Flowers For Algernon
Alice Walker
Contributed by Jennefer Ruano
Chapter 14

Charlie opens this report by referring to his "escape." The media have picked up the story, and Charlie reads a newspaper article in which his sister and mother are interviewed. The article notes that Rose and Norma haven’t had any contact with Charlie for seventeen years. In the article Norma comments that she thought that her brother was dead, since she had been told this by her mother, until she was approached to give consent for Charlie to participate in the experiment. Norma does, however, ask that anyone who knows Charlie’s whereabouts contact the family. The article also notes that Charlie’s father is now estranged from his mother. A picture of Rose in the article makes Charlie anxious, as he recalls his mother’s dual nature, one of loving acceptance and one of harsh physical treatment. He now questions whether he should seek them out. He has another memory where his parents argue about institutionalizing him, his mother desperately calling for it and his father taking a stand against it. For now Charlie decides not to contact his relatives.

Charlie gets another apartment close to Times Square. It has a piano which he thinks he may learn to play. He has picked up the phone to contact Alice but has not gone through with it. Charlie reserves the second bedroom for Algernon and plans to construct an elaborate maze in it so that Algernon can continue learning. Charlie accidentally locks himself out of his apartment and meets his neighbor, Fay Lillman, a painter with a manic personality. Her apartment is a mess, but Charlie finds her strangely attractive. Fay accompanies Charlie to his apartment and comments on his overly organized nature; she also asks him for some money. When Fay enters Algernon’s room, she thinks the maze is a modern sculpture. Charlie lets Algernon run through the maze, and Fay playfully discusses the ways that it could be seen as art.

Charlie decides to visit his father, who now owns a barbershop in the Bronx. He reviews what he remembers about his father and notes that he admired the man because he had taken Charlie for what he was, had always defended him, and had treated him as a human being. His father’s shop is in an impoverished part of the city. Charlie recognizes his father, but his father doesn’t recognize him. A nervous Charlie jerks as his father shaves him, causing his father to accidentally cut him. This prompts Charlie to recall the night his father took him away to the Warren home. His parents had a loud argument during which his mother complained that she didn’t want him in the house another day because he was ruining life Norma’s life. Rose picked up a knife and threatened to kill Charlie, saying that he’d be better off dead. Matt took Charlie to his Uncle Herman’s house.

When the haircut is finished, Matt holds up the mirror for Charlie to see the work. The multiple reflections send Charlie’s mind spinning, making him wonder who the real Charlie Gordon is. He becomes suddenly ill and struggles to decide whether to reveal himself. He ends up leaving without identifying himself.

Charlie continues to create more complex mazes for Algernon. Algernon no longer requires food as motivation; the mouse seems to want to learn for the sake of learning. Yet Charlie has noticed some abnormalities in Algernon’s behavior.

Fay visits Charlie and brings a female mouse for Algernon. The next time Charlie sees Fay she is drunk and with a man. Fay invites Charlie to come to her apartment, but he refuses. At home, alone, Charlie imagines Fay and the other man making love. He hears an argument develop in Fay’s apartment and the man leaves. Moments later Fay appears at Charlie’s apartment, and the two of them discuss the events. Fay says that she didn’t bring the man home to sleep with her, but Charlie replies that she had to expect some sort of advances. Fay notes that though she didn’t sleep with the man, she might sleep with Charlie. She says she can’t figure him out and asks if he’s a homosexual. Charlie vehemently denies this, and the pair begin to kiss. But Charlie feels somehow removed from the situation; there’s no real passion in the act, and he tells her that he’s not feeling well. Fay asks to spend the night anyway. She gets Charlie drunk, they end up in bed, and Charlie awakens the next morning with a hangover. When Charlie asks Fay if he was drunk the night before, she tells him that he acted very strangely, talking about how he wanted to learn to read and write, as if he were truly dimwitted. Charlie thinks that being drunk somehow tapped into the old Charlie. Perhaps the old Charlie never really went away, he ponders.

Charlie goes to the movies and restlessly wanders from one film to the next, prompting him to realize that he is longing for human contact. He ends up at a diner, where a young boy of limited intelligence drops a tray of dishes. As some of the customers heckle the boy, Charlie becomes angry and shouts for them to stop it because the boy is a human being too. Charlie leaves the restaurant and feels ashamed of his actions. He starts to feel that he should devote his time and intelligence to helping others become smarter. He vows to ask the Welberg Foundation to allow him to pursue the issue. He also notes that he can no longer stand to be alone; he has to contact Alice.

Charlie calls Alice and visits her. She remarks how worried they have been about him, but Charlie tells her not to scold him, that he needed time to reflect. Charlie discusses how the old Charlie is still inside of him; he’s simply been pushed into the recesses of his mind. He notes that he believes he has changed recently, that he can’t solve his problems alone and that he needs someone else to help him. He understands that he needs the company of others. Charlie fantasizes about making love to Alice, but again his subconscious, the old Charlie, won’t let him. Then he has an idea how to hold the old Charlie at bay: he will make love to Alice but think of Fay. It seems to work, but in the last moments he pushes Alice away. Charlie exclaims that he loves her but that he can’t make love to her. He tells Alice that he doesn’t yet understand it, but that the old Charlie simply won’t let him do it. He leaves Alice’s apartment, asking her to tell Nemur and Strauss that he will return to the lab in a few days.

On the street, Charlie doesn’t know which way to turn; he visualizes himself in a maze, his path is blocked at every turn and he receives shocks when he goes the wrong way. He boards the subway, buys a bottle of gin, and drinks some of it as he waits to board a bus. When he returns to his apartment, he looks in on Fay, but she isn’t home. When Fay returns, he spies on her from the fire escape, then goes to her door and knocks. They drink together and Charlie aggressively pursues her. They begin to make love on the couch and somehow Charlie knows that this time he will be able to complete the act. He senses the old Charlie’s presence but manages to push it aside as they make love.

Charlie feels he needs to finish some of his personal projects before he returns to the lab. He calls a scientist at another institute to discuss a project he would like to undertake, but realizes that it will have to wait. Again, he feels a sense of urgency, a recognition that he is unaware of how much time he might actually have left at his present state of ability.

Charlie’s relationship with Fay begins to deepen, but she warns him not to try to change her. He feels that she’s exciting to be with and enjoys her free spirit. He recognizes that he’s not in love with her, but he holds a deep affection for her nonetheless. He notes that the old Charlie has stopped watching them. Charlie writes a piano concerto for Fay and learns that she was broke when he met her because she had taken in a destitute woman who ended up stealing her savings. Charlie loves that Fay is so open and trusting, but she is running him down with their nightly club hopping.

Charlie finishes several personal projects, and Alice calls to find out when he is coming back to the lab. He notes that Algernon’s erratic behavior has returned and the female mouse seems to be afraid of him. The report ends with Charlie commenting that Algernon bit Fay and attacked the other mouse, Minnie. Charlie feels that Algernon is confused, noting that there seems to be an urgency in the mouse’s actions. Charlie feels that he must return Algernon to the lab and vows to call Nemur in the morning.


At this point in his intellectual development, it is easy to see why Charlie would be attracted to Fay: she is the complete opposite of everything that he has become. Whereas Charlie is extremely logical, methodical, and structured in all that he does, Fay is highly freeform in her art and her life. Fay also offers the opportunity for Charlie to further develop sexually. Charlie’s visit to his father’s barbershop is an important milestone in his emotional development, for he has now reached the point where he can begin to seriously deal with his past. Unfortunately, his inability to reveal himself to his father illustrates that he is not yet ready to take this step. The slight abnormalities in Algernon’s behavior and Charlie’s odd behavior when drunk further signal that something may be wrong with the experiment. Charlie’s reaction to the boy in the restaurant and his subsequent need to contact Alice suggests that rather than establish contact with his family he may be feeling the need to establish his own family. His failed attempt to make love to Alice shows that the old Charlie is still dominating his subconscious; however, his ability to make love to Fay suggests that the conscious mind can develop strategies for dealing with the unconscious mind. Algernon’s attack of his companion mouse and of Fay is a clear indication that something is wrong with the mouse’s mind. The "urgency" Algernon exhibits in his behavior foreshadows the newly awakened sense of urgency that Charlie is exhibiting.

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