Flowers for Algernon Themes and Symbols
Ignorance Is Bliss
Charlie is shown to be an ambitious man with the mental capabilities of a child. Charlie seems to live blissfully in ignorance before his intelligence as he believes his bullies at work are his friends and he thinks highly of them. He also seems to have suppressed his painful childhood memories of domestic abuse. After his new found intelligence, Charlie is upset and ashamed to find out that his ‘friends’ only use him as a clown for amusement.
He also remembers horrifying stories of his violent and neurotic mother and sister. Charlie’s newfound intelligence makes him unhappy and even alienated him from everyone he knows. It seems intelligence is not all what Charlie thought it would be.
Intelligence versus Innocence
Before his procedure Charlie had childlike innocence that made people like Fanny Birden and Alice Kinnian warm up to him and treat him with kindness and respect. Charlie was constantly a victim in some ways, but he also had people who admired him and sympathized with him. However, Charlie’s procedure and his intellectual progress made him conceited, rude and unsympathetic.
This shift in character led Charlie to be alienated even from the few people who cared about him. His condescending attitude mirrors that of Nemur. In essence, intelligence seems to come with a coldness of heart and a disregard towards others.
Charlie and Algernon are often compared to each other as they are both test subjects of the same procedure and are treated in the same condescending way by Nemur. However, Algernon seems to symbolize and foreshadow Charlie’s intellectual journey and progress. Algernon’s intellectual deterioration is a symbol and foreshadowing to that of Charlie’s. Algernon’s death at the end also foreshadows Charlie’s possible death.
Adam and Eve
Allusions to the biblical story of Adam and Eve occur many times throughout the novel. Adam and Eve were innocent and happy in the Garden of Eden up until they ate from The Forbidden Tree of Knowledge.
As a result Adam and Eve are punished by God and banished from the Garden of Eden to live an unhappy life. Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Tree of Knowledge and are a symbol of Charlie and his brain surgery that gives him unsurmountable knowledge, but ultimately leads him to a state of depression and disillusionment.