Flowers for Algernon

I just finished reading Flowers for Algernon, a sci-fi novel written in the 60s about a mentally retarded man who undergoes a surgical procedure to become a genius. I never got the chance to read this book while I was in school, but unlike most classics I was forced to write book reports on1, I found Algernon compelling enough to read through in a handful of sittings.

One theme that reoccurs throughout the book is that raw intelligence, measured simply as IQ, is wholly insufficient in living a full life. The term emotional intelligence or EQ didn’t come about till the 80s – Algernon was written in the 60s – but the novel puts forth the idea that emotional maturity plays an crucial part in daily life. Since the protagonist only gets an artificial boost of intelligence without the corresponding experiences that anchor his emotions, he ends up, time and time again, in awkward social situations.

It reminds me of intellectualization: a defense mechanism (frequently employed upon ye epic internet debate threads) that tries to shut down emotional stress by focusing on just facts and purely logical reasoning. Emotions are often irrational, painful, sudden, and in some cases unexplainable; it takes experience and strength to come to terms with one’s own emotions, and to accept one of the core characters of humanity. “It takes strength to show your feelings. It is heroic to cry.

And being a new father, the way my son cries when he tries to sleep or smiles when I smile is the most raw, most unfiltered form of emotion I experience. When I was younger, I’d look back on my childhood and scold myself for being such a baby, yet when I look upon my child, I now find it precious, the period of life that does not have to conform to societal expectations and is expressed so simply and naturally.

I’m going to make him read this book.

  1. Hick Finn and Catcher in the Rye, I’m looking at you guys.

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