Friday, May 22, 2009

Flowers for Algernon

So today on a car ride down to a hike with the in laws and on the way back, Bonnie Jean and I started and finished the short story Flowers for Algernon. Before you comment anything in particular about what you may have known about the book, please be aware there are two separate versions of this story: the short story and a later full length novel based on the short story. We read the short story which is very different from the later version.

The story is so hauntingly beautiful I'm still absorbing the impact of it. There's the traditional sci fi warning against tinkering with that we should not, but there's also much more to it. The differences people draw between physical and mental disability are compellingly portrayed, the persecution of one who is mentally different, the unwelcome pity the disabled are subjected to. Its all there. There's a beautifully done job of comparing different levels of intelligence and showing the futility of drawing absolute value distinctions based on relative levels of ability. I think that part was especially meaningful for me, touched some very old notes in my psyche. I also particularly like the title and the ending, where we are given the admonition to give flowers to Algernon. Or, as I interpret it, to honor those who may have high ability or low ability for the core of their being and not for any arbitrary functioning level we have assigned them. There's a lot more you could draw from that title, but I won't drag on. Between reading Mimzy were the Borogroves and Flowers for Algernon, I've had a beautiful experience recently reading science fiction trying to account for how we interact with the unknown and perhaps known, but the inevitably different.

Other highlights from today: I saw an endangered species of lizard.

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