Essay: English Literature - Flowers

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[. . .] Seeing the world through the perspective of a learning disabled man who becomes highly intelligent and learning disabled again, we watch Charlie go through emotions that that we all feel and we are allowed to think and feel on a number of levels. The novel shows us many layers of honesty (Keyes, 1966, p. 63), joy (Keyes, 1966, p. 10), deceit (Keyes, 1966, p. 72), anger (Keyes, 1966, p. 72), fear (Keyes, 1966, p. 256), loneliness (Keyes, 1966, p. 270) and friendship (Keyes, 1966, p. 32). These layers make us question the nature of Human Nature: What makes us belong? What alienates us? What makes us treat some people respectfully and treat other people disrespectfully? Is tampering with the brain of a learning disabled person ethical, even if it aids science? Is genius really as satisfying as we think it might be? Does happiness simply come from having friends and being loved? In sum, the book is a "quick read" but so many human topics are crammed into it that the novel could "stay with" a reader and give him/her food for thought for years.

Does Flowers for Algernon Make a Definitive Statement about the Role of Intelligence in Human Life, or Does it Simply Explore this Idea as an Open-Ended Question?

Flowers for Algernon makes a definitive statement about the role of intelligence in human life by having us view its impact and lack of impact through the eyes of someone who lacks, gains, then loses high intelligence. On one hand, we see that high intelligence can have a strong impact on life: with low intelligence, Charlie is the devalued butt of jokes, with a limited future sweeping a bakery (Keyes, 1966, pp. 39-40); however, with high intelligence, Charlie is able to engage in serious research (Keyes, 1966, p. 237), deeply ponder mysteries of life and love (Keyes, 1966, p. 270) and achieve fame (Keyes, 1966, p. 84), as well as frustration upon realizing that therapy's help is limited (Keyes, 1966, p. 258). Obviously, Charlie's new, high intelligence matters on a number of levels. This seems to agree with current research about intelligence because, as one researcher stated, "No one would worry about who has intelligence, or why, if it did not matter" (Hunt, n.d.). On the other hand, intelligence seems to have no impact in other areas: whether Charlie's IQ is very low or very high, he still suffers alienation from his coworkers; he is still lonely; he is still "emotionally retarded" and "sexually retarded." Consequently, the novel reveals that intelligence has a definite but limited role in life, fulfillment and happiness.


In the 56 years since publication of Flowers for Algernon, the treatment of individuals with mental disabilities has dramatically changed in several ways. For example, the use of the term "mental retardation," which was acceptable in and out of Psychology when the novel was published, is now unacceptable and replaced by such terms as "intellectual disability" and "mentally disabled." This is due, in large part, to growing sensitivity about the effects of negative terms and the inherent dignity of mentally disabled individuals. The novel itself is both tragic and inspiring, showing us a tragic man who endures great gains and losses intellectually, as well as the painful realization that his coworker "friends" are actually quite mean and unfriendly toward him. Simultaneously, the novel presents an inspirational story in which a learning disabled man experiences universal events, emotions and thoughts, such as honesty, joy, deceit, anger, fear, loneliness and friendship. Charlie's experiences can lead a thoughtful reader ask enduring questions about the very nature of Human Nature, belonging, alienation, respect and disrespect, science vs. ethics, the importance of intelligence, happiness and love. Finally, by presenting a story through the unique perspective of this man, who lacks, gains and loses high intelligence, the novel makes definitive statements about the role of intelligence in life, both in its great impact in some areas and lack of impact in other areas.

Works Cited

Chandler, M.A. (2010, February 5). Mentally disabled 'self-advocates' opose use of word 'retarded'. Retrieved on December 2, 2012 from Web site:

Groff, K., & Wildman, M. (2012, July 26). Words can wound: How the media describe the mentally ill and disabled. Retrieved on December 2, 2012 from Web site:

Hunt, E. (n.d.). The role of intelligence in modern society. Retrieved on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

English Literature - Flowers.  (2012, December 2).  Retrieved May 26, 2019, from

MLA Format

"English Literature - Flowers."  2 December 2012.  Web.  26 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"English Literature - Flowers."  December 2, 2012.  Accessed May 26, 2019.