Essays, Personal, Psychology, Reflections, Society
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Flowers for Algernon – Knowledge and Distrust

Where do I even begin to discuss this book? With everything that has happened over the course of my life, the impact now is more profound than if I read the book any earlier than I did. To put it simply, it is about the journey of a man who undergoes an operation that lifts him from ignorance to knowledge.

The book contains a multitude of themes I have yet to ruminate over, but here I want to discuss the issue of knowledge breeding distrust. As Charlie becomes smarter, he wants to learn more to know more about himself. Through that process he realizes that the people around him all have something to hide; they all have imperfections. He becomes ashamed of himself as well, because of his own past and imperfections. His coworkers at the bakery, though they take care of him, laugh at him because of his lack of mental acuity. The professors who performed his intelligence enhancing operation are not motivated by his well-being but rather their own professional advancement. His mother tries her hardest to make him smarter, yet it is because of her own fears of producing an abnormal child. The moment his sister demonstrates normal intelligence, his mother sends him away.

Yet, that is not to say these people in Charlie’s life are bad and deserve punishment. We all have that capacity for evil, we all have that darkness within each of us. Furthermore, we are all constrained by our own personalities, circumstances, and pressures. This point is worth repeating, as it is representative of the people in our own lives, and it is something I have struggled with.

I struggle with the balance between the need to know, to trust, and to forgive/forget that arises from knowing humanity’s darkness. Perhaps, my own pursuit of knowledge (in the general sense) is much like Charlie Gordon’s: impartial, manipulative, and selfish. Like him, I need to know and I need to know why. Do I really need to? Even when the why is given to me, I question its truth, unable to trust myself and to let go of what I know.

Some things are best left alone, some things are best forgotten, and some things are best forgiven. Yet, I have struggled. I empathize with Charlie’s insecurities driving his need to know and to prove himself, leading to destructive personal relationships after his ascension to intelligence. He ends up being fired from the bakery where he worked for seventeen years. He destroys the relationship with Professor Nemur who developed the technique that led to his intelligence enhancement. He fights with his own selves, past and present, until he realizes his own imperfections.

In a way, knowledge is suffering. How true that statement can ring. The moment you find out about something, you will never unknow it and it often leads to distrust of those around you. The more you know about the dark side of the world, the easier it is to fall into a dark spiral of distrust, especially once your realize your own darkness. The moment Charlie finds out about his coworkers behaviors towards him, he finds himself unable to be friends with them. When he finds out that Nemur is not as smart as he claims to be, Charlie no longer respects him. Thus, this destructive cycle goes on until Charlie finds the emotional maturity and intelligence to empathize, as shown by his love and relationship with Alice Kinnian, who treats him equally from the beginning to the end.

Charlie grows up emotionally and finally tries to balance knowing, trusting, and forgiving because he is no different from any one. He sets out to mend his relationships, to find some semblance of peace before the end.

Charlie Gordon says, “[I]ntelligence and education that hasn’t been tampered by human affection isn’t worth a damn…Intelligence is one of the greatest human gifts. But all too often a search for knowledge drives out the search for love. Intelligence without the ability to give and receive affection leads to mental and moral breakdown, to neurosis, and possibly even psychosis.”

So where are you on your journey?

There is more to be said, but I need to compose my thoughts.

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