’ll only cover two. The JESUS LOVES YOU aspect and the THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL aspect.


He does, and his Dad (capitalization or not?) sure as hell doesn’t want you to temper with his creations. I wish to quote the not so bright birthday cake wrapper at the bakery:

“If you’d read your Bible, Charlie, you’d know that it’s not meant for man to know more than was given to him to know by the Lord in the first place. The fruit of that tree was forbidden to man”

and then the preaching continues with:

“It was evil when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge. It was evil when they saw they was naked, and learned about lust and shame. And they was driven out of Paradise and the gates was closed to them. If not for that none of us would have to grow old and be sick and die…There was nothing more to say, to her or to the rest of them.”

And nothing more to say there was, first because you can’t rationalize with someone using “evil” and “God” and “Gates of Paradise” in an argument, and secondly because she is right. Not that we are forbidden to try to make a better life for our fellow neighbours, or that knowledge is evil, but in the fact that simple-minded people, quite often, are happy, or in “paradise” as one would say.

“Blessed the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Now before the theology majors (the whole three of you) start smashing the tires of my theory, I am aware that Matthew (intimately known as Matt, I’m sure) probably didn’t mean poor in spirit quite literally, but more in a “moral kind of way”, but this is my review and we’ll interpret it as literally as I wish it to be interpreted.

If we look at the concrete definition of spirit (“the nonphysical part of a person that is the seat of emotions and character”) we can say that pre-operation Charlie had a poor variety of emotion and character, therefore he has a poor spirit, and was living a happy life.

His level of happiness way higher when he was dumb.

When Charlie tastes the apple from the tree of knowledge, or gets the operation, he literally feels naked and ashamed right after: “Everyone was laughing at me and all of a sudden I felt naked. I wanted to hide myself so they wouldn’t see me….I feel ashamed”. So maybe the Genesis God was laughing at Adam and Eve all along, and kicked them out of paradise because they started to outsmart him? A bit like Gimpy, Frank and Joe at the bakery? As his IQ elevates, he questions authority, mistrust people and needs consistency. At the end his intellect growth, he is lonely, borderline alcoholic.


Another strong symbolic in the book (which could have been included in the last part) is the antagonism between light and darkness. At the beginning of the novel, the light is soothing, pure, innocent, positive. Algernon for example, is a white mouse, Charlie likes the bakery because everything is covered in white flour; the darkness, in the other hand is confusion, and is never far away.

At the end of the novel, the light blinds and the darkness wins.

Or does it?

We need light to see darkness, but we also need darkness to see the light.If looking back at the epigraph from Plato, we were warned that:

“Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh.”

If too light and too dark are the same, was there really a battle to be won? Were they really opposed or just the same end? And if given the choice, would you choose light or darkness?

Who’s to say that my light is better than your darkness? Who’s to say death is better than your darkness? Who am I to say?...