Flowers for Algernon: an Analysis

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 752 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jan 30, 2024

Words: 752|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jan 30, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Background Information
  3. Analysis of Character Development
  4. Exploration of Ethical Dilemmas
  5. Examination of Themes
  6. Literary Devices and Writing Style
  7. Impact and Relevance of the Novel
  8. Conclusion


The novel "Flowers for Algernon" written by Daniel Keyes, explores questions about intelligence and identity through the story of Charlie Gordon. Gordon is a cognitive developmentally delayed man who experiences a cognitive surgery to become a genius; the novel provides a unique perspective on how human relationships are influenced by intelligence. This paper seeks to show how Keyes's novel poses challenges to societal ideals about intelligence and disability by analyzing the characters, themes, ethical dilemmas, literary devices, and the impact of the novel.

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Background Information

Set in the 1960s New York, the novel is about Charlie, a mentally disabled man, selected for an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. The plot of the book follows Charlie’s journey before and after the surgery. The novel evokes complex themes such as identity, empathy, and intelligence, while meditating on a person's changing perspectives and relationships.

The author's purpose in writing this book was to reflect on the importance of empathy and understanding as individuals learn to relate to people with mental hurdles. Moreover, Keyes draws attention to the implications of scientific advancements in the field of cognitive study.

Analysis of Character Development

Charlie Gordon is the protagonist of the novel. At the book's opening, Charlie is a mentally disabled man, who struggles to fit in with society and grapples with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority caused by his learning difficulties. The surgical procedure aims to enhance his intelligence, which induces a profound change in Charlie's psyche, including his intellectual capacity, altering his social status, and enhancing his self-esteem.

The change that the surgery induces alters Charlie's emotional and cognitive development significantly. Yet, it causes complications, such as abandonment by his loved ones and his return to his former cognitive state at the end of the novel, leading to tragic implications.

Exploration of Ethical Dilemmas

The experimental surgery leads to many ethical dilemmas that arise throughout the novel. One ethical dilemma, for instance, is the procedure's effect on people's lives, namely, the protagonist's life. The surgery initially increases Charlie's intelligence, leading to a transformation that impacts the whole of Charlie's life.

The novel delves into the ethical implications of artificially enhancing intelligence, presenting potential consequences of Charlie's enhanced intelligence's impact on society. This increase in intelligence does not go as smoothly as hoped, with some of the drawbacks forcing readers to contemplate the costs of advancing science.

Examination of Themes

The theme of intelligence runs throughout the book. Keyes presents intelligence as a coveted, yet a double-edged sword that brings substantial personal and societal responsibilities. Additionally, the theme of identity is a significant part of the novel, from Charlie's identity as a disabled man before the surgery, and his transformation into a brilliant scholar, to his identity crisis when he returns to his original state. Empathy, another central theme in the book, features in Charlie's social relationships and how this trait is impacted by his intelligence.

Literary Devices and Writing Style

Keyes uses literary devices such as symbolism and metaphor to create a world where a mentally disabled man is transformed into a smart, intelligent human. One notable example is the titular character, Algernon, who represents Charlie's possible fate, having initially undergone the same procedure. Additionally, the characters' emotions and experiences are addressed directly, which creates a personable, yet informative read.

Impact and Relevance of the Novel

"Flowers for Algernon" received critical acclaim upon its publication, with Pulitzer Prize recognition among its accolades. Additionally, the book has provided insight into the intellectual and social challenges faced by the mentally disabled. The novel's place in contemporary society is to help raise awareness about and empathize with individuals with cognitive difficulties, leading not only to greater understanding around the world, but increased efforts in support of those with developmental disabilities.

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The novel "Flowers for Algernon" has poignant themes of identity, empathy, and intelligence. It presents essential ethical and moral considerations made throughout the narrative. By analyzing Keyes' work, society can better understand the challenges that the developmentally disabled population faces today. Keyes' novel has helped to shed light on these issues even through its engagement of modern readers, as it continues to be a timely text, with lessons for all.

  1. Shapiro, J. P & Keyes, D. (2005) "Flowers for Algernon: A Study Guide." NY: Westport Spring.
  2. Pryse, M. (2019). "The ethical implications of scientific advances explored in fiction and film." TEDx Talk, forthcoming publication.
  3. Keyes, D. (2004). Flowers for Algernon. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.
  4. Černý, M. (2010). The Stigmatization of Disability in Literature, Film, Television and New Media. Journal of Literary Theory. 4(1), 101-117.
  5. Hollinger, (1997). Science Fiction, Aging, and the Future. The Journal of Aging and Identity, 2(2), 99-109.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Flowers for Algernon: An Analysis. (2024, January 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
“Flowers for Algernon: An Analysis.” GradesFixer, 30 Jan. 2024,
Flowers for Algernon: An Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Apr. 2024].
Flowers for Algernon: An Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jan 30 [cited 2024 Apr 13]. Available from:
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