Main Symbols And Elements in Flowers for Algernon

February 15, 2021 by Essay Writer

Symbols and motifs play an important role in Flowers for Algernon. Select at least 3 and explain their meanings and effectiveness.

Flowers for Algernon is an intense story about a retarded man, Charlie Gordon, who after an experimental operation, has is intelligence triple. The story follows his journey to intelligence and subsequent deterioration back to retardation. The story is told from the point of view of Charlie through progress reports he writes. Symbols and motifs are an important part of every story; they allow the author to covey themes and messages in different ways. Three important symbols and motifs in Flowers for Algernon are flashbacks, Little Charlie, and Algernon. Daniel Keys uses all of these to convey themes of intellectual disabilities as well as ideas on the past and the future.

An important theme in the story is flashbacks, starting soon after his operation Charlie begins having flashbacks to particularly traumatizing incidents in his childhood. These flashbacks continue throughout the story. Many of these incidents from his childhood have some sort of effect on present day Charlie and his actions and emotions. One memorable incident of this is Charlie’s inability to engage in sexual relationships, due to an incident from when he was young that ended with Rose beating him.

“He’s got no business to think that way about girls. A friend of his sister’s comes to the house and he starts thinking like that! I’ll teach him so he never forgets. Do you hear? If you ever touch a girl, I’ll put you away in a cage, like an animal, for the rest of your life. Do you hear me?….” (122, Keyes). Charlie has this flashback after becoming aroused by Alice. When Charlie was young he only had two emotions, fear and happiness, because of this treatment by his mother, Charlie learned to equate sex with fear. Making them so connected, that even after Charlie starts gaining intelligence sex equals fear. Charlie may have gained IQ, but he was still not emotionally intelligent. Until Charlie grew up emotionally his past continued to affect his present.

As Charlie develops, he starts to recognize what he calls, Little Charlie, the Charlie from the past, before the operation. Little Charlie is always there, watching, he is a symbol for Charlie’s emotional growth. Charlie explains Little Charlie to Alice like this,

“Not only did Charlie exist in the past, he exists now. In me and around me. He’s been coming between us all along. I thought my intelligence created the barrier…But that’s not it. It’s Charlie, the little boy that is afraid of women because of things his mother did to him. Don’t you see? All these months while I’ve been growing intellectually, I’ve still had the emotional wiring of the childlike Charlie. And every time I came close to you, or thought about making love to you, there was a short circuit” (201,202, Keyes). Charlie says it best; Little Charlie is (big) Charlie’s emotional level. He cannot love Alice because he still has the emotional scars from his mother beating him. Love takes emotional intelligence, and Charlie does not have that yet, as demonstrated by Little Charlie. Charlie also continues to revert back to his old intelligence (little Charlie) when he drinks too much, showing that Little Charlie is still present in him.

One of the most important symbols in Flowers for Algernon is Algernon himself. Throughout the story, Algernon is used as a literary device to foreshadow what will happen to Charlie. Towards the later half Algernon’s life Charlie describes his behavior, “He seems listless and confused…Instead of the careful determined movements down the maze corridors, his actions are rushed and out of control. Time and again he turns into a corner too quickly and crashes into a barrier. There is a strange sense of urgency in his behavior” (214, Keyes) Algernon’s erratic behavior and movements mirror Charlie, who later in the story devotes himself to his work with the same sort of rush. Charlie also loses motor function in the same way as Algernon did. What happens with Algernon will happen with Charlie. Another example is that Algernon’s intelligence reverts back to the levels that it was before the operation, the same way Charlie’s does. When Algernon dies it is foreshadowed that Charlie will soon die as well, although it never explicitly says that Charlie dies in the text, because of his life following Algernon’s it is assumed Charlie will die as well.

Flowers for Algernon is a powerful story about intellectual disabilities. The symbols and motifs throughout the story further the themes of the story. They allow the reader to more deeply connect with the story and its meanings. The themes in the story are exemplified by the symbols and motifs of flashbacks, little Charlie, and Algernon. Charlie Gordon overcomes retardation, only to revert back to it again, throughout he is the same person inside, no matter the IQ level, overall what difference do a few IQ points make; a person is a person, no matter what.


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