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The author of the novel Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes, conveys the idea that brilliance does not always lead to wisdom or happiness, because gaining intelligence could open the door to issues you may not have had or known about.
Intellect does not necessarily have a correlation with judgment. Charlie writes as a postscript in his final progress report: “please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he woud have more frends”. Nemur is portrayed as egotistical, and feels irrationally threatened by anyone that might be smarter than him, leading his colleagues to loathe him. Despite being a brilliant scientist, he lacks the judgment to understand that his jealousy and resent is immature. When pressed for advice on a moral decision, Alice, Charlie’s teacher, tells Charlie, “In some ways you’re so advanced, and yet when it comes to making a decision, you’re still a child. The answer can’t be found in books”. Charlie just recently started gaining knowledge at an incredible pace, and despite being a genius, he’s emotionally immature. Charlie relies too heavily on his knowledge, and when it’s time to make an important moral decision, his lack of judgment is made evident. Wisdom is having knowledge, and having the judgment to know what to do with that knowledge, but even the smartest people could be imprudent.
Intelligence alone is not enough to bring joy. Charlie gets into a drunken argument with the men responsible for his change in intelligence, and tells them how he really feels about it: “Intelligence that hasn’t been tempered by human affection isn’t worth a damn.…When I was retarded I had lots of friends. Now I have no one”. Charlie is unable to have a serious lasting relationship with anyone, as a friend or romantically, after his transformation. Nemur and the others encourage him to focus only on gaining as much knowledge as possible after his transformation, and while he advanced rapidly intellectually, he stays emotionally underdeveloped, partly leading to his loneliness, and then depression and anger. Soon after the argument, Charlie has a realization: “I was an arrogant, self-centered bastard. I was incapable of making friends or thinking about other people and their problems. I was interested in myself, and myself only”. Charlie’s incessant arrogance drives many of his colleagues and mentors into despising him. As Charlie gets smarter, he gets increasingly ignorant to what people think of him, and his lack of self-awareness results in him growing more and more despondent as he’s not sure why he has no friends. Knowledge has the ability to bring happiness, but in certain scenarios, especially well-illustrated in Charlie’s extreme example, it can lead to depression or anger.
Newfound intelligence can bring undesirable truth. Alice gets in an argument with Charlie, and says, “Before you had the operation, you weren’t like this. You didn’t wallow in your own filth and self-pity, you didn’t pollute your own mind by sitting in front of the TV set all day and night, you didn’t snarl and snap at people”. Before Charlie has the operation, he is polite and happy, but for most of the period from then until he recedes back to his original state, he is cynical and nihilistic. This is because he realizes how terribly some people treated him just because he was intellectually disabled. Soon after his change in intelligence, Charlie is invited to a party by his friends, and after having been ridiculed and taunted he realizes: “I never knew before that Joe and Frank and the others liked to have me around just to make fun of”. He has the revelation that practically no one in his life before the surgery really cared about him. Charlie loses all of his friends after his gain in intelligence either because they find the unnatural change immoral, or Charlie realizes they were never his real friends, and only thought they were because they wanted to keep someone with a learning disability around to mock. Charlie’s depression is caused by his new insight into how cruel people could be.
Knowledge is no measure of reason or compassion, and a lack of emotion or affection could be brought on by maturing intellectually.
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