It has been two months since I finished reading Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Since then, I haven’t been able to pick up another book. Upon reading the final pages, teary eyed on the train home from a long day at work, I found myself emotionally devastated. I was deeply moved by this book, and it had a profound impact on me. I had planned on writing this humble opinion that very same night—in fact I created the draft post for it that night—but, no matter what I did, I couldn’t bring myself to put words to the devastation. This is not just any old book. Flowers for Algernon is quite simply one of the greatest works of literature in modern history.
I thought a lot about what this article should look like or what I should write about: Should I analyse the plot of the book or break down its themes and why they resonated with me? Should I dive into the structure of the book and how it may be one of the most ingenious compositions in literature that this writer has ever had the pleasure to experience? Or should I just talk about how this book made me feel and what it really means to me? I’ve opted for the latter.
Flowers for Algernon is at once both a deeply sad novel and also one of hope. The book took me on an emotional roller coaster to say the very least. I was touched by the journey of Charlie and moved by how authentic the character and his ranging emotions were written. It is easy to relate to him and that makes it all the more devastating as we see his progression throughout the book. He may be the truest portrayal of humanity in literature: for all his angst, curiosity, hopeful optimism, and bitter pain. It only makes the ultimate conclusion of the novel all the more gut wrenching. Charlie, like any of us, is just a human being trying to make sense of his life and find purpose to his existence. Sometimes things seem so simple; other times they are incomprehensibly cruel.
I had been reading the book during my transit to and from work for a good month earlier this year. Following Charlie through his progress reports became part of my daily routine: until there were no more progress reports left. I felt a deep void had been created; I had become so emotionally invested in Charlie and had shed many a tear for him. But through his story, I found meaning in my own. We are all searching for some kind of purpose, some meaning to the chaos of life. As the world around me became irrevocably changed by the global pandemic, I sought solace in Flowers for Algernon. Charlie wanted to be smarter; I wanted to be happier. I haven’t picked up a book since finishing Flowers for Algernon, but I think I am ready to read again. Like Charlie, I chose to take a chance on the unknown in hopes of finding some answers. Even if it all goes wrong, at least I’ll know. As they say: never knows best.
Looking back on what I’ve just written, this may be the strangest Humble Opinions article I have ever conceived. But for a book like Flowers for Algernon, a bit of self reflection seems pertinent. It’s a book that has in many ways changed me, and I’d be remiss to ignore that fact. There is a reason that Flowers for Algernon is a literary classic. It has power behind its words; the ability to touch even the coldest of hearts. This is a book that quite simply must be read by anyone who considers themselves an avid reader or consumer of literature. It is a truly poignant story that will no doubt affect you just as much as it has done to me and the thousands of others who have read it. Flowers for Algernon is truly a literary masterpiece. You’ll never be the same.