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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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This is a guest post by Martin Dugas.

“Flowers for Algernon”, a 1959 short story by Daniel Keyes, is about a human test subject whose intelligence significantly increases after undergoing a special surgery.

Summary

Charlie Gordon, the main protagonist, is a sweet-tempered and mentally disabled man. He has an I.Q. of 68 and works a menial job. He is selected to undergo an experimental surgical technique to increase his intelligence. This technique has already been successfully tested on Algernon, a laboratory mouse. The surgery on Charlie proves to be a success as well; his I.Q. triples. He surpasses everybody intellectually, including the scientists who performed the surgery on him. But as his intelligence increases, he becomes unable to relate to others who were once smarter than him.

The story is told through a series of journal entries written by Charlie.

“progris riport 1-martch 5, 1965

Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that happins to me from now on, I dont know why but he says its importint so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart. My name is Charlie Gordon. I am 37 years old. I have nuthing more to rite now so I will close for today.”

My thoughts on this story

This is one of my favourite stories. The use of progress reports written by Charlie is very effective to tell the story. I also like the fact that some important themes are explored in the story: the treatment of the mentally disabled and the conflict between intellect and emotion or happiness.

Here are a few lines that struck me:

“How strange it is that people of honest feelings and sensibility,who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes–how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence.”

Interesting tidbits

  • Word count: 11,745
  • In 1958, on submitting the story to Galaxy Science Fiction magazine, the editor suggested changing the ending. Keyes refused to make the change and sold the story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • It won a Hugo award for best short story in 1960.
  • It was voted third out of 132 nominees for a Nebula award in the late 1960s (when SFWA decided to give Nebula Awards retroactively).
  • In 1961, it was adapted for television in the drama The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon.
  • It was expanded into a full novel and was published in 1966 by Harcourt Brace.
  • In 1968, it was adapted into a movie: Charly.
  • In 1978, it was adapted into a Broadway musical called Charlie and Algernon.
  • It was adapted into a television drama in 2000.
  • Both in its short-story format and its full-length novel, it is part of many school curriculums.

Where to find the story

  • Flowers for Algernon was published for the first time in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1959.
  • It was reprinted several times in different magazines during the subsequent years.
  • You can read it online here.
  • You can also read it in the book The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One published in 1970.

One thought to “Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes”

  1. I just bought the novel. I read the short story twice. This is one of those rare SF stories that transcends genre and becomes a mainstream classic. I love it too.

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