The Many Voices of Charlie Gordon

On the Representation of Intellectual Disability in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon
  • Howard Sklar


Like many SF novels, Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon relies on a technological “advancement” in order to shed light on the challenges of the present. In Flowers, that technology comes in the form of an experimental neurological operation that, if successful, will make the novel’s intellectually disabled narrator-protagonist, Charlie Gordon, highly intelligent. In a typical first-person Bildungsroman, a unified narrative voice recounts the experiences of the protagonist’s life at a point in time that occurs after, or at the end of, the sequence of events that the novel describes. The technological device that drives Flowers complicates this convention in several significant ways. The novel is composed of short journal entries, or “progress reports,” that Charlie has been asked to write in order to record the results of the operation. Charlie indeed grows in intelligence and self-awareness, and the journal entries thus provide a nearly real-time account of Charlie’s development during this period. Ordinarily, the compressed time span of Charlie’s involvement with the experiment would provide limited scope for an overview of his life; however, the dramatic changes caused by the experiment produce a radically condensed version of his life, from the metaphorical “child” that opens the narration to the self-aware “adult” that he gradually becomes. As a result, it is difficult to locate Charlie’s true voice, as he perceives his experiences through varying levels of disability and capability.


Intellectual Disability Progress Report Club Foot Disable People Condensed Version 
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© Kathryn Allan 2013

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  • Howard Sklar

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