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Originally written as a short story, the story of Charlie Gordon—the main character of the book—had later been rewritten in the form of a novel, which helped the author to fully disclose personalities of the main characters and make the plot complete.
The surgery that Charlie undergoes in Flowers for Algernon is purely fictional, although surgical techniques in the treatment of the mentally ill were being used at the time that the novel’s action takes place.
Presumably, Charlie had one of the procedures common at the time when he was treated with electroshock by Dr.
Much of the debate involves defining both medical and scientific ethics and the rights of individuals.
For example, ethicists question what traits are part of an individual’s core personality that should not be tampered with?
More precise surgical techniques developed in the 1980s resurrected the debate over excising portions of the brain to control behavior and mental performance.
Again, people with certain types of epilepsy responded positively to the removal of small, precisely measured amounts of brain tissue.
No doubt the scientists responsible for Charlie’s surgery have good intentions.
They want to fulfill the wish of Charlie’s mother to remove the stigma from learning disabilities and mental disorders by eliminating the disorder — in effect, forcing Charlie through surgery to become like everyone else or better. Charlie’s fellow workers at the bakery thought so, even if they did make fun of him at times.
And what of the human subjects who undergo such procedures? How able are they to make informed decisions regarding such treatments and the necessary experimentation that precedes their widespread use?
Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon was ahead of its time in holding these issues up to scrutiny.