College life may be quite stressful: from searching for a good proper school and choosing a major, to worrying about grades and studying all the time. While students are whining about deadlines, someone can only dream about such a common and regular thing as going to school every day. Daniel Keyes, in his novel “Flowers for Algernon,” gives his readers an opportunity to feel what is it like not being able to experience these kinds of “problems.”
The protagonist is 32-year-old Charlie Gordon who is mentally disabled. He took part in an experiment, which was to increase his intelligence by surgery. Algernon, from the title, is a mouse which received the same surgery as Charlie. To test their intelligence level, they were asked to find the way out of a maze. The story is written in first person. Charlie keeps a diary, the first chapters of which have a lot of grammar mistakes. But as Charlie’s intelligence becomes higher, his writings become more complicated, grammar mistakes occur less, and his thoughts become deeper. But in the end, due to regression, Algernon died, and Charlie’s intelligence became low again.
The main point here is the paradox of this story. Before the surgery, the only thing that could make Charlie happy was “becoming smart.” But when it happened and he became a real genius, he understood that he is actually unhappy now. People who he thought were his friends, in fact, just laughed at him and mocked him, while he did not understand this. People around him told him that he had changed a lot. As they said, he used to be kind and smiling, but now he became unkind, arrogant and selfish.
Charlie started to become a part of society only after the surgery; he started to really communicate with people, and they started to respect him. But despite the fact that now he could communicate with everyone he wanted, Charlie became more secretive and lonely. The author’s point here is that the foolish person is always happier than the intelligent one. That is why some people prefer living in happy ignorance.
There is a saying in Russia: “The less you know ? the better your sleep is.” Usually when people overthink, they become more upset and more paranoid, therefore - much lonelier.
At the end of this novel, because of the regression, Charlie’s intelligence became low again. A lot of publishers asked the author to change the ending. They wanted Charlie to remain smart and have a happy life. But Daniel Keyes did not agree with them, and he was probably right, because even though Charlie lost big opportunities, in some way, he became happy again. Being a genius, he was condemned to live an unhappy life. So, in that case, intelligence does not equal happiness.
Daniel Keyes tried to show that sometimes ‘simple’ does not mean ‘bad.’ Just like children can enjoy every small detail before they grow up and start to see the same things from a totally different perspective, the same can be true for others. That is why, as people grow older, they wish they could turn back time and become small again.
College is that time of growing up, not only do students learn new things during the classes, but they also learn about adult life while living independently from their parents or getting their first job. This kind of enlightenment only comes during these years in college, and that is why this novel may be quite relatable to students. Just as Charlie always wanted to attend school and have a normal college life, high school graduates are dreaming about college. However, after entering it, students’ expectations may not meet reality, just like Charlie’s reality was not met.
Your grades may not be as good as you expected them to be, or what you are studying may be quite different from your expectations; sometimes students do not even get to choose their major and just do what they are told to do by their parents. In that case, it is not surprising that someone may feel like he or she is much more stupid than others. However, the same thing may be seen from a different perspective, and what seems nonsensical for one, may be very clear for another. By Charlie’s example, Daniel Keyes tried to express how people lose themselves and their own happiness while trying to satisfy others and others’ expectations of them. So, after reading this novel, the readers should ask themselves: “Is it really what I want to do? Will it bring me happiness?”