Study Guide

Algernon in Flowers for Algernon

By Daniel Keyes


Hey now—don't discount the little guy just because he's fuzzy and likes his cheese. There's a lot going on in Algernon's head, though we'll just have to guess what it is. We know he's a gourmand, for one—the way he whizzes through those mazes, you know there have to be some tasty nibbles waiting at the end. Because Charlie and Algernon are going through the same thing, Charlie projects some human emotions onto his tiny buddy, but it's also safe to say that Algernon is legitimately one emotionally complex rodent. He's been on one long, strange trip after all.

He's No Mickey Mouse

Just call him the world's smallest Olympian. Here's what Charlie says about Algernon's superior skills:

He was the first of all the animals to stay smart so long. (31)

In other words, a whole bunch of other critters didn't make the cut. Algernon might not have had smarts to begin with, but he sure has the drive to succeed. Remind you of anyone? Nemur and Strauss think Algernon is in it for the food—and who isn't?—but Algie is plowing through those mazes like a cat is chasing him. In other words, Algernon has an agenda to be the speediest and smartest mouse this side of the Mississippi.

And lookee there, he's already gaining a fan club: "I dint know mice were so smart" (4.8), Charlie says as he watches Algernon go at the maze time and time again, already plotting out how to mimic him.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Everything Charlie does, Algie does better. Maybe that's because he was numero uno to go through the surgery, but it could be because he's even more under Strauss and Nemur's thumb than Charlie is. Both of our surgically enhanced friends didn't really have the capability to decide whether to go under the knife, and both of them get the dubious privilege of being résumé-boosters for the scientists at Beekman.

So if you're really interested in getting a glimpse into that mousey mind of Algernon's, check out Charlie's reactions to living life large with an extra-large brain. Feeling isolated, wanting romance, and having an existential crisis? Check, check, and check. Except while Charlie has the world as his playground, Algernon gets to experience all of these lovely emotions from the inside of a cage. It gives a whole new meaning to the term hamster wheel.

Rebel with a Cause (and Paws)

We get a rare glimpse into Algernon's mouse-psyche when he makes a break for it at the Chicago conference. Sure, Charlie lets him out of his cage, but Algernon gives his grand escape careful thought:

As I opened it he looked up at me and paused. Then he turned, darted out of his cage, and scampered across the long table. (162)

Okay, it's hard to know exactly what's going on in Algeron's not-so-pea-brain, but we're willing to bet that split-second pause is all about Algernon weighing freedom versus the merits of being a science experiment.

The Cheese Stands Alone

Outside the lab, Algernon is the ultimate bachelor—and a Yankees fan. "He likes pretzels, and today he took a sip of beer while we watched the ball game on TV" (172), Charlie tells us. Hold on—those sound like some awfully human characteristics. It sounds like Algernon's big brain came with a side of human desires and motives that make him, well, into a totally different mouse.

If it isn't enough to cope with being a Yankees fan, Algernon's got a hankering for a lady friend—at least, Charlie thinks he does. When Algernon first meets Minnie, a female white mouse "about half Algernon's size," it looks like love is in the air. But as Algernon's mental capacities shrink, so does his tolerance for romance: Charlie finds Minnie "bleeding from a gash in her chest" (214) in the cage.

Is it possible Charlie isn't the mouse mind-reader he seems to think he is? Let's get real. The whole book is written from Charlie's perspective, so we might not be getting the whole Algernon story.

Snap, Crackle, Pop

When Algernon finally snaps at his best buddy Charlie, all we have to say is ouch. Charlie tells us how it goes down: "His teeth caught my sleeve and he hung on until I shook loose" (14.214). Why so snap-happy, Algie? Well, there are some serious wheels turning in that unhinged mind—the poor little rodent has no idea why his smarts are fading, so he takes it out on the nearest human being. After all, isn't Charlie his guardian and best friend?

So yeah, Algernon has a hankering to bite the living daylights out of Charlie, but he might also be trying to pass a message along to the guy, albeit one that comes with bite marks. He's hanging on for dear life to Charlie, trying to do his best to keep an anchor to a world that's slowly slipping away. Is it a stretch to suggest Algernon is trying to convey his sense of desperation? Maybe. But we are talking about the smartest mouse in the world here, so all bets are off.

The End is Near (Or is it Here?)

Welp, things aren't looking too good for Algernon as his brain starts to slowly melt. Again, Charlie fills us in:

Algernon lies in his own dirt, unmoving, and the odors are stronger than ever before. (16.238)

Stinky couch potatoes don't usually get our sympathy, but this seems like a major exception—the word we're looking for is apathy, and Algernon seems to have it in spades. He doesn't care anymore, and he's fine with showing Charlie and the rest of the world how completely pathetic he is.

But is this even Algernon? Hear us out. We know that Charlie views himself before the surgery and after the surgery as two completely different people. It's safe to say that Algernon went through some kind of identity crisis after he turned into a genius, and now all he's got is a slipping sense of reality and a bunch of dirt. We'll never know who the real Algernon is because duh, he can't speak, but this sad little rodent does seem like a shell of his former self.