"You’re Not the Same Kind of Human Being": The Evolution of Pity to Horror in Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon

Brent Walter Cline


Key words: mental disability, Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon, pity, narrative theory

Of American novels that engage with the topic of mental disability, few are more popular than Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon. Such popularity seems based on a simplistic reading of the novel where the mentally disabled are objects of good-natured compassion. A more thorough reading of how Charlie Gordon is presented, however, leads to the conclusion that mental disability is the embodiment of death in the novel. Readers are first taught to pity the pre-operative Charlie, but once they come to respond to the ethical voice of the post-operative Charlie, his regression to his original state becomes the rhetorical villain in the novel. At first an object of pity, the mentally disabled Charlie Gordon eventually becomes the metaphorical horror of oblivion that no character has the power to overcome.


mental disability; Daniel Keyes; Flowers for Algernon; pity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v32i4.1760

Copyright (c) 2012 Brent Walter Cline

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