Banned Books: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Charlie Gordon is going to be the first human being whose IQ is increased by surgery. He is thirty two years old, works at a bakery, and has an IQ of 70. Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur have been conducting experiments to increase intelligence and have found success with one particular mouse, Algernon. Now they want Charlie to undergo the same procedure as Algernon, undergoing surgery and subsequent testing. Charlie who has always yearned to be smart and have friends is highly motivated. The surgery is a success and Charlie, like Algernon, is a phenomenon. Charlie’s mind is opening but his maturity and emotions are also changing and it’s a struggle for him to become this intelligent and respected man, when the memories of his past and the understanding of his circumstances are constantly intruding and making their presence known.
                Flowers for Algernon is an ingeniously crafted story. The novel was told through the eyes of Charlie in the form of Progress Reports. He is supposed to write down all the things that are happening to him throughout the course of this experiment. It is through these progress reports that we experience the story of Charlie. It is such a simple and honest form of storytelling. In the beginning Charlie’s reports are barely legible, lacking any kind of punctuation or structure and filled with misspelled words. Slowly but surely their structure begins to change and the sentences have new meaning. His outlook on life is beginning to change. He is very honest and upfront with his emotional struggles and the memories he is dealing with. Charlie is very aware that everything he is writing will eventually be shared with the world and his eagerness to make a difference for people like him is obvious throughout.
                I’m not sure where to begin honestly. This novel was amazing. It beautifully captures one mans journey into understanding life, love, languages and the world in general. Keyes started with a simple man who wanted only friendship and to be more than what he was. The history of his family is revealed throughout the story and the effect that childhood traumas have had on his day to day activities is essential to the man he has become. It is the reason behind his motivations and his yearning. It is also a hindrance for him when he begins learning and begins to outstrip those who have worked to increase his intelligence. It is always lingering and threatening to, in many ways, destroy him. There were moments while reading this novel where my heart was literally breaking because of the cruelty he endured. The moments where he realized how na├»ve he had been was almost worse than the moments where he relived his past. I was rooting for Charlie the entire novel. I wanted him to be happy. I wanted his fate to not follow the path of Algernon who was slowly starting to deteriorate.
                Now Flowers for Algernon has frequently been challenged and banned. It is ranked in the top 100 books banned by the American Library Association from 1990-1999. Sexually implicit passages and language seem to be the main reason this book was banned in places like Emporium, Pennsylvania and Glen Rose, Arkansas and challenged in cities in Wyoming, Ohio and Florida.  There were no complaints about the way in which adults with mental disabilities were treated and disrespected which was a much more prevalent issue throughout the novel. It seems that sex will always be a sensitive issue with novels even when handled delicately. Are people just prudes or are they scared of sexual revelations? Keyes handled every aspect amazingly but when people are unsettled they find reasons to prevent others from experiencing those same emotions even if it is enlightening.

Challenged and Banned: Flowers for Algernon 
Munley, Kyle  October 3, 2008

100 Most Frequently challenged books 1990-1999


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