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Flowers For Algernon: Intelligence Vs. Happiness

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Analysis of the book
  3. Scientific research on Intelligence vs. Happiness
  4. Conclusion
  5. Works Cited


Many people associate people with high IQ as people who are successful in life. This is because the mass media tell us that. In real life having a high IQ does not mean anything about the happiness in the person’s life. There have been numerous examples of highly educated people suffering from depression. On the other hand, there have been numerous people who the society calls mentally challenged who lived a better and happier life than an average person. (Cherry) A good example of both phenomena is the book Flowers for Algernon.

The book Flowers for Algernon concentrates on the theme of intelligence in contrast to happiness. At the beginning of the novel Charlie felt really happy, but no reader would like to be in his skin. As the novel progressed, Charlie became aware of the situation he was in before but did not feel happy and appreciated by other people. However, that changed once his mental health got worse towards the end. This does not mean that being intelligent is bad, but it does not make one as happy as someone mentally challenged would think.

Analysis of the book

At the beginning of the book Charlie has an IQ of 68. He goes to the school for retarded adults and Miss Kinnian says that Charlie is the best student there. Charlie wants to have friends in the bakery where he works. He wants the friends so badly that he does not care what they do to him.

Charlie now tries to be friends with anyone no matter what they do to him. A good example of that is when he writes: “Gimpy hollers at me all the time when I do something rong, but he reely likes me because hes my frend.”(Keyes p.4) He considers Gimpy a friend just because he talks to him. Charlie does not care what people say to him; he is happy that people are talking to him. Gimpy yells at Charlie for dropping a tray and Charlie says that Gimpy likes him without giving any other reason than saying that Gimpy is his friend.

Also, Charlie has a great desire to become smart. He is so determined that he volunteers as a subject for the surgery that should make him very smart if everything goes as planned. In his progress report 6 he wrote: “I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me.”(Keyes p.12) In writing that in the progress report, Charlie shows that he associates being smart with having friends who like him. Especially the words “who like him” tell the reader that Charlie associates being smart with being liked and being happy.

Charlie is extremely excited for the surgery. After the surgery Charlie waits for the results of the operation to start to show up. At first when he sits by the table with people talking about politics, art and religion, he does not understand what they are talking about but is curious to learn about it. Later, when Charlie goes to the bakery, he hears Gimpy and his friends making fun of him. Then he tries to improve and asks Mr. Donner if he could work as an apprentice baker, but Mr. Donner tells him to focus on cleaning. (Keyes p.18-36)

Now Charlie starts to realize that the world is not as good as he imagined it before the surgery. He realizes that he was mistreated in the bakery and when he sees an employee stealing money from Mr. Donner and confronts him, the people there decide that they do not want him there any longer. Mr. Donner then fires Charlie because, he says, Charlie does not need his help anymore. (Keyes p.94-108)

During the same time period Charlie realizes that Professor Nemur treats him as a lab rat and not as a human being. Nemur cannot stand that Charlie has surpassed his intelligence. This is the reason why Charlie frees Algernon, a lab rat, from the cage and escapes into his own apartment where the scientists cannot find him. (Keyes p.56-110)

Additionally, as his intelligence grows, he begins to feel attracted to his teacher Alice. At first, Alice wants to keep their relationship professional, but it is obvious that she shares Charlie’s feelings of love. (Keyes p.76-82) As their relationship progresses to an intimate stage Charlie begins to recall memories from his childhood. Those memories prevent him from being able to make love to Alice.

During his hiding Charlie meets his neighbor Fay. She is an artist and Charlie finds her extremely attractive. They go dancing together and after that they have sex together. Charlie recognizes his younger self watching but feels unrestricted in his actions unlike he was when he tried to make love to Alice. (Keyes p.200-210)

Later on, Charlie realizes that he should go back and do some research on the procedure. After doing the research he realizes that there is a flaw in Nemur’s theory and that his intelligence will deteriorate over time. Meanwhile he breaks up with Fay and tries to push Alice away as well. Alice does not want to leave Charlie alone, but as his intelligence gradually decreases Charlie decides to put himself in the home for retarded adults, so he would not cause problems to anyone. (Keyes p.253-311)

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Scientific research on Intelligence vs. Happiness

According to Mental Health Foundation it is harder for people with mental disability to be accepted in a society. They have a hard time getting a stable job, staying in a relationship, have decent housing, and finding work. This is all due to stigma and discrimination of mentally challenged people. (Stigma and Discrimination)

Another article published by Better Health Channel supports the idea that mentally challenged people are subjected to stigma and discrimination. It claims that when a mentally challenged person is the subject of either stigma or discrimination it can cause them to stop seeking help and therefore potentially harming themselves or others. (Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Illness)

This is what we see in the media. There have been numerous cases of people with mental illness committing suicides or causing harm to others. This is why many people are afraid of them and try to avoid coming in contact with mentally challenged people. This makes those people feel excluded from society which then can result in more problems.

The life of a mentally challenged person is not only about troubles. There are a lot of mentally challenged people who live a better life than “normal” people do. A good example of that is Tom Cruise. He was born with dyslexia and grew up in a hard family situation. This might have even helped him to become such a Hollywood star as he is now. (O’Shea) He is just one of many people who had learned how to live with a mental disorder and turned their life upside-down.

On the other side, there are people who are extremely smart. According to a research published by University College London, people with high IQ’s are happier than people with lower IQ’s. The people with high IQ’s were considered to have IQ’s between 120 and 129. The reasons that this study provides are higher income and having no problems with skills required for daily living. (Alli A.)

An article in the online magazine Scientific American challenges this idea. It states that people with remarkably high IQ’s over 132 experience some problems. These problems include mood disorders such as depression, dysthymia and bipolar, anxiety disorders (generalized, social and obsessive-compulsive), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism. The research also focused on environmental allergies, asthma and autoimmune disorders.

The data they received suggested that 26.7% of respondents experienced some kind of mood disorder and almost 20% had some form of anxiety disorder, while the national average of both symptoms was only around 10%. Additionally, the environmental allergies were triple of the national average (33% vs 11%). (Marquardt, and Hambrick)

When we take into consideration both sides of the spectrum we come to a clear conclusion. Being mentally challenged has some disadvantages but it is not something that should prohibit people from living their lives the way they want to. The same goes with being highly intelligent. If a person were born mentally challenged or highly intelligent, he or she needs to deal with it.


The book Flowers for Algernon is a clear example of a story with a message. The message is that nothing is as easy or as good as it first seems. At the beginning of the book Charlie really wanted to be smart. He thought that being smart would make his life perfect, but as you know it did not.

Once he got smart, people started to be jealous on him. He stopped liking himself and wanted to escape. He was overthinking his relationship with Alice. That is why he got together with Fay. He even said in his progress reports that he did not really feel the same thing towards Fay as he did towards Alice.

Later on, when he realized that his IQ was going to deteriorate to the point he was before, he decided to put himself into the home for retarded adults. That was a cowardly act because he did not want to face the problems. He just decided to escape from them.

Charlie’s story is a perfect example of how to deal with life problems. Also, it says that it does not matter how smart you are, you still have to make your own path.

Works Cited

  1. Ali, A., et al. “The Relationship between Happiness and Intelligent Quotient: The Contribution of Socio-Economic and Clinical Factors.” Psychological Medicine, vol. 43, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1303–1312., doi:10.1017/S0033291712002139.
  2. Cherry, Kendra. 'Are People with High Iq’s More Successful?'. Verywell Mind, 2019, Accessed 26 Jan 2020.
  3. Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. Harcourt, 2004,
  4. Marquardt, Madeline, and David Z Hambrick. 'Bad News for The Highly Intelligent'. Scientific American, 2017, Accessed 30 Jan 2020.
  5. O'Shea, Tyler. 'Tom Cruise Overcame Dyslexia on The Way to Hollywood | Joker Mag'. Joker Mag, 2018, Accessed 29 Jan 2020.
  6. 'Stigma and Discrimination'. Mental Health Foundation, Accessed 29 Jan 2020.
  7. 'Stigma, Discrimination and Mental Illness'. Better Health Channel, 2015, Accessed 29 Jan 2020.
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Flowers For Algernon: Intelligence Vs. Happiness. (2021, September 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Flowers For Algernon: Intelligence Vs. Happiness.” Edubirdie, 14 Sept. 2021,
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