In this book, a retarded man enlists in an experimental program to make him smarter after trials were successfully done on rats. The story is told in the first person through his prognosis reports, where we see the effects of his IQ jumping from 70 to 180. He shares his realizations as his intelligence increases:
I think it’s a good thing about finding out how everybody laughs at me. I thought about it a lot. It’s because I’m so dumb and I don’t even know when I’m doing something dumb. People think it’s funny when a dumb person can’t do things the same way they can.[…]
Most of them felt the way Joe and Frank and Gimpy did. It had been all right as long they could laugh at me and appear clever at my expense, but now they were feeling inferior to the moron. I began to see that by my astonishing growth I had made them shrink and emphasized their inadequacies. I had betrayed them, and they hated me for it.[…]
I don’t know. I’m like an animal who’s been locked out of his nice, safe cage.
His emotional intelligence is lagging behind that of his intellect, causing a lot of problems in his relations with people. There is a red pill element to this book as the protagonist, Charlie, makes his way out of the cave and into the light.
“Just that you’ve come a long way kind of fast,” he said. “You’ve got a superb mind now, intelligence that can’t really be calculated, more knowledge absorbed by now than most people pick up in a long lifetime. But you’re lopsided. You know things. You see things. But you haven’t developed understanding, or— I have to use the word— tolerance. You call them phonies, but when did either of them ever claim to be perfect, or superhuman? They’re ordinary people. You’re the genius.”
His intellect becomes so strong that he identifies a major flaw in the experiment that indicates his intelligence will degrade back to its starting point. His suspicion is confirmed when a rat used in the experiment, Algernon, starts to lose his intelligence. He realizes that there is now a clock ticking for him to get everything done while he still considers himself whole. I consider this a parable to life itself. Don’t we all have clocks over our heads where we will be unable to do what we currently take for granted?
What has happened to me? Why am I so alone in the world?[…]
No, you don’t understand because it isn’t happening to you, and no one can understand but me. I don’t blame you. You’ve got your job to do, and your Ph.D. to get, and— oh, yes, don’t tell me, I know you’re in this largely out of love of humanity, but still you’ve got your life to live and we don’t happen to belong on the same level. I passed your floor on the way up, and now I’m passing it on the way down, and I don’t think I’ll be taking this elevator again.
Charlie’s decline was gripping because deep down you know it will happen to you in one way or another. If you’re the sentimental type then don’t read the end of this book while in public. Highly recommended.
Read More: “Flowers For Algernon” on Amazon