Thursday, February 21, 2008

When you eat from the tree of knowledge...

OMG. I just finished reading Flowers for Algernon, which I sped through in the past couple of days. Yeah I know everyone else read this in high school. But I didn't. And. Oh god.

The book is easy to read. Written as a series of journal entries, we get a window into Charlie Gordon's life and thoughts as he transforms from a mentally disabled, simple-minded soul to an intelligent one, wrestling with his past and the his new understanding of the complexity of humanity.

It's well-done. The gradual change in Charlie is seen through syntax, spelling, punctuation, but also through complexity of thought, comprehension of emotions, consciousness of self and others. I'm convinced by the story. This setup was an intelligent choice by Keyes, and worked extremely well.

The reason I picked this book up at all is because my parents always talk about it, and I've never read it. When I was young, I watched the movie, Charly, and I remember my parents were crying - even my dad teared up. I have vague memories of certain scenes but that's about it. But they'll bring it up all the time. "That really really sad movie Charly, it was from that book, Flowers of something or other." So I read it.

It's heartbreaking. Really really really heartbreaking. At the end, when you witness firsthand his deterioration, back down to his childish spelling and thought processes, it's so painful, it's too much to bear. And yet, you sense that he's still gained something from this. Learned something.

I was thinking about this in terms of a character arc. A classic character arc says that the protagonist leaves the story changed from the person he was in the beginning. And yet the sad sad thing about this is that he regresses. He changes, but then he regresses to his former state. The only thing is that one wonders if he's a better man in some ways - that his simplicity allows him to be compassionate, and not, as we see through the course of the book, self-centered and arrogant. It makes you wonder about what one person says in this book - when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge, did they become what we are? Arrogant, self-pitying, even cruel at times? Is that what it means to have so much self-awareness? Intelligence is nothing without emotions and love, is what this book says, ultimately. So then why do I feel so heartbroken for Charlie at the end?

Maybe it's THIS PASSAGE right near the end (sorry for anyone who has not read this):

I dont no why Im dumb agen or what I did rong. Mabye its because I dint try hard enuf or just some body put the evel eye on me. But if I try and practis very hard mabye Ill get a littel smarter and no what all the words are. I remembir a littel bit how nice I had a feeling with the blue book that I red with the toren cover. And when I close my eyes I think about the man who tored the book and he looks like me only he looks different and he talks different but I dont think its me because its like I see him from the window.
--[Flowers for Algernon, pg. 310]


This book is so sososososo sad. I want to watch the movie again now that I'm older, but I almost can't bear to.

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