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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Project Report 16
Charlie is in a bleak mood during his visit to the Warren State Home and Training School. It is a sprawling gray estate, discreetly set on a narrow side road. The head psychologist is unexpectedly young and very earnest. He explains that there is no high security system at Warren. Some "high-moron" types wander off. If they can’t adapt to outside life, they return. Charlie learns that, the institute has a waiting list of fourteen hundred and can barely take twenty-five new people each year, as their members are there for a lifetime. Charlie meets Thelma who looks after the adolescent boys. She seems robust and kindly and tells him that, she feels her work is hard but "rewarding when you think how much they need you." He also sees some deaf and mute boys who are also mentally retarded, working on their carpentry. He is moved by the injustice that life has done to them. He observes an older boy caring for a younger one and Thelma comments, "They know enough to seek human contact and affection from each other."
The staff consider Charlie as just another ‘normal’ academic from Beekman, doing some sort of observation. This is a contrast to the poignancy of his actual feelings and doubts about his future. He watches the boys there, their behavior, and their work, with exaggerated sensitivity, as he identifies with every one of them. When a boy touches him to signal good-bye he almost breaks down. His resentment is stirred when the motherly school principal calls the inmates her children, and says they are "beyond help." Yet, he is moved by the dedication of all the staff he has met. But, he is chilled by the fact there "had been no talk of rehabilitation, of cure, of someday sending these people out into the world again. No one had spoken of hope. The feeling was of living death..."
His visit leaves him with a hopeless feeling that "I may soon be coming to Warren, to spend the rest of my life wit h the others --- waiting."
Charlie is eager, but at the same time apprehensive, about visiting his mother. His uncertainty about his future also adds pressure.
Algernon is getting worse. He refuses to run the maze and won’t even eat. Watching Burt force-feed him, Charlie gags and has to run out of the lab for fresh air. He starts drinking in order to escape from the situation and his relationship with Fay sours. He feels there’s just dancing, painting and sex in her life, of which they share only sex. Fay is also becoming possessive about him. Eventually, Charlie decides to cut down on his drinking.
Something that Charlie has always avoided happens. Fay and Alice meet - without any fireworks! Alice worries about Algernon’s regression and therefore comes to comfort Charlie. As they sit talking late, Fay appears via the fire escape. The two women size up each other, then get absorbed in talking, until Charlie feels unwanted. Later, Alice tells Charlie that Fay loves him. Charlie denies it but he does not deny their sexual relationship. He insists that he loves only Alice, which is why he can’t make love to her. Alice goes home.
Charlie concentrates on his work with desperate urgency. To Fay’s disgust, he even moves a cot into the lab. He busily makes notes on "the calculus of intelligence" and only the cages and mice and lab seem real to him. Fay withdraws, jealous of his obsession with work. Alice helps him now, with food and coffee, making no demands. Charlie is aware of a heightened perception, where concentration and judgement are hypersensitive and acute. Algernon lies almost unmoving in the lab, and his condition worsens all the time.
Fay has a new lover. Charlie says, "It’s almost a relief." He moves back to the lab and to Algernon. The white mouse greets him and seems eager to work. He solves the maze twice, but fails the third time. Then he goes into a wild frenzy, until, exhausted, he curls up into a tight ball. Charlie is desperate to understand why, not only to help himself, but in order to add even a scrap of knowledge to the work that has already been done. If he can do this and help ‘others like myself,’ he feels he ‘will have lived a thousand normal lives.’
Charlie is filled with a joyful, bubbling energy and a zest for work. This disturbs the others who think he’s, "killing himself at that pace." He hopes that he will be able to get the knowledge he needs in order to make a breakthrough. He finds out that, Fay’s lover is a dance instructor at her favorite dance hall. However, it doesn’t bother him.
Charlie reaches a blind alley in his reasoning. He can’t answer the question about how Algernon’s regression affects the basis of the experiment. He decides to leave it for now, as pushing too hard makes his mind go blank. He goes to Mrs. Nemur’s cocktail party. Fay refuses his invitation to accompany him. Charlie feels isolated among the academicians and their financiers. Mrs. Nemur baits him about working on the ideas of others, like her husband. Charlie is annoyed with the discussion between Strauss and a sponsor, and is steered away by Strauss, just when he is about to interrupt the discussion. Charlie decides to sit quietly in a corner, but he’s had too many drinks. He begins muttering to himself, quite unaware of others’ reactions. The guests trickle away, and Nemur confronts Charlie, furious at his behavior. The two argue and Nemur calls him an ‘arrogant, self-centered, antisocial bastard.’ Charlie accuses Nemur of treating him as an experimental animal, "to be kept in a cage and displayed when necessary to reap the honors you seek." He says that he was better off before the operation as he then had friends. He feels that intelligence without the capacity to give and receive affection is sterile. He speaks of "Charlie Gordon" as another person waiting patiently inside himself. In the middle of his "sermon," Charlie’s speech becomes slurred, his language becomes limited, and the old Charlie is back. He makes it to the bathroom just on time, and manages to get control of himself. Finally, he insists on walking home alone. While in the bathroom he looks into the mirror, to find the other Charlie looking questioningly at him. Charlie raves at his other self, asserting that he won’t give up his intelligence without a struggle, "I’m going to keep what they’ve given me and do great things for the world and for other people like you." He then leaves for home. Alone, he admits to himself that he has become what Nemur has called him, and is therefore ashamed of himself. He seeks Fay’s company but she is with her new lover. Charlie goes to bed and dozes off. Suddenly at 4.30 a.m, the answer to all his queries comes to him, and he is wide-awake!
Charlie discovers that, "artificially-induced intelligence deteriorates at a rate of time directly proportional to the quantity of the increase." He writes a letter to Prof. Nemur stating this and encloses all his notes and mathematical analyses of data. He also christens his discovery as the Algernon-Gordon Effect. Charlie also apologizes for the fact that, through his discovery, he is negating the work done by the researchers. After sending it, he turns to his immediate problem-what is to become of himself? For the purpose of verification, Nemur sends Charlie’s report to the top men in the field, but Charlie is confident about his findings. He tells Alice about his discovery and she breaks down. Charlie is concerned that, she should not feel guilty about his fate.
Charlie is in a state of suspense. All he can do is wait. He once again says that he does not blame anyone, as the researchers had taken every precaution in order to make sure that there is no physical danger. However, they had failed to foresee the psychological pitfalls. Charlie’s main concern now is, how much he can retain in the future.
Nemur’s sources confirm Charlie’s findings. Charlie recommends that no further tests be conducted on human beings until their bases are clear. He feels that, the line of research favoring the study of enzyme imbalances, and treatment with hormone substitutes, probably has the best potential. He would like to help follow it up, but he knows that time is running out.
Charlie finds himself becoming forgetful and irritable. Early one morning, he comes to the lab and finds Algernon dead in one corner of his cage. Dissection reveals that his brain had shrunk and the cerebral convolutions and smoothened out. Charlie is terribly afraid the same is happening to him. He puts Algernon’s body in a small box and buries him in his back garden. He weeps as he puts wild flowers on his grave.