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Pzmny Pter Catholic University

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department of English Language and Literature

Essay on:

Flowers for Algernon and its film adaptation Charly - Possible uses in the EFL classroom

Grta Ercsey, ELT MA Neptun-code: NSN0F5


In our daily lives, we constantly make connections across past and present experiences in order to construct our understandings of ourselves and our world. That is the case when we start to read a book or to watch a film we are interested in, as the more we connect it to our lives, the more we are able to get the gist or the purpose of it. 1 Following this idea, I bring to the conclusion that this statement is very true even for my reading habits. When I make an attempt to go through the story of my life in spite of its difficulties, especially in the turning points that made me hard to decide, I definitely found it blessed by God: as I can live freely with the man I have fallen in love, study in a university, have brighter future prospects than my ancestors ever had. And not surprisingly, when I try to list my favourite, decisive readings, I will undoubtedly find in the first places books in which the hero/heroine is also struggling even with him/herself finding his/her own place, through accommodating to the social norms or breaking the rigid rules of society. This glimpse of hope of having a better (purpose of) life, meeting the requirements of the given society, revealing and solving the problems of communities, achieving a dream (being the best at something, having a higher rank within the hierarchy of our society etc.) coming true, being able to make better decisions brings the tales of the modern era still so close to the young readers, whether it is a Shakespearian masterpiece or a popular novel of nowadays, as the actual aims hasnt changed too much. Based on these thoughts, the present essay will address the major themes of social responsibility, treatment of the mentally challenged, the impact on happiness of the conflict between intellect and emotion by making a comparison between the science fiction novel

Kathy G. Short (1993) Making Connections Across Literature and Life. In: Kathleen E. Holland (ed.) Journeying: Children Responding to Literature, Heinemann, Portsmouth. p. 284 http://www.uacoe.arizona.edu/short/Publications/Making%20connections.pdf (17. 11. 2012)

Flowers for Algernon and its first film adaptation Charly and making an attempt to showing its possible uses in the English language classroom.

Similarities and differences between the science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon and its first film adaptation Charly The novel Flowers for Algernon written by Daniel Keyes in 1966 is a heartrending and also thought-provoking story which draws our attention to the mentally challenged peoples lives demonstrating their totally different perspective towards the outside world and as a controversial element makes an effort to highlight the dilemma on the price of intelligence. In 1968, director Ralph Nelson and writer Stirling Silliphant adapted the novel into a featurelength film, Charly, starring Cliff Robertson. While the two works follow the same basic plot, they differ in certain details and even their endings. Having a deeper look at the plots of the novel and the film, it is obvious, that the basic events of the story remain the same throughout both. So Charlie (Charly in the film) Gordon in both Flowers for Algernon and Charly, is a 32-year-old mentally challenged man having an IQ of 68 with a basic job in a bakery, who was told to be by Miss Kinnian her bestist pupil in the Beekman School for retarted adults and as in one of his first Progress riport it is written I tryed the hardist becaus I reely wantd to lern I wantid it more even then pepul who are smarter even then me.2 He is chosen by Dr Strauss (in the film he becomes a she) to be the first testee to undergo an experimental procedure that increases the intelligence because of his good motor-vation (motivation). Later on, Charlie becomes incredibly smart (Charlie's IQ reaches an astonishing 185), which costs him his job and changes the way he interacts with people and vice versa. However, the change in his intelligence turns out to be temporary. In both plots, Charlie becomes involved with his night school teacher, Alice

Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon. http://www.kkoworld.com/kitablar/deniel_kiz_elcernon_ucun_guller_eng.pdf. p. 3.

Kinnian. We also have to mention Algernon in the title of the novel, a lab mouse that receives the procedure and proves a barometer for Charlie's mental capacity and intellectual longevity. The primary difference between the novel and its film adaptation is the way the book and the film choose to tell the story. Keyes wrote Flowers for Algernon as a series of journal entries - Progress reports - from Charlie's perspective, allowing the reader to track Charlie's changes in intelligence through his spelling and grammar improving and later deteriorating. So the readers can discover Keyes intention to use Charlie character also as an unreliable narrator, as he appears as a character, with clues to his or her unreliability. Nelson and Silliphant decided not to use this style in the film. They opted to present the story as a straightforward cinematic narrative. At this point it is important to look again the plot and see Charlies relationship or romances with female characters. In the novel, he starts to realize romantic feelings for Alice, but can't get intimate with her due to his childhood trauma caused by his mother Rose Gordon (later suffers from dementia and a broken life and family). Later in the story, Charlie gets involved with his neighbour, a bohemian artist named Fay. However, his research into his own condition distracts her; she moves on. Eventually, Charlie gets back with Alice until he pushes her away due to his declining intelligence. In the film, Alice has a fianc, and Rose, his mother and Fay are missing from the story. She rejects a very forceful advance from Charly, who reacts by leaving to adopt a wild lifestyle full of motorcycles and women. Charly soon returns to Alice; then they decide to forge a relationship before finding out that Charly's intelligence is reverting. The ending of the romance is similar to the book, however, with Charly rejecting Alice in the end. Finally, it can be highlighted that the film and the book differ the most in their endings. In the novel, readers watch Charlie's intelligence gradually decrease as the procedure turns out not to be finite. In the film when he realizes his intelligence is decreasing what it

was before the procedure, he starts to panics imagining his original self waiting for him at every turn. In the book Charly works mainly alone, in the film together with scientists, but soon finds no hope in reversing his decline. This gradual decreasing process of the book is not shown in the film. The ending scene of the film has Alice asking Charly to marry her. He refuses, telling her to leave. Charly concludes with a brief scene of Alice watching the reverted Charly playing on a seesaw with children in a playground. The camera zooms in and freezes on Charly's face, mouth agape in childlike glee, and quietly fades into the credits. The book gives us a more detailed ending part: realizing what he had lost, Charlie leaves his old life to stay at a home for the mentally challenged, away from everyone he's ever known. Charlie concludes his narrative with a final request: that the person reading his journal puts flowers on Algernon's grave.

Possible uses in the ESL classroom Despite the fact, that some people consider the novel to be challenging because of its parts where Charlie experiences a sexual awakening in connection with his love for Alice, and then he starts remembering his mothers brutal punishments when he started expressing sexual interests as an adolescent, the story of Charlie Gordon both in its short-story format and its full-length novel format, is still a very popular book and a staple in many school curriculums in the United States. In addition to this, Flowers for Algernon has also been a socially and culturally influential book. It has an especially striking ability to appeal to adolescent readers. Similarly to Charlie, they are also struggling with the development of their own intellect and the conflicts which lead them to socially adulthood. Besides this, the novel helps students build up empathy towards mentally disabled people. They can

get a better understanding in the discovery of what it is like to be on the outside, to be tormented and teased. To sum up, important themes in Flowers for Algernon include the treatment of the mentally disabled people, the impact on happiness of the conflict between intellect and emotion, and how events in the past can influence a person later in life. All in all, it can be a very good authentic source to build up tasks in the English language classroom, but we have take into consideration the appropriate age group at which we want to use it. In the following lets see some ideas on task design:

LESSON PLAN Age: 17 Level: Intermediate Lead-in: Discussing whether they have ever met a mentally challenged person; asking if it was difficult or embarrassing to understand his/her behaviour and what the students reactions were. Reading task (1): The background story of the novel. Every author has his/her own resource of inspiration, before starting to write the piece. In the case of Daniel Keyes the ideas for Flowers for Algernon were inspired by numerous events in Keyes's life. One important of these came to be Keyess personal conflict with his parents who were pushing him through a pre-medical education in spite of his desire to pursue a writing career. Keyes felt My education is driving a wedge between me and the people I love. This led him to wonder what would happen if it were possible to increase a persons intelligence. This was followed by an experience in teaching English to students with special needs, and that one of his students asked him if it would be possible to be put into a regular class if he worked hard and became smart.
(Hill, Cheryl (2004). A History of Daniel Keyes Flowers for Algernon. LIBR 548F: History of the Book. http://www.wayzata.k12.mn.us/cms/lib/MN01001540/Centricity/ModuleInstance/14210/A%20History%20of%20Daniel%20Keyes.pdf )

Daniel Keyes

Born in 1952, Reading Task (2): Historical background

At first sight, for readers of nowadays the book Flowers for Algernon might seem to be just a heartrending and moving story of a mentally disabled man, however in the 1960s, when it came to the public, the novel was a much more awakening and thought-provoking science fiction piece than that. In the United States, society and culture were in the process of transforming their thinking about the mentally disabled. The civil rights movement was focused on acquiring equal rights for African Americans, but it also meant that attention was given to the idea of equal treatment for all people. The book was published at a time when there was a growing awareness of the problems and the rights of minority groups (Historical Context 2004).

Task 1: List the events in Keyes life that inspired him in writing the novel. Task 2: Brainstorming in groups: what does the last sentence of the text refer to? The book was published at a time when there was a growing awareness of the problems and the rights of minority groups Listening task: Using the trailer of the film to built up ideas on the plot. Task 2: Try to match characters with their own quotations (from the book).

Miss Kinnian

Charlie Gordon


I said how can I tell storys about pepul I dont know. She said make beleeve but I tolld her thats lies. I never tell lies any more because when I was a kid I made lies and I always got hitI gess I faled that test too

You have something that is very good. You have a good motivation. not everbody with an eye-Q of 68 has that thing like you have Algernon has it too. Algernons motivation is the cheese

"Charlie, you amaze me. In some ways you're so advanced, and yet when it comes to making a decision, you're still a child. I can't decide for you, Charlie. The answer can't be found in books-or be solved by bringing it to other people. Not unless you want to remain a child all your life. You've got to find the answer inside you feel the right thing to do. Charlie, you've got learn to trust yourself." Follow-up: Write to a 350 word short essay. The topic is The problems and the rights of minority groups in Hungary - choose one group (social group, disabled groups).