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Flowers for Algernon - the Making of a Hero

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The Making of a Hero

What makes a hero? According to Oxford Dictionary, a hero is defined as one who others admire or “[idealize] for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” In classic mythology, a hero often possesses superhuman qualities, frequently with semi-divine origin such as those whose exploit and deals with the gods were the subject of ancient Greek myths and legends. However, not all heroes posses super powers and many can be found in everyday life. Daniel Keyes’ short story, “Flowers for Algernon” tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a 37-year-old man with an I.Q. of 68, after her undergoes a surgery that triples his intelligence. By participating in this life–changing operation, Charlie acts as a hero because he risks his own life for the advancement of science and he stands up for those who are mistreated due to their intellectual disability.

In his choosing to partake in the intelligence–enhancing experiment, Charlie places his life and future on the line. For example, Charlie writes in his journal: “If you volenteer for this experament you mite get smart. They dont know if it will be perminint but theirs a chance” (516). Even though the doctors explain the risks to Charlie, not even they understand the full effects. By taking on the responsibilities and the possible malfunctions of the experiment, Charlie acts courageously for the sake of himself and his peers. For a young man with an intellectually disability, he strives to learn constantly and has “a good motor-vation… [Dr Strauss says] not everyone with an eye-q of 68 [has] that thing” (516). Despite his low cognitive abilities, Charlie is still motivated to gain knowledge. Because of this drive, he pushes away his sense of fear for this operation and faces the risks with determination. Charlie places his life in the hands of others and greatly alters his future for the improvement of science.

After Charlie gains a tremendous amount of intelligence, he recognizes the abuse to those who are mentally deficient and comes to their defence. Charlie retaliates when a dishwasher boy is laughed at in a restaurant:

I felt sick inside as I looked at this dull, vacuous smile, the wide, bright eyes of a child, uncertain but eager to please. They were laughing at him because he was [intellectually disabled]… I jumped up and shouted, ‘Shut up! Leave him alone! It’s not his fault he can’t understand! He can’t help what he is! But for gods sake… he’s still a human being! (530)

While Charlie himself does laugh along with the others at first, he realizes his mistake and corrects it by standing up for the dishwasher boy. These simple words affect the actions of all those in the restaurant. Charlie acts out of the goodness of his heart, and he utilizes his gained intelligence to aid those who are abused. Because he develops an incredibly high intelligence, Charlie realizes “how strange it is that people… would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs- how such people think nothing of abusing a man born with low intelligence…. To think that, [he] like this boy, had foolishly played the clown” (530). Charlie finally understands that he himself had been taken advantage of which repulses him. Those with an intellectual disability deserve to be treated equally to any other human. As a man with a now higher intelligence, Charlie bravely works to aid those who have no voice be heard.

Some believe that Charlie does not act as a hero because instead of facing his problems, he runs away from them. During his mental deterioration, he explains his his journal that he is “going away from New



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