What are the main themes displayed in Flowers for Algernon?
The short story Flowers for Algernon written by Daniel Keyes is centred on a mentally challenged adult man who undergoes surgery to increase his intelligence. It shows an accurate portrayal of the cruelty of society, displaying a number of themes that highlight the harshness of living as a person who is deemed to be different from others. The main theme, and probably most important theme that is displayed in the story is the mistreatment of the mentally challenged, and their difficulty in surviving in society. The story is explained in the eyes of a person who is being subject to this treatment, which is quite effective in informing others of this issue. The other major theme of this story is the dangers of man acting as God, which is shown by the ambition of the doctors to find a way to increase intelligence and gain credit for doing so, while not noticing the negative impacts.
Being the most prominent theme, prejudice against the mentally disabled is depicted very realistically throughout the story. The fictional idea of being able to alter one’s intelligence allows Keyes to portray society’s treatment of the mentally disabled. Before the intelligence of the protagonist increases, he is subject to numerous scenes of being mocked. Examples shown in the story are when one of his co-workers say to him “hey look where Charlie had his operashun… some brains in” (p3). Despite the main character’s inability to understand the true meaning behind this, readers are immediately aware of the insult that is present in the statement. Another example is the two occasions where the protagonist is invited to drink with his friends, the first time being left alone after the party, and the second time just being laughed at for what was perceived by them as stupid (p4, 5). While treating Charlie with outright cruelty through these actions, they have ultimately been condescending towards him.
The interesting part of this story is Keyes’ inclusion of the protagonist’s opinion on society after gaining intelligence, and the ability to interpret things around him. After growing more intelligent, effectively turning into a genius, he notices that others have always based their attitudes towards him on feelings of superiority. After the operation Charlie himself unconsciously drifts into a condescending and disrespectful attitude, the same as he was been subject to from others, towards his intellectual inferiors, as suggested on page 9. Despite condemning the mistreatment of the mentally challenged, even Charlie himself develops a superiority over his intellectual inferiors, and unacceptance of his past. His thoughts are shown by “I’d hidden the old Charlie Gordon… just like him?” This enables readers to gain an understanding of why the mistreatment occurs, showing the senseless tendency towards this type of prejudice against the mentally challenged. However, Charlie’s dual perspective allows him to underst...