Flowers for Algernon/
Observations on Love and Memories
My dearest Wally,
I hope you can forgive me, my friend. I’ve been meaning to write you for quite some time. But in all honesty, the past several months have been very difficult. Something silly happened to Mr. Ryan and, well he got distracted and he lost interest in writing. Yet all is well now. Gratitude has a way of lifting one’s spirit. I’ve learned that the sun always rises in the morning and if you are able to witness its awakening you should consider yourself blessed.
Fortunately, I am beginning to hear the songs of birds again. I’ve gotten back into the habit of singing. But most importantly, I’ve been buying myself some flowers. Yes, it would be great to have someone to give the flowers, but it’s just as equally important to take care of yourself. Here’s a secret, and you must promise me you’re not going to tell anyone I told you about it. As much as us grownups like to appear as if we have it all together, that isn’t always the case. No, we get anxious too. Last year was an extremely challenging year for everyone. Especially us adults. There was a lot of loss and uncertainty. Many people were lonely. And almost all of us were at times anxious. But that’s where you come to mind, my dear friend. Because of you, I’ve been able to revisit some stories from my childhood. Stories with characters who have stayed with me. What are some of your favorite books?
I’m a fan of science fiction as a genre because, in my humble opinion, it creates the space to ask difficult questions in the most imaginative ways. Like you, I had a small group of friends when I was your age. But there were many perks to being a wallflower. For one, a wallflower has no choice but to observe the comedy of life. Through observation, the flower notices things about other people that are difficult to witness from the center. Mind you, this in no way makes the wallflower better than anyone else. Like pieces in a massive puzzle, everyone is intentionally designed to be a part of the greater whole. If anything, being a wallflower can be difficult, isolating. But despite the struggle, the wallflower’s piercing observations about life do have the potential to broaden other people’s perspectives. And that my friend, is a gift one should never be ashamed of.
Outside of being an observer, a wallflower learns to become friends with his imagination. One of the ways I would feed my imagination is with books. Books allowed me to connect with others, well, characters. I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Even though life was sometimes uncertain, I could always easily get lost in the pages of a novel. My favorite style of literature was the epistolary novel. Are you familiar with it? Well, an epistolary novel is typically a collection of letters, notes, or journal entries. I’m a fan of the epistolary novel because, well one, they’re quick and easy to read, and two, it's nice to imagine that you have a friend who has taken the time to share their life with you when you spend a great measure of time alone.
Let’s see… there’s Alice Walker’s The Color Purple - read that if you want to cry.
Goethe’s Sorrows of a Young Werther – highly tempting if you’re feeling thunderously passionate.
Steven Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower - a must for anyone who has ever felt misunderstood.
Rilke’s Letter’s to a Young Poet – A wonderfully inspiring collection of letters that are well suited for any blossoming young artist.
I mean, the list goes on, and I would highly suggest you read them when you find the time. But the story that’s been on my mind the most lately is Daniel Keye’s Flowers for Algernon. Despite the title’s romantic implications, it’s a sad story about the friendship between a man and a mouse—a man and a mouse with the same mind.
The story is presented as a series of progress reports written b y a name man Charly Gordon. Charly is 32 years old and he has an IQ of 68…Please forgive me my friend, sometimes Mr. Ryan forgets that you’re only 16 years old. How about this? Close your eyes and imagine an adult man who has the thinking ability of someone in third grade. Got it? Great.
During the day, Charly works a simple job as a janitor at a plastic box company. He tells the reader that some of his coworkers are his friends. But he senses that there is something wrong. For whatever reason, his “friends” only enjoy his company when they are laughing at him, or when they ask him to do silly things. Charly also notices that his friends rarely invite him anywhere outside of work. Even though he enjoys their company, he doesn’t like the way he feels when he’s with them.
Sometimes when someone is lonely, he doesn’t like pain being by himself, in fact, the pain can be so overwhelming he’ll make an intentional decision to avoid the truth.
And the truth was that Charly was 32 years old with a learning difference that made most adults uncomfortable.
The truth was that Charly was 32 years old and he had never been in a romantic relationship before. More than anything, he wanted to share his life with someone.
Ok, I know right now you’re thinking relationships are awkward or are not that important, but you just wait young man. Trust me by the time you turn 32, you’ll begin thinking that life may be better if you were to spend it with someone by your side.
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes…this is where it’s gets fun. In the evening, Charly participates in reading and writing classes at the Beekman College for Retarded Adults. Now, in this day in age we don’t use the word “retarded” but you have to keep in mind this book was originally published in 1959. Adults had odd ways of describing people’s differences during that time. Fortunately for Charly, his teacher Miss Kinnian, loves working with people who are considered different. I’ve found that in life, we are all blessed to meet at least one person who nurtures our differences. For Charly, that person was Miss Kinnian. I’ve also found in life that there are people who persuade us to question our differences. This is where Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss come into play. They also work at Beekman College, but as mad scientists pursuing questionable research. The two partners in crime visit Miss Kinnian’s class and give presentation to students about a new medical procedure they’ve developed. This new procedure has the ability to increase someone’s intelligence. They have yet to perform the experiment on a human, but they have managed to achieve some level of success with a lab mouse named Algernon. Algernon is quite the star. Algernon is three times more intelligent than your normal lab mouse and he is gifted at solving complex puzzles.
Professor Nemur and Dr. Strausse do warn however, as with all new medical procedures, this one comes with its risks. It could be fatal.
In spite of the risk, Miss Kinnian believes that Charly is the most promising student because of his curiosity.
Charly, on the other hand, thinks about his friends always laughing at him.
He thinks about all of the time he spends alone.
He thinks about how much he has always desired to have someone to love by his side.
Without hesitation Charly agrees to do the procedure.
Ok, I promise I’m not going to summarize the whole book. In fact, Mr. Ryan would prefer that you read it. And then write me back telling me your overall thoughts. It’s important that you learn to think for yourself. For now, I would like to focus on the relationship between Charly and Algernon. You see, after the procedure is complete, Charly does get all he wants, and more. Within months he is smarter than Professor Nemur and Dr. Strauss, so much so that they begin to fear him. And his friends at the bakery avoid him. Now that Charly is intelligent, his coworkers know that he can see right through them. Their suspicions about Charly lead his coworkers to sign a petition to have him removed from the factory.
Sometimes when people feel guilt for being cruel, they try their best to remove the source of their guilt at all costs. Even if the source is another person.
As all of this is happening, as Charly’s mind expands, and the space between him and other adults widens. He gets closer to Algernon. Charly understands Algernon. He sees value in a friend that other people regard as a test subject. Through the eyes of other people, Algernon is an experiment that is to be closely observed, scrutinized, dissected. But in Charly’s eyes and heart, Algernon is always a companion worthy of gifting flowers. Yes, what makes this novel so remarkable is that this highly intelligent man, near genius, always finds it necessary to gift his dear friend flowers.
Wally, I think about how admirable that is. In real life, there is a saying amongst us adults. “People only give you flowers at your funeral.” In many ways its true. Especially for most men. I mean it’s not of the custom to give a man flowers. But I’ve been thinking what if? What if? There is something to be said about honoring the value of someone you admire. It doesn’t always have to be romantic. It can simply be that you appreciate them being here because you highly respect them.
When I lived in New York, I met this wonderful man who liked to garden. He loved flowers. He was extremely intelligent and kind. He had amazing taste in music. He was highly cultured and fluent in another language. He even traveled to other countries to better the lives of small children. He was noble. He was a real man. Anyway, like Algernon he became ill. He was terribly sad. Sometimes when people have broken hearts and they are sad, the pain is overwhelming. When someone stands like a monument of strength and confidence in your imagination, it’s difficult to envision them suffering. At the time, I wasn’t aware of how sad he was because we hadn’t talked in nearly a year. I assumed he was fine. I assumed my thoughts of respect for him wouldn’t have made any difference. But if there is one thing I learned from his passing, it’s that one should never assume anything.
If I could turn back the hands of time, if I could risk sounding like a fool, If I could take a chance at appearing overly sentimental. I would have told him how I really felt, yes, I would have bought him flowers.
As always, Wally, it’s been my pleasure writing to you. Please do me a favor, if you can, take the time to buy yourself some flowers. Even if you don’t like them, you may find yourself surprised by some of their secrets.
“The last time we were here,” I said, “I told you I liked you. I should have trusted myself to say I love you.” ― Daniel Keyes, Flower for Algernon
“He plants a tree and his mind travels a thousand years into the future, and he sees visions of the happiness of the human race. People like him are rare and should be loved.” – Anton Chekov, Uncle Vanya