Notes on Characters from Flowers for Algernon

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Flowers for Algernon Major Characters

Charlie Gordon: Charlie Gordon is a thirty-two year old retarded man. He works at Donner's Bakery and attends reading classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. Recognizing Charlie as a hard-working and friendly young man, doctors at Beekman College choose him for an experimental brain operation that raises his IQ of 68 to that of a genius. Charlie's intellectual progress is astounding; he learns obscure languages and performs complex mathematical equations. This intelligence comes with a price, however. Charlie's stimulated memory allows him to recall painful abuse from family and friends. He becomes bitter, arrogant, and lonely, and his 'emotional retardation' interferes with his love for Alice Kinnian. Tragically, Charlie discovers a flaw in the experiment and he realizes that his mental regression is inevitable. With little time remaining, Charlie visits his estranged family and spends time with Alice. At the end, Charlie commits himself to the dismal Warren State Home and Training School.

Dr. Strauss: A psychiatrist and neurosurgeon, Dr. Strauss is Professor Nemur's partner in the experiment. Strauss performs the surgery and conducts Charlie's therapy sessions. He recognizes that Charlie's intellectual growth has outstripped his emotional development, and he worries that Professor Nemur's experimental results are premature.

Professor Nemur: Professor Nemur is the egotistical mastermind of the experiment. Nemur often aggravates Charlie by referring to him as non-human before the experiment. The professor arrogantly believes that he created Charlie, and that Charlie should be grateful. As Burt explains, Professor Nemur may seem conceited, but he is really just an ordinary man attempting to help mankind. Furthermore, Nemur's home life is difficult. His wife, Bertha Nemur, is a controlling woman who pushed him into the premature presentation at the Chicago convention.

Alice Kinnian: Alice is a young, beautiful, brown-haired reading teacher at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. She recommends Charlie for the experimental brain surgery because she considers him good-natured and hard-working. When Charlie's intellect progresses, Alice and Charlie's platonic, teacher-student relationship becomes a deep and passionate connection. Charlie loves Alice, but his adolescent subconscious interferes with their intimacy. At his peak intellect, Charlie's arrogance makes Alice feel self-conscious and inferior. However, when Charlie's mind begins to regress, the couple reconnects and consummates their love. Alice stays with Charlie during his mental regression until he angrily sends her away.

Algernon: A small white mouse who is the first animal test subject to have retained his artificially-increased intelligence. Charlie and Algernon run mazes in the Beekman laboratory under Burt Selden's supervision. Charlie identifies with the mouse, especially when it becomes apparent that the experiment is flawed and mental regression is inevitable. Algernon becomes erratic, listless and forgetful. The mouse eventually dies, and Charlie buries him under a bouquet of wildflowers in the backyard.

Minor Characters

Burt Selden : A psychology graduate student at Beckman College. He administers the Rorschach test and conducts races between Charlie and Algernon through the maze. At the psychology convention in Chicago, Burt disapproves of Charlie's overly harsh criticism of Nemur and Strauss. He tells Charlie that scientists are ordinary men attempting the extraordinary, and he advises Charlie to be more tolerant.

Uncle Herman: Charlie's Uncle Herman took custody of the young boy when Rose Gordon threatened to send him to the Warren State Home and Training School. Herman secured work for Charlie in his best friend's bakery before he died.

Rose Gordon: A meticulous, bird-like woman, Charlie's mother was cruel to her retarded young son. Before the birth of her normal child, Norma, Rose constantly tried to change Charlie. Denying his retardation, Rose brought Charlie to numerous doctors and forced him into normal schools. Her constant criticism, sharp slaps, and emotional neglect often led Charlie to wet his pants in terror. After Norma's birth, Rose Gordon's attitude switched to aversion. In a particularly painful memory, Charlie recalls how Rose pulled out a knife and threatened to harm him unless he was sent immediately to the Warren institution. Charlie's drive to become smart results largely from his mother's constant pushing and rejection. When he realizes the inevitability of his mental regression, Charlie visits Rose in his old childhood home. He tries explain that he is not retarded; that an experiment made him smart and Rose can finally be proud of him. Somewhat senile, Rose does not understand. In a bizarre reenactment of the past, Rose threatens her son with a kitchen knife and Charlie leaves the house in tears.

Matt Gordon: Charlie's father, who always defended and accepted him as he was, unlike Rose Gordon. During Charlie's childhood, the high cost of Charlie's phony medical visits prevents Matt, a salesman, from accomplishing his dream of opening a barber shop. Later, acting on a tip from the newspaper, Charlie visits Matt at Gordons Barber Shop in the Bronx, but does not reveal his identity to his father.

Norma Gordon: Charlie's sister and Rose Gordon's only pride and joy. As a child, Norma resented having a retarded brother. When Charlie indirectly ruined her chances for getting a dog, Norma rejected her brother and treated him cruelly. When familial permission is required for using Charlie in the experiment, the Beekman doctors contact Norma. Later, when Charlie visits his childhood home, Norma is surprisingly happy to see him. Matured and sensitive, Norma realizes that Charlie was sent away because of Rose's concern for her welfare. Norma begs Charlie to live with them in the house; times have been tough and Norma needs her big brother's help.

Joe Carp: Joe Carp and Frank Reilly taunt Charlie at the bakery, but Charlie thinks his friends are simply laughing because they like him. A mean-spirited jokester, Joe constantly concocts plans to humiliate Charlie. Frank and Joe get Charlie drunk at a bar and then ditch him, they try to make him look foolish by making him work the complicated dough mixer on April Fool's Day, and Joe trips Charlie on the dance floor at a party. Charlie realizes that Joe and Frank are not his friends; they are stupid people who mock the less-fortunate to make themselves feel superior.

Frank Reilly: A jerky coworker at the Bakery who joins Joe Carp in making fun of Charlie. Frank Reilly is a fast talker and ladies man who follows Joe's lead in humiliating Charlie.

Gimpy: Gimpy is a club-footed baker in Mr. Donner's bakery. He often defends Charlie and shows him kindness. Charlie remembers how Gimpy compassionately rewarded him a shiny good-luck piece even though he failed to learn how to make rolls correctly. With his increased intelligence, Charlie makes the astonishing discovery that Gimpy has been stealing from Mr. Donner by undercharging regular customers and pocketing the change. What is worse, Charlie realizes that Gimpy used him as an unwitting accomplice during deliveries. Charlie implies that he will tell Mr. Donner about the theft only if it continues, and Gimpy bitterly gets the hint.

Mr. Donner: Mr. Donner promised Herman, his best friend and Charlie's uncle, that Charlie would always have a place to work in his bakery; he would never allow Charlie to be sent away to the Warren State Home. Donner is a kind-hearted man and a fair boss. When Charlie's unexplained intelligence and peculiar behavior frightens his coworkers, Mr. Donner is forced to fire him from the bakery. During Charlie's tragic regression, however, Mr. Donner kindly takes him back.

Fanny Birden: A sympathetic cake decorator at Donner's Bakery who defends Charlie against their coworkers' cruel wisecracks. Years ago, Fanny referred Charlie to the Beekman Center for Retarded Adults when she learned of his desire to read and write.

Dr. Guarino: A fat, balding quack doctor who performs phony procedures and cheats patients out of their money. Guarino straps Charlie to a blinking, buzzing machine weekly, claiming that repeated sessions will increase his intelligence. Young Charlie becomes so upset that he wets his pants. Rose Gordon, desperate to make her son normal, forces Charlie to continue

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