Why Was Flowers for Algernon Banned?
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Flowers for Algernon is a story by Daniel Keyes, an American author who later expanded it into a novel that was subsequently adopted for filmmaking. The story was written in 1958 and was published in April 1958. The book is inspired by events in the author’s life, mainly a conflict with his parents, who wanted him to join medical school, although he wanted to pursue a career in writing. In the book, the main character, Charlie Gordon, an old developmentally disabled man, undergoes different surgical procedures to increase his mental capabilities (Keyes, 2018). The procedure had been done on Algernon, and Charlie was to be the first human subject. Through progressive reports, Charlie writes about everything happening to him as his intelligence increases to a genius level. The story, however, has a tragic end as Charlie has difficulties making friends and establishing new connections with people. Flowers for Algernon is a widely read classic science fiction. Still, despite its widespread popularity and critical acclaim, the book is controversial and banned in some schools and libraries for various reasons.
Explicit Language and Sexual Content
One of the main reasons Flowers for Algernon has been banned in some schools and libraries is explicit Language and themes of sexual content. The novel contains several scenes and references to sexual behavior and Language that may be considered inappropriate for specific audiences. For example, the protagonist, Charlie, engages in a sexual relationship with a coworker, and there are several descriptions of the physical aspects of their relationship. Additionally, the novel touches upon themes of sexual desire and relationships, including infidelity and jealousy(Skocelas, 2013). These themes may be considered too mature or explicit for specific age groups, leading to the book being banned in some educational institutions and libraries. Overall, the explicit Language and themes of sexual content in Flowers for Algernon have contributed to its censorship and removal from specific locations, especially in various academic institutions and similar school-aged audiences.
Depiction of Violence
Secondly, Flowers for Algernon may have been banned in certain schools and libraries due to its depiction of violence. Throughout the novel, Charlie encounters physical violence, including being beaten up by his coworkers and being involved in a bar fight. Bullying is also depicted throughout the novel. In showing the relationship between intelligent and unintelligent people, Charlie Gordon shows ways in which people mock and bully those who are intellectually inferior. He suggests that people of average intelligence bully the mentally disabled to remind themselves of their place in the “pecking order.” The traumatic effects of bullying are also shown in the novel. Charlie experiences terrifying flashbacks due to intense bullying and abuse (Lombardi, 2019). In one instance, Charlie admits that he fears women, an effect associated with emotional and physical abuse in his childhood. The instances of discrimination could also be why the book was banned in some libraries and schools. Throughout the story, Charlie faces prejudices due to his mental incapabilities.
Additionally, the story includes references to drug use, as Charlie becomes addicted to amphetamines while participating in a surgical experiment to increase his intelligence. These themes of violence and drug abuse may be considered inappropriate or disturbing for certain readers, leading to the book being banned in specific locations. It is worth noting that while these themes are present in the novel, they are not glorified or presented in a positive light but instead used as a means to explore the consequences of Charlie’s actions and the challenges he faces as he navigates his newfound intelligence. Therefore, they may be disturbing or inappropriate for some readers, particularly young readers.
Throughout the novel, Charlie wrestles with expressing and understanding his sexual desires. This is evidenced by encounters with Charlie’s teacher, Alice, and his free-spirited neighbor, Fay. These depictions have raised concerns among parents and education stakeholders who sometimes associate these scenes with pornography. For instance, in 1970, two school boards in Canada banned the book from the ninth-grade syllabus and library following a complaint by a parent who described the book as filthy and immoral (Chrissy, 2022). Moreover, most people argued that the novel had no place in any language or art class as it seems to contradict or works at cross purpose with the division’s family life curriculum, which teaches about sexual purity and abstinence. The book appears to sabotage the teachings in other areas by depicting promiscuous behaviors.
Profanity and Religious Concerns
People have raised concerns about the theme of religion in the story. The Lord’s name appears to be used in vain, and the authority of God is questioned. In the book, the authority of God is strongly tied to the treatment of the mentally ill, as most of them cannot make their own decisions. Charlie does not care about God’s existence and mostly takes a neutral view.
Flowers for Algernon is thought-provoking, but its reputation is ruined by its many controversial themes. Although no significant contents warrant the book’s ban at all levels, they are genuine concerns about why it should not be exposed to younger learners. Some of these significant reasons include religion, sexual content, religious depiction of violence, and drug use, issues that are sensitive to the kids, especially at a young age. The book should therefore be restricted to adults and teenagers who have reached a certain age rather than altogether banning the book.
- Chrissy. (2022, June 24). “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes: A personal review. Owlcation. https://owlcation.com/humanities/Flowers-for-Algernon-by-Daniel-Keyes-a-Personal-Review
- Keyes, D. (2018). Flowers for Algernon. Heinemann, Windmill Series.
- Lombardi, E. (2019, October 17). Why is “Flowers for Algernon” controversial? ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/flowers-for-algernon-questions-study-discussion-739761
- Skocelas, K. (2013, November 27). Themes of “Flowers for Algernon’. Prezi.com. https://prezi.com/z8awcxpcf1hp/themes-of-flowers-for-algernon/