Flowers for Algernon: does intelligence create personal happiness?


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Flowers for Algernon is a science fiction story written by Daniel Keyes. The short story was written in 1959. It was first published in April 1959. In 1960, the story won Hugo Award for the best short.  Algernon is a mouse within a laboratory who has recently undergone surgery. In the explication, the core reason for the surgery was to increase intelligence through artificial means. It was narrated by the series of progress reports that were written by Charlie Gordon who was the first human subject for surgery. In addition, the short story touches on varied ethical and moral themes that Harding details in his memoir in 2016. Some of the themes that are majorly covered within the explication are the treatment of those who are mentally disabled.

It is clear that there is a relation between intelligence and happiness in the short story. From the story, it is thought that intelligent people are happier than less intelligent ones. The situation is caused by the fact that intelligence is more vital for a human being for the purpose of life continuity. In the outside world, according to Veenhoven & Choi (23) survival for a human being during difficult times constitutes a great advantage. To an individual, intelligence elicits problem-solving ability; which is highly needed in daily life. Alternatively, intelligence is needed by individuals as they harbor potentially to steer one towards achieving their goals in life. The reason behind this success is because they are able to think of finding ideas to construct a form to accomplishments.

According to Veenhoven & Choi, other reasons exist as to why happiness is highly related to with intelligence. From this illustration comes the question; does intelligence always bring happiness? In the book ‘Flowers’ for Algernon, the relationship between happiness and intelligence is investigated why Charlie Gordon who went through surgery so as to increase his level of IQ. In a successful endeavor, the level was increased from sixty-eight two hundred and eighty-five.

Keyes exposes a protagonist Charlie Gordon who is a thirty-two-year-old man and is mentally handicapped with an IQ level of sixty-eight. Network city is his residence yet has no clue about his parent’s whereabouts. As the story unfolds, Charlie has a background working as a janitor both as a baker and a delivery guy. The low level of his intelligence evidently affected his way of thinking and it created credulity that later purifies his thoughts from malevolence. The reason that drove him to attend classes from Alice Kinnian who works in Beekman College for slow adults is his ambition to become fluent in reading, writing and become smart like other adults around him (Sovbetov 14).

The situation in the novel can be adapted to real life and to the societies. In every society, people with mentally related issues are regarded as second-class citizens. Despite the fact that they need to be treated with an excess of sensitivity, they are treated with low respect and sometimes mercilessly. Such people as noted by Sanders (14) encounter discrimination in “every aspect of life”. Examples of sections of life that these people face discrimination are in life experiences, health, and during the course of education. Sometimes, they are treated as objects of entertainment in societies with their lack of education. In my view, the treatment is due to the fact that they are probably not considered as human beings.

Considering the environment depicted in the piece by Keyes, happiness is evidently devoid. There is an evident difference before and after the protagonist has undergone the intelligence surgery. Centrally, these people feel extra comfortable about themselves and their families need to be sensitive concerning their condition. Families have to accept the fact that those people have varied perception from other people in life. Due to this, they should be treated with susceptibility warped with guidance to shape their perception. Therefore, every individual having these life challenges have to take build awareness and “get prepared for the negative approach from the outside” (Nikolaev & McGee 4). “Flowers for Algernon” outlines part of the great suffering of Charlie after the surgery, yet the view and aspirations for the procedure were to achieve betterment. The suffering escalated because of his family’s attitude towards disability.  Therefore, it became hard to accept the level of intelligence before surgery was high because people had perceptive thoughts of him as being less human.

Intelligence as a perception creates happiness and in contrast, despite Charlie’s disability, he was tolerated by his family; especially his mother and sister. One of the contributing factors is that his mother used to offer great affection which sends a lure signal to the protagonist and his life perception. Though there was a denial of the existence of low intelligence from the mother, it finally got a hold of Charlie. The happiness is expounded by mother’s positivity as she viewed his son as being normal in comparison to others. She did not have a mindset that Charlie had a serious mental condition.

The idea that Charlie is not confronted with sadness before going for surgery, is a creation that I cherish. He was not able to draw conclusions and even unable to reason about the events that were happening around him. Moreover, the condition is pointed out as ‘ignorance is bliss’ since his mental retardation affected his intellectual abilities. Charlie’s situation can be related age and happiness and is, for instance, said that a child can encounter less sadness than an adult. This comes as result of nature of credulous where the means of intelligence, social and economic development of an elementary child has a great difference from that of an adult. I submit that when people grow up and mature, they go through an improvement period.

Cline (2) explains that from the life that a person lives, it brings them intellectual, social and emotional development and such a fete is better expressed as the process of development called maturation. Clearly, maturation brings an ability of judgment. It also draws conclusions about what is happening around someone and eventually leads to sadness. In other words, it is said that people have to grow up, drive negativity into their perception for them to be sad. Centrally, that is the reason why children do not encounter much sadness. To Charlie, mental growth can be related to child’s brain at that point as this is illustrated when one changes from a retard to a genius give a symbolism that he is growing into adulthood.

When Charlie’s intelligence increased, he started to face some difficulties. Initially, he realized that his workmates were always making fun of him before his IQ was improved by the experiment. One day Charlie and his workmates went for a party and they forced Charlie to dance with a girl called Ellen. Intelligence began to come over him after the operation. He remembers and realizes that people whom he has normally seen as his close friends made fun of him. They were using his disability as a subject for their entertainment and did mock him big time and felt the seclusion from social gathering and friend hangout.

When one faces a negative and repetitive description of what seems to be the truth, they begin to feel pain which it leads one to experience anger. This circumstance befell Charlie and led to being downhearted right from the time people started to move away from him. In other instances, he began to realize his expectations that people would be proud of him after the experiment. But all was a delusion.

Adding more sorrow to his life, he was fired from Donner’s Bakery. He became more intelligent to know the situation that he caused due to the changes he underwent surgery. People can change perception, hence, personality which influences the IQ in a positive manner. In relation to the episode by Keyes, Charlie ended up losing his affectionate character and turned into an arrogant person and cold person. All this happened because he wanted to create a defense mechanism against the outside world he has just met. On the other hand, intellectual growth eventually surpassed his emotions after the operation. For that reason alone, he decides to go through changes via intelligence operation. In view of Agriani piece of work and thoughts on the flower of argon, I submit that the very change in perception and actions towards a negative feel became the origin of obstacles in his social and emotional life. In the concept, sadness was created by the bondage between intelligence and awareness. Despite the alteration progress, one can easily go back to the old and may begin to lose their sense of value awareness and starts to be happy again.

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Life experiences shape one inner source of happiness and the measure of the driving force. One can decide to fashion their life through positive perception and engaging in their passion and genuine source of happiness. For that reason, Charlie decides to take up a job again at Donner’s Bakery. To his surprise, coworkers had a changed perception of his attitude to life and his whole being and now begun to be nice and protective to him after his emphasis of regression. This resulted in reoccurring happiness and better conditions cause by Charlie going back to his original state. It is clear that as expected, intelligence did not bring him happiness as instead, it brought more sadness to Charlie. What he wanted brought him more fears and caused his alienation for the sense of intelligence. In every aspect of research, the relationship between intelligence and level of happiness is a vital aspect. Therefore, I can assert that intelligence is not a necessity for happiness.


For one to find a relation between intelligence and happiness, he needs to first investigate what it is about intelligence that leads to happiness. In most instances, intelligence leads to success and therefore, happiness. Since intelligent people have the bigger opportunity of making their dreams come true and achieve their goals, they are likely to be happy. Chances of living of better conditions are higher as compared to those having lower IQ.  Alternatively, not all people with intelligence can be successful. Therefore, intelligence was not enough for Charlie to get happy. With your natural intelligence, you can reach great success. Among those individuals who have succeeded with their intelligence are; Wallace Carothers, Newton, Ludwig Boltzmann, Allan Turing, among others. Though it is doubted that they reached happiness because of the level of intelligence that they possessed. The book, on the other hand, outlined that some of them decided to end their life with a proof of profound sadness. Therefore, for humanity, it is said that most and those having less happy individuals are humans due to their awareness of life. Regrettably, this awareness reaches a point where intelligence brings more misery. From this prospects, intelligence is seen as a greater channel for unhappiness.

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  1. Agriani, T. (2017). Translation Shift and Spelling Error Analysis found in the Indonesian Translation of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The Journal of Scientific Social Studies1(2), 1-9.
  2. Cline, B. (2012). “You’re Not the Same Kind of Human Being”: The Evolution of Pity to Horror in Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. Disability Studies Quarterly32(4).
  3. Harding, K. (2016). Flowers for Algernon. Practical Neurology16(1), 80-80.
  4. Keyes, D. (2017). Flowers for Algernon. [Place of publication not identified]: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  5. Nikolaev, B., & McGee, J. (2016). Relative verbal intelligence and happiness. Intelligence59, 1-7.
  6. Sanders, B. (2012). Flowers for Algernon: steroid dysgenesis, epigenetics, and brain disorders. Pharmacological Reports64(6), 1285-1290. (12)70926-x
  7. Sovbetov, Y. (2014). Does Employee Happiness Create a Value on Stocks? (The Employee Dynamics, Abnormal Stock Returns, and Market Efficiency). SSRN Electronic Journal.
  8. Veenhoven, R., & Choi, Y. (2012). Does intelligence boost happiness? Smartness of all pays more than being smarter than others. International Journal of Happiness and Development1(1), 5.
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