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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Progress Report 17 (continued)
Charlie canít type any more. He broods over what Alice has said and decides that, if he keeps learning new things while forgetting old ones, he may not sink so fast. He starts reading feverishly at the library, hoping "to keep moving upward, no matter what happened." Strauss comes to see him. Charlie says that he can look after himself, and when he feels he canít, heíll board a train for the Warren Home. Fay now avoids him, she seems afraid of him. Only Mrs. Mooney, the landlady, visits him with hot food. Charlie is sure that Strauss or Alice must have asked her to do so.
Charlie reads, irrespective of the fact, whether or not he can understand. He reads "Don Quixote" and has a constant feeling that he knew the meaning behind the windmills, the castles and the dragons, but he canít remember. He watches people from his window, and lies in bed most of the time. He now finds it difficult to write the progress reports.
Charlie says that, every night he watches a woman in the building across the road, having a bath. He never sees her face, but admits that her body excites him. He admits that it is wrong to watch, but then tells himself that, it does not matter as she doesnít know that he is watching.
Mrs. Mooney worries about Charlieís apathy and tells him not to lie around like a "loafter." He tells her that, he thinks heís sick. The weather is cold, but he still puts flowers on Algernonís grave, which Mrs. Mooney thinks, is a very silly thing to do. Charlie goes to visit Fay, but she asks him to go away and later changes the lock on her door.
It is Sunday. Charlie has nothing to do as his T.V has broken down and he has forgotten to have it fixed. He has also lost his monthly cheque from the college. Life is bleak - he gets constant headaches and Mrs. Mooney is his only friend. The lady across the road now pulls her windowshade down and therefore he is unable to see her. Charlie therefore feels cheated.
Mrs. Mooney calls in a new doctor, who asks Charlie about his family. Charlie tells him about Algernon and how they used to race together. He also tells the doctor that he used to be a genius and this amuses the doctor. Charlie is angry that, the doctor is making fun of him and therefore chases him out.
Charlie believes that he is having bad luck, since he has lost his "rabits foot and my horshoe."
Strauss and Alice come to meet Charlie but he sends them away. Later, Mrs. Mooney brings food and tells him that they have given her money to take care of him. Charlie is upset and wishes he could get work as he "wonít take charety from anybody." He thinks of going back to the bakery because that is the only work he knows, but he is afraid that those at the bakery will laugh at him.
Charlie canít read some of his old progress reports. "I think I wrote them but I donít remember so good." He has bought some books from the drug store but he feels tired when he tries to read them. The only books he likes are the ones, which show pictures of pretty girls. But the feelings they arouse are "not nice," so he decides not to buy them any more.
Alice comes to the door. They both weep, but Charlie still sends her away "because I didnít want her to laff at me." He tells her that he doesnít like her nor does he want to become smart. But he later admits to himself that this is not true but, he had to say this so that she would go away. Mrs. Mooney tells Charlie that, Alice has given her some more money to look after him. Charlie does not like this and decides to take up a job soon. He prays that, he doesnít forget, "how to reed and rite."
Charlie goes back to Donner for his old job at the bakery. Donner is very sad and employs him. Seeing him alone, a new worker, Meyer Klaus, harasses him by twisting his arm. Charlie tries to free himself but is unable to do so. He dirties his pants and cries with humiliation. Then Joe comes to his rescue. When Charlie returns after cleaning himself in the toilet, he overhears Frank, Joe and Gimpy talking among themselves about asking Mr. Donner to fire Klaus. Charlie doesnít want that, because he remembers that he had hated it when he was sacked from Donnerís. Gimpy tells Charlie that he and the others will protect him if anyone bothers him. Charlie muses, "It's good to have frends."
Charlie wanders into Aliceís class at the adult center. "I said hello Miss Kinnian Iím redy for my lessen today only I lossed the book we was using." She runs out crying and Charlie says to himself, "I reely pulled a Charlie Gordon that time." He leaves the class.
After this, he decides to leave for the Warren Home, as heís afraid of doing something embarrassing again. He doesnít want everyone to feel sorry for him. He plans to take a few books and practise hard saying, "may be Iíll even get a littel bit smarter than I was before the operashun without an operashun." He also takes with him a new "rabits foot and a luky penny and even a littel bit of that majic powder left and maybe they will help me."
He appeals to "Miss Kinnian" not to feel sorry for him as "Iím glad I got a second chanse in life like you said to be smart." "Now I know I had a family and I was a person just like everyone."
Even now, he hopes to get "a litel smarter" and remembers the joy that he had felt on reading, "the blue book with the toren cover." He remembers the man who tore the book as looking like him but then he feels that it couldnít be him, as he had seen the man through the window. He knows that he is the "first dumb person who found out something important for sience," but he canít remember what it was. He ends his progress report, saying goodbye to Miss Kinnian and Dr. Strauss, telling them to ask Prof. Nemur not to be "such a grouch." He also asks them to put some flowers on Algernonís grave.
Charlie has already accepted that he can only move downwards now. The suffering of Algernon has made that amply clear. Yet, the day to day agony, facing the petty irritants of a meaningless routine with nothing to hope for, is well documented in this chapter. He faces his return to a retarded state with dread and the attraction towards death is very strong. The "strange experience" he has on Straussí couch represents this. The longing to be released from earth, free "like a flying fish leaping out of the sea," but the claims of the "old Charlie Gordon" are too strong. The novel has constantly dwelt on this dichotomy into two selves that exists within Charlie Gordon. Now, the "genius" Charlie feels he has only borrowed the "retarded" Charlieís body and has to return it to him. That he is a person in his own right, in many ways a better human being than most, has been a continued message in the book.
The lab sessions document the agony of a person, who knows that his mind is failing, but is helpless to prevent it. The author reveals Charlieís pain with sensitivity, and makes it a universal experience. It could be any person with a mental or psychological condition, or Parkinsonís disease or simply the tragedy of old age. The continuing loneliness of the human being, made ever worse by a degeneration process, is chilling as is shown in the novel. The rest of the chapter shows the unavoidable severing of personal ties, with Fay, with Strauss and Burt and even the people at the bakery. The only bright spot is that when his powers are failing, Charlieís inhibitions with Alice are swept away. They finally unite sexually; a merging made more poignant by the knowledge that it can only be for a short while.
The form of the novel has come full circle, with the earlier jerky miss-spelt sentences and words resurfacing, as Charlieís downslide progresses. Charlie is transformed slowly and painfully from the lively, rebellious intellectual to the old Charlie - always watching the lives of others from his window. However, the idea that, having lived so fully, Charlie will again slide into his old attitudes and life-style is less convincing. Earlier, he had not known what possibility life could hold. Now, having experienced them so vitally, could he resign himself so smoothly to perpetually living at a sub-human level, peeping at naked women, reading picture books and "girlie magazines?" Except for this possible weakness, the author awakens an exceptional empathy in the reader for Charlie, always a victim but struggling to the end for self-respect and acceptance from society.