Flowers for Algernon
Title: Flowers for Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
Publication Date: 1959
Flowers for Algernon Literary Guide
Written in 1958 by Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon has received widespread global attention over the decades on account of its sensitive content and moral biases. It has been published as a short story and a novel, with the latter expanding in more detail on the characters and the message of the author to his audience. The original short story, despite garnering criticism, also won several awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1960 and the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1966. It has also been a direct inspiration in several works of music, dance, and cinema, including an episode of The Simpsons.
Keyes wrote Flowers for Algernon over fourteen years, inspired by deeply personal incidents, and based his characters on people he knew in real life. Written as an epistolary novel (in the form of a diary or letters), it is a science fiction story about the heightened intelligence of a mentally disabled man after successful surgeries and innovation. However, it is also a marker of scientific transgressions and the lack of humanity in scientific advancements.
The ideas for Flowers for Algernon began in the mid-forties, while Daniel Keyes was still pursuing his studies. He had a conflict of career interests with his parents because he wanted to pursue writing and they wanted him to have a medical career. This drove a rift between Keyes and his parents and made him wonder about the consequences of heightened intelligence.
In 1957, Keyes was teaching English to special needs’ students and one of them asked if he could become a part of a “normal” classroom if he worked harder and became smart. Keyes also noticed regressive changes in another special needs student who was removed from a regular classroom—both these incidents became pivotal to the plot of his book where the protagonist Charlie is a mentally disabled man who undergoes surgery to become more intelligent, but shortly, regresses and is worse off than he was originally.
The character of Algernon was inspired from a dissection class at university and the characters of Nemur and Strauss were based on psychoanalysts that Keyes interacted with.
The book was rejected by several publishers, some of whom demanded a change of plot or climax which Keyes stoutly refused. Eventually, it was first published by Harcourt in 1966.
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