Flowers for Algernon (Keyes)

Flowers for Algernon 
Daniel Keyes, 1966
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780156030083

With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life.

As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance—until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie? (From the publisher.)

The book became the 1968 movie Charly with Claire Bloom and Cliiff Robertson as Charlie, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Author Bio 
Birth—August 9, 1927
Where—Brooklyn, New York, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., Brooklyn College
Awards—Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction; Nebula Award
Currently—Boca Raton, Florida

Daniel Keyes is an American author best known for his Hugo award-winning short story and Nebula award-winning novel Flowers for Algernon. Keyes was given the Author Emeritus honor by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2000.

At age 17, Daniel Keyes joined the U.S. Maritime Service as ship's purser. He obtained a B.A. in psychology from Brooklyn College, and after a stint in fashion photography (partner in a photography studio), earned his M.A. in English and American literature at night while teaching English in New York City public schools during the day and writing weekends.

In the early 1950s, he was editor of the pulp magazine Marvel Science Fiction for a publisher Martin Goodman, who also published the comic book lines Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, the 1940s and 1950s precursors, respectively, of Marvel Comics. After Goodman ceased publishing pulps in favor of paperback books and men's adventure magazines, Keyes became associate editor of Atlas Comics, under editor-in-chief and art director Stan Lee. Circa 1952, Keyes was one of several staff writers, officially titled editors, who wrote for such horror and science fiction comics as Journey into Unknown Worlds, for which Keyes wrote two stories with artist Basil Wolverton. From 1955-56, Keyes wrote for the celebrated EC Comics, including its titles Shock Illustrated and Confessions Illustrated.

Flowers for Algernon was published initially as a short story in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The story won the science fiction field's Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction. The 1966 novel, which added several new story threads including a sexual relationship between Charlie and his former teacher, was joint winner of the Nebula Award in 1966. The novel has been adapted several times for other media, most prominently as the 1968 film Charly, starring Cliff Robertson (who won an Academy Award for Best Actor) and Claire Bloom.

Keyes went on to teach creative writing at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, and in 1966 became an English and creative writing professor at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, where he was honored as a professor emeritus in 2000.

A 1988 edition of his novel Flowers for Algernon states he was a member of the English department at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, circa that year. This was an error in a special leatherbound collector's edition.

Keyes' other books include Fifth Sally, The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Touch, Unveiling Claudia, and the memoir Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
Flowers for a technician's maze. ...That it works at all works at all as a novel is proof of Mr. Keyes's deftness. And it is really quite a performance. He has taken the obvious, treated it in a most obvious fashion, and succeeded in creating a tale that is convincing, suspenseful and touching—all in modest degree, but it is enough. The obvious part is the message: We must respect life, respct one another, be kind to those less fortunate than ourselves."
Eliot Fremont-Smith - New York Times (1966)

Strikingly original....
Publishers Weekly

Absorbing... Immensely original... Going to be read  for a long time to come.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Flowers for Algernon

1. Discuss the moral implications of Dr. Nemur's experimental surgery. What are the competing motivations behind Nemur's desire to perform, and Charlie's agreement to undergo, the operation?

2. Talk about Charlie's flashbacks to his childhood and life before meeting Nemur and Strauss. What do those remembrances suggest about the historical treatment accorded to the mentally challenged? In fact, what does it say about us as a society that today we use the term "challenged" rather than "retarded"? Has our treatment improved...or not really?

3. How does Charlie feel when he attends the convention in Chicago? How is he treated by the scientific community?

4. The question of identity surfaces in this work. Is Charlie, after the operation, the same person he was before the operation? Charlie fees a sense of disconnect with his past—to what degree does our past define us as human beings?

5. Why does he not reveal himself to his father?

6. How does Charlie change by the end of the novel? What does he come to learn about the gifts of superior intelligence? What trade-offs are involved as Charlie develops his genius... and, again, as he begins to revert to his previous state?

7. What does Algernon represent to Charlie? What are the parallels between their conditions?

8. Talk about the differences between Nemur and Strauss in terms of how they view or practice science.

9. How about the style of writing? While reading Flowers, did you find the misspellings and grammatical errors of Charlie's early progris reports irritating and distracting? Did it get in the way of the story for you? Or did you find the style authentic in a way that enhanced Keyes's storytelling?

10. Watch the 1968 film adaptation, Charly, either all or selected clips. How closely does the movie follow the book? Where and how does it differ?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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