They say to walk a mile in another person's shoes and then you'll understand where they are coming from. But can one really do that? I think when we 'walk' in their 'shoes' we can only glimpse into what it's really like for them. When my sister and I were having a fight and she wasn't speaking to me I was told constantly to "walk in her shoes" to which I replied "How when I don't know what's going on in her life!?" To me I had to know what was going on, or else how could I begin to walk in her shoes?
Charlie Gordon was born with an I.Q. of 70. This book was written in 1959 and the book reflects a lot of the social rules back then. I remember hearing that back in the 50's and 60's one didn't "air their dirty laundry" for the world to see. If the husband was abusive to the wife of kids - no one would know. Everyone in that house hold would put on a smile out in public and pretend everything was wonderful. If you child was retarded you would send him away or ignore him. This is the case with Charlie. This book deals with the social and psychological view points of metal retardation. When I first read the first sentence I thought it was a joke. Words were written wrong like "rite" and no write, or "werk" and not work. As I continued to read it donned on me that the main character was retarded.
It is a sad story. Charlie has known all his life that he is not quite like the other people around him. His "friends" at work constantly tease him and he isn't the wiser. He attends a class for retarded adults at a local community college - and it's in this class that the teacher Ms. Kinnian tells him of a group of scientist that would like to use him for an experiment. Since Charlie can not legally agree (because he can't fully understand) they must track down his sister (whom Charlie hasn't seen in 15 years.) When his sister Norma agrees the surgery begins. They tell Charlie to keep a progress report before and after the surgery. The scientists believe that they have discovered a cure for mental retardation in which they take the affected brain matter out and replace it with new undamaged brain matter that will grow and assimilate to the old one. The only problem is the don't know how long it will last.
At first Charlie doesn't notice the change. The mouse Algernon (who has had the same operation) continues to beat Charlie in the completion of a maze - but soon Charlie begins to beat Algernon. Soon Charlie begins to obtain massive amounts of knowledge surpassing even the smartest human being. The catch is even though his growth in IQ is fast he is still emotional a child. He begins to have more clearer and sharp memories about his youth - and they are all heart breaking. His mother despises him - she can't let the neighbors know her child is retarded! What will they think? They'll think she is an awful woman who can't produce good kids and keep a clean home! Even though Charlie is retarded he understands that he is not wanted - he can tell by the tone in their voices how his mother hates him, as does his younger sister Norma, but his dad is the only one fighting to say that he is a human being and has a right to live.
As Charlie's I.Q. soars he loses his friends and becomes even more isolated. The scientist that preformed the surgery on him tells him to come to the Chicago convention where he'll be on display - telling Charlie that he didn't exist before. At the fair Charlie can no longer take being treated as another testing animal. He sets Algernon free and they both run back to New York. Charlie begins to watch the deterioration of Algernon and knows that he will soon follow. Will he let it happen or commit suicide and end it will he still had the knowledge?
My heart hurt at the end. It must have been so hard for Charlie! You grow up knowing you are different for the other kids, and instead of getting love at home you get nothing but hate and rejection. You grow up fearful of your mother which translates to women. Then an opportunity arises for you to become smart - and you leap at the chance! It doesn't last long though - only a handful of months and you must watch as all the knowledge you once had begins to fade and your old self comes back. How do you cope? How can you? I can't do this book justice right now. You must read it, it is such a wonderful book!!
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. New York (c) 1994