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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Progress Report 13
Charlie is flying to Chicago for the convention. He has been asked to tape his thoughts instead of writing them. The new experience disturbs him, and he keeps thinking of a crash and this reminds him of God and his mother’s teaching. God has no particular relevance for Charlie. He has always vaguely imagined him as a departmental store-Santa Claus! He cannot distract his mind away from this fear of flying. Suddenly he remembers another fearful experience in childhood - a visit to a Dr. Guarino who was "going to help you get smart." This is one of his mother’s attempts to get him to be ‘normal, whatever we have to do whatever it costs.’ His parents have their usual tug-of-war before the visit-Matt his father distrusts the doctor and anticipates exorbitant fees. The doctor snubs him when he asks him about his charges. Rose shows her eagerness and sweeps away any resistance. Charlie remembers the doctor as being kind but he had been terrified at being strapped on to the table. Mechanical sounds and flashing colored lights upsets Charlie and he wets himself. Dr. Guarino didn’t lose his temper and assures him that he’ll be ‘the smartest boy on your block’ before long. Later he let slip that "you’ll stay just the way you are- a nice kid." The parents quarrel all the way home, with a trembling Charlie trying to shut out their voices. As usual, his father walks off at the end.
Charlie comes back to the present. He feels now that his mother was the catalyst for his unusual motivation to become normal. "Only after Norma proved to her that she was capable of having normal children, and that I was a freak, did she stop trying to make me over. But I guess I never stopped wanting to be the smart boy she wanted me to be, so that she would love me."
Charlie remembers the charlatan Guarino with tolerance - "He treated me-even then-as a human being." He contrasts this with Nemur’s attitude to him as a guinea pig. "He doesn’t realize that I was a person before I came here."
They arrive in Chicago. Things don’t begin well for Nemur, as everyone pays attention to Charlie, questioning him about everything, including his own condition. When the opportunity appears Charlie draws Nemur into the informal technical discussion on his condition. He suddenly realizes Nemur is unaware of research into the subject in India and Japan. When Charlie questions him, Nemur brushes him off. On appealing to Strauss, he finds that he knows even less. Charlie is horrified and thinks they are frauds. Burt disagrees with him-pointing out that Nemur’s "just an ordinary man trying to do a great man’s work, while the great men are all busy making bombs." He also informs Charlie that while he has himself developed a superb mind now, he hasn’t got understanding or tolerance. He also tells him of Nemur’s ambitious wife, who is always pushing him into influential positions and the public eye.
This incident frightens Charlie - he realizes that "my fate is in the hands of men who are not the giants I once thought them to be, men who don’t know all the answers."
It’s Nemur’s big day, when he makes his presentation. Charlie and Algernon are on stage, along with Strauss, Nemur, and Burt. Burt begins the presentation with his report on the intelligence tests he has put the white mouse through. Here a disturbing fact is revealed - that Algernon has been recently rejecting his food reward, hurling himself against the cage after the test and has been behaving ‘erratically.’ Charlie has not been told about this. To add to this, the psychiatrists show films on Charlie’s early behavior in the lab, making the audience roar with laughter. His change of expression in later films is discussed as if he were "a newly created thing." "Charlie and Algernon" are constantly bracketed together-"two experimental animals with no existence outside the laboratory."
Charlie seethes, but the final straw is when Strauss’ report reveals to him that they have not waited long enough before presenting their work. Charlie feels like jumping up and declaring this but he can’t. He then hears himself described as "a feeble-minded shell, a burden on the society," who has now become "a man of dignity and sensitivity." Charlie has been flirting with the idea of freeing Algernon from his cage. Now he can’t resist the temptation any more. Unseen, he pulls down the latch, and Algernon darts across the white tablecloth and disappears. Women scream and a confused mouse-hunt is launched! Women stand on chairs screaming and are knocked down by the mouse-hunters! The dignified gathering is reduced to a frantic rabble chasing "a white mouse smarter than many of them." The mouse enters the Ladies Room. While others hesitate Charlie slips in and puts Algernon into his jacket pocket and escapes to New York. Charlie feels he’s running out of time, after the momentous realization he had had about the experiments on him. He decides to find a hotel room and to meet his parents.
This is a climactic chapter in the novel. Charlie’s mental growth has reached a peak, he knows a dozen languages and can understand a variety of technical subjects. But this only brings home a bleak awareness. First, he remembers more of his early life and the driving force his mother was to make him "smart." However, the birth of his ‘normal’ sister and her growth, had made his mother reject him completely and turn her attention to the other child.
The episode with Guarino reveals the way quacks take advantage of desperate families with handicapped children. Yet, Guarino is shown as a sensitive person kind to an innocent boy. His comments on parents who want their ‘normal’ children transformed into geniuses reflect back on society. Guarnio is juxtaposed against Nemur who regards Charlie as a laboratory animal and not a person. He is unable to take it when his "creation" knows more than he does. Algernon’s erratic behavior signals the beginning of the end, and Charlie foresees his doom.
The author reflects on the pettiness of so called ‘great minds’, with the rider that the ‘really great minds’ are making bombs. In the midst of these horrifying discoveries by Charlie, there is a wry humor in his report of the conference. Algernon’s escape makes the whole thing farcical. The climax for Charlie is very much an anti-climax for Nemur and his associates.
The parallel of Algernon and Charlie is drawn further, and obviously Algernon’s negative responses reveal the chinks in Nemur’s work and Charlie’s own dismal future. The bond between the two is cemented when Charlie determines to escape along with the mouse - "two man-made geniuses on the run."
Charlie, the retarded child and man, is the ultimate ‘object’ for others to act upon as they wish. The treatment of a vulnerable person as a non-person, even by those who claim to be working for ‘his good’ is exposed here. So too is the nightmarish situation in many families, with one mentally retarded member. His mother struggles and drags Charlie through all varieties of treatments because her ego is at stake - "whose fault was it: hers or Matts?" is the question that haunts her regarding Charlie’s condition. She struggles to change him, as she cannot accept him. Ultimately, Norma’s ‘normal’ state makes her reject him completely. Nemur shows the same lack of interest and insensitivity personally. Charlie doesn’t resent Strauss or Burt as much as he resents Nemur.
As a counter to this, one can see Burt’s viewpoint - that Charlie is intolerant of Nemur’s human weaknesses and negates his real achievement. Thus, Charlie is expected to treat others sympathetically as human beings, while he himself is not treated as one!
Humour is one of the most striking aspects of this chapter. Starting with the ironic description of Nemur’s petty egotism over the hotel accommodation, to his defensive feeling of superiority over Japanese and Indian researchers, and culminating in the hilarious force of Algernon’s escape and the frenzy into which it throws the august gathering.
This chapter shows Charlie’s struggle to "grow up" normally, especially in emotional and sexual terms. He also explores the intelligence he has got after the operation. His escape from the convention gives him the chance to control his life to some extent, and take stock of what he has. The realization he has at the convention that, the experiment on him might still fail, gives him a sense of urgency and maturity. His mind reveals to him the traumatic events of his past, like his mother’s ultimate and complete rejection of him. He wants to meet his family desperately and prove to them that he has gone beyond their wildest dreams! But, in the moving and sad scene with the father, Charlie cannot confront him. He is afraid that, as with other past relationships, this one too, will fail. Thus, his desperate need for warmth and love remains unsatisfied. He loves Alice but can’t resolve his old problems with her. When Fay enters his life, she succeeds, to a certain extent, in freeing him from all the taboos that he is imprisoned within. Fay is a non-conformist, a strong character outside the framework of his childhood conditioning by his mother. She has rejected all the conventions, but is warm and generous and "just what he needs." It is a one-sided relationship in which Charlie’s essence, his past, is unknown to her.
Charlie’s life has changed so dramatically that he is unsure about who he is. He cannot resolve the difference between the ‘old Charlie Gordon,’ who was only an observer of life and barely tolerated by others, and his new self. It is only when he accepts that these two selves are part of who he is, is he able to move on. Thus he gets involved with Fay. He also starts a study on the operation done on him and Algernon, and it's effects.
This chapter documents his struggle to adapt to his new life, and to take responsible decisions for himself.
It also brings out the contrast between his mother and Fay, and Alice and Fay. His mother is almost the main antagonist in his life. But she is also shown to have been under great pressure. Her hysteria, her egoism, and her final cruel rejection are repeatedly revealed. Both Alice and Fay accept him, but they are very different. Alice has been a sort of kindly maternal figure to the old Charlie. The new Charlie is attracted to her sexually but can’t banish the old Charlie’s feelings for her completely. Also, Alice is a more conventional woman and falls within the category of those who were taboo for the old Charlie. Fay is unknown to the old Charlie and she also is unconventional. The old taboo therefore does not apply to her. Perhaps too, the relationship with her is less intense, hence doesn’t make for soul-searching for Charlie.
Another line of development in the chapter is that of Charlie’s work. He is shown initially, as just enjoying his new intelligence and dabbling in all kinds of reading. After the convention, when the seriousness of his own condition is brought home to him, he decides to escape with Algernon. Then he experiments with Algernon’s mazes, never using food as a reward. When he works with his "alter ego," the mouse, knowing that their situations are parallel, his work is convincing. Yet, when he is said to work on a piano concerto on "the pair production nuclear photo effect for exploratory work in biophysics," or on "linguistic analysis of Urdu verb forms, or the "Hindu Journal of Psychopathology," it sounds like gibberish. This is the weakest area of the novel - it’s claims to belong to the genre of science fiction. Whenever the author strays into a technical area, he seems to be quite ill at ease. Charlie’s constant movement from one area of work to another could suggest his restlessness and insecurity about his future. But, the superficial references to that work are not convincing.