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Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

#138: June - Aug. 2015 (Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

Please use this thread for discussing Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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Before he gets smart, the moron Charlie cannot understand things very well. FFA uses good examples to demonstrate his lack of intelligence. A first one, quite frustrating for Charlie, is when his doctors ask him to do a Raw Shock test. Charlie explains that he did not spill the ink on the page and they can't blame him for that. He looks hard at the ink blobs, and it is very clear to him that there are no pictures hidden, and they literally are just blobs of ink. He does not understand when the doctor asks him to imagine things that the ink reminds him of.

Daniel Keyes, the author, uses this standard psychological test to illustrate to the reader the nature of low intelligence. Charlie explains that his doctors tell him he has an eye Q of 68.

This discussion of moronism is important and valuable, to help people deal with episodes where they or others do not understand what other people are saying. It often happens in reading a book that we start to dream, and then go back over a page and realize that we missed some important piece of information. Such little gaps could be seen as the start of a slippery slope into a condition where we bring home the bacon but no one knew.

Many would have experienced the frustration of a Rubik's Cube, where even with the instructions somehow we lack the spatial intelligence to remember how to complete it.

George Orwell has a key concept in his book 1984, which he terms 'protective stupidity'. It illustrates that in politics people can be deliberately obtuse, acting like a Charlie and saying the Raw Shock is literally ink on paper and nothing else.
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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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It's getting interesting, I'm about 60 pages in.

I'm worried, people have described it as a sad story, and Charlie is such a likable and sympathetic character.
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Taylor

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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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Dexter wrote:
It's getting interesting, I'm about 60 pages in.

I'm worried, people have described it as a sad story, and Charlie is such a likable and sympathetic character.
It is a very interesting story, I started reading FFA Sunday morning and finished the entire read Sunday night.

As to the sadness of it all;

I found myself to be somewhat conflicted, It may be that from time to time I'm not a very empathetic person, but I found that I was at times impatient with the main protagonist's, slowness on the uptake of what was developing before their eye's. The type of cluelessness that is inherent in Charlie was at time's very trying. Then in the case of the Doc's, there's this separation from the human that over rides inpatient's with Charlie, and instills an animosity towards institutional medicine. The idea of being a lab rat is disconcerting.
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Robert Tulip

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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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It is almost a year since Daniel Keyes, the author of Flowers for Algernon, died age 86. FFA is very unusual as a science fiction story, because it was set clearly in the here and now, New York of the 1950s, and presents a story which is entirely possible and involves almost no suspension of disbelief, but is entirely realistic. Its focus, which is why it is so celebrated, is on the psychological impact of the medical experiment.

The opening chapters set the platform, based on Keyes’ extensive experience in psychology. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Keyes explains that Keyes worked in the US Maritime Service on oil tankers from the age of 17 and then got a BA in psychology, before going to work with Marvel Science Stories, precursor of the famous comic empire.

Keyes won the Hugo Award in 1959 and the Nebula Award in 1966 for FFA, missing best Hugo novel in 1967 when FFA was pipped by Heinlein with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. FFA is on many school curricula, but has been removed from libraries, ostensibly for the sexual content rather than the discussion of disability. I suspect that there are concealed agendas in people’s reactions against FFA, with many people preferring an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to anyone who is perceived as a retard.

With the current language about ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘differently abled’ promoted in place of such terms as disabled, moron, imbecile, idiot, retard and spastic, it is interesting to see how these words rapidly take on a pejorative emotional meaning, used as insults for people who are actually normal. There is also the sense that if you call someone disabled you condemn them as never able to survive independently. Advocates wish to emphasise the human dignity of everyone, and this is a theme later in FFA. Children especially can be intensely cruel towards anyone with a disability, and part of growing up is learning to treat people better. But part of this is that people learn to conceal ingrained prejudice due to the social disapproval that comes from being openly cruel.

A key theme emerging from the start is the strong empathy and understanding that Keyes has for mental disability. The way people look after Charlie in the bakery, even though they tease him, illustrates how people can find a place for people who can survive in the world despite low intelligence.
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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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I remember this story. It was especially popular with junior high readers, and I don't mean to put it down by saying that. It's a modern fable, I think, rather than an example of sci-fi, but then again perhaps the best sci-fi has moral weight.

I agree with Taylor, too, about the artificiality of the plot, but for all of that, the story furnishes food for thought. As Robert was saying, there is an interesting history to disability, which is mirrored in the ways we refer to people who fall below the norm. Ever think of how your life would be if the norm was "Eye-Q" 160, and you or I were mired in our measly 120 or so? We'd be put in a special program.

For the record, the current non-offensive term for Charlie, pre-genius treatment, is intellectuallby disabled. That is supposed to sound less pjorative than the earlier "mentally retarded," but I think a case can be made that it really isn't. It's just new and so hasn't been around long enough for stigma to attach to it.
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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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Socrates wrote:Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light,
The epigraph for Flowers for Algernon is from Plato’s Republic, from Book 7, the Allegory of the Cave. It is worth reading Republic Chapter Seven in full http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html because it seems that much of the inspiration for Flowers for Algernon can be found in it, for example in Socrates’ comment that ”certain professors of education must be wrong when they say that they can put a knowledge into the soul which was not there before, like sight into blind eyes.”

Starting with this first quoted sentence, it is obviously true that we can’t see when we are dazzled by going from the dark into the glare of sunlight, or equally when we shift from brightness into dark without giving our eyes time to adjust. The allegory here is the challenge for Charlie to adjust first from dark to light, as he is transformed from moron to genius, and then, if the experiment fails, from light back to dark.
Socrates wrote:which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye;
Plato’s concept of the ‘mind’s eye’ is remarkably difficult for many people to understand. Intelligence is the sense of the mind, and relies on logic, reason and acuity of mental perception. This is a major theme in philosophy, since many people have wrongly assumed that when Plato talks about ideas (forms) he is suggesting that somehow spiritual entities are material, when in fact his perception with the mind’s eye is purely conceptual. Socrates is saying that intelligence can be dazzled as easily as sight can.
Socrates wrote:and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh;
Here we find one of the great themes of Flowers for Algernon, how we can treat morons with dignity. Unfortunately, mental defects can be more crippling than blindness.
Socrates wrote: he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light.
This is a further fascinating dilemma which touches on another great theme, emotional intelligence. Plato is asking if someone like Charlie’s strangeness is due to mental superiority or inferiority, and implying that it can be difficult to tell.
Socrates wrote: And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other;
The implication is that enlightenment produces happiness while darkness produces suffering, a very Buddhist line of thought.
Socrates wrote: or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.
From the start, this line from Plato in the epigraph indicates the potential tragedy in Flowers for Algernon, that what can be given could also be taken away, and that the medical experiment to increase Charlie’s intelligence will result in the floral wreath of mourning.
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Re: Flowers for Algernon: progris riport 1 martch 3, progris riport 2 martch 4, and 3d progris riport

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As an educator, I have worked with many students who have low IQs like Charlie. The way the author illustrates Charlie's dialect is very accurate to what I hear and see on a daily basis. This book has become very special to me over the years because It relates to some of the children I work with. While the character of Charlie could be called a moron, I am eager to see what he achieves and if he becomes smarter. I hope and pray for him that he does great things, and does things he had always dreamed of. Regardless of IQ, people who may be challenged intellectually still teach a society a lot and change others lives. I can't wait to see if this is the case for Algernom.
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