Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

by Kristopher Cook
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Book Review and Analysis - Kristopher Cook

The story of Charlie, a simple guy, who’s given the unique opportunity of becoming smart. A recent experiment on a lab rat, Algernon, resulted in his intelligence and problem-solving skills going through the roof. Thus resulting in him being able to solve difficult mazes in a matter of minutes.

Undertaking this experiment on Charlie results in his 70 IQ increasing way beyond the average persons, changing his life forever. However, Charlie will soon realise that great intelligence doesn’t necessarily lead to a better quality of life. In fact, his life becomes even more complicated when Algernon’s condition deteriorates. This leaves Charlie worried that the same may happen to him.


Initially written as a short story in 1958 and winning the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960, the story was later built upon and novelised in 1966. The book is categorised as Science-fiction due to its use of scientific experiments but the overall tone of Flowers for Algernon is certainly geared more towards drama.

I’ve not read many Sci-fi books before so I don’t have too much of a comparison but as I say, it’s much less aliens and more everyday working lives.

Flowers for Algernon Review

Charlie Gordon, 32, works as a cleaner at a local bakery where he has been since he was released from a local state institution.

Initially, this situation suits Charlie as it allows him to work and interact with others in society as well as attend English classes for ‘retarded adults’. It’s here that he falls for his teacher, Alice, and as his intelligence escalates, she too begins to show an interest in him.

There comes a point though when his intelligence reaches way beyond hers and Charlie begins to overshadow those around him, making them feel belittled in his presence. Non-more-so than Professor Harold Nemur, who’s in charge of the experiment and sees Charlie as nothing more than a lab rat; much like Algernon.

Charlie comes to realise that intelligence is mainly due to the strength of one’s memory. This strikes Charlie a painful blow. Repressed memories come flooding back to him as he struggles to cope with his increased fame and intelligence.

'I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.' Click To Tweet

Writing Style

Written as a set of reports, by Charlie, the book spans from Charlie’s life working in the bakery all the way up to his peak intelligence of 185 IQ. Starting out, the reports have drastic grammatical errors as Charlie is at his lowest IQ, where he’s also struggling to get to grips with his English lessons.

Nevertheless, these errors slowly decrease as Charlie attends more lessons and his IQ grows. He also gains a new understanding of words and how they can be used to convey different meanings. It’s these little moments that add to the charm of Charlie Gordon.

Closing Thoughts

Flowers for Algernon caught me completely off guard and I wasn’t expecting the emotional weight that this story carries. Charlie is an endearing character throughout, even at his lowest points you can’t help but side with him. Charlie appears to take up the surgery because of his need to please others; his mother, his teacher, his employer.

By ‘getting smart‘ he believes he’ll gain more close friends to socialise with and begin meaningful relationships. The story is not only touching, for its portrayal of mental illness, but similarly for its rich characters who all seem alive within the story.

Have you read Flowers for Algernon? What did you think? Leave a comment below and if you liked this review please share it with others on social media.

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