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Using Daniel Keyes, “Flowers for Algernon” Essay

Many feel that the mentally challenged are put through the many hardships of prejudice and maltreatment by people who lack the knowledge and understanding of their mental conditions. Usually what people don’t know about, they consider strange or awkward and this is the case with the hardships of the mentally challenged. Prejudice, maltreatment and ignorance towards the mentally challenged are illustrated by the novel, Flowers for Algernon.

In Flowers for Algernon, Charlie Gordon, being mentally challenged, goes through many experiences when he is pre judged by many people, especially those who claim to be his friends. These ‘friends’ of his have the wrong ideas and wrong views when it comes to the mentally challenged. They believe that if an amputee has no limb then maybe a retard has no brain, which is completely irrelevant.

“Joe Carp said hey look Charlie had his operashun what did they do Charlie put some brains in” (Keyes, 16)

Just because someone is mentally challenged is no reason for believing that they are not capable of learning or doing anything and that is exactly what his ‘friends’ and many others did to Charlie.

“…I asked Joe Carp how he lerned to read and if I could lern to read to. He laffed like he always done when I said something funny and he says to me Charlie why waste your time they cant put any branes in where there aint none.” (Keyes, 19)

The hardships of prejudice that are faced by Charlie in his retarded state later change the way he looks at the world in general.

Along with prejudice, Charlie, was also maltreated by his ‘so-called’ friends and many other people, including his own mother. Rose, Charlie’s mother, wanted so much for Charlie to learn and become somebody in life and she did not want to accept that he was mentally challenged. This was not really helping him much.

“He is afraid to go there alone. He reaches up to her hand and sobs out: “Toi-toi…” and she slaps his hand away.” (Keyes, 55)

Charlie was not only subjected to physical abuse and maltreatment but he also received emotional maltreatment from the people at the bakery by allowing Charlie to believe that he is one of their friends, but really is not treated as a friend should and is instead treated as the subject of their jokes.

“Then Frank Reilly said what did you do Charlie open a door the hard way. That made me laff. Their my friends and they really like me.” (Keyes, 16)

Maybe if Charlie’s mother and his fellow workers knew more about his conditions, then there may have been less maltreatment and abuse toward him.

Maybe if everyone knew more about the conditions of the mentally challenged, then there may have been less subjection, for Charlie and other retarded people, to the many hardships the exist.

“It don’t mean nothing,” laughed Frank. “It don’t hurt him. He don’t know any better. Do you, Charlie?” (Keyes 42)

Even his own mother did not really make much of an attempt at learning more about her son’s conditions. She did not even want to see the truth of Charlie’s problems and thought that if he cannot do it, she had the right to disregard him.

“…go to the washroom. Go by yourself. You know how to go.” “Can’t you see he wants you to take him.” (Keyes 53)

At times she even tried to beat knowledge into him but instead of learning whatever it was his mother was teaching him, he was emotionally scarred. It’s a pity to imagine that this could be happening anywhere and that it may not just be a story.

In Conclusion, Flowers for Algernon helps demonstrate how the mentally challenged are judged and treated badly because of the lack of knowledge people have of them. The prejudice Charlie faces is mainly caused by is caused by ignorance people have of his conditions which eventually leads to his maltreatment. All people should take some time to think and learn more about what is happening and being done to make mentally challenged people go through the many hardships they go through.


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