How does the language and structure used in the play Flowers for Algernon help to convey the characters and themes of the play?
In the radio play, ‘The play of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon’ which was adapted by Bert Coules, language and structure convey the themes and characters of the play. Charlie’s personality throughout the play is mainly developed through the implementation of the language. The changes which occur in Charlie are also emphasized dramatically through the use of language and progress reports. The play explores the themes of medical and ethical issues and how language affects this. Structure and language both play a large part in the radio play ”The play of Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon’ by conveying the characters and themes of the play.
Charlie Gordon’s character is demonstrated clearly through the language of the play. His childlike personality especially is shown clearly in the beginning and at the end of the play. This trait of Charlie’s personality is shown most effectively by the use of language, as shown when Charlie races Algernon in the ‘amazed’. When Charlie finally wins, he exclaims “Ha! I won! I beat Algernon!”, which is similar to what a child would say after losing consistently and then winning.
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Similarly, when Charlie first loses to Algernon, he creates a reason why he hasn’t won, using an excuse to try to make himself feel better. “Maybe white mice are smarter than other mice.” This again shows Charlie’s emotional immaturity and how he tries to find a plausible reason why he loses, a mentality that is similar to that of a child.
The grammatical errors which Charlie makes when the playscript was written add to the depth of his character. The main sign that shows that Charlie’s IQ is very low is how the script is written with purposely applied grammatical errors. Throughout the entire beginning of the play, Charlie’s recordings have these errors. An example of this is when Charlie says ‘…because I tried the hardest and I really wanted to lern.’ It not only implies Charlie’s low level of intelligence but also shows his ‘motor-vision and determination to be smart. For example, Charlie refers to the maze in which he races Algernon as the ‘amazed’. This misspelling of the word has two main effects, the main one referring to Charlie’s low IQ. The other effect is that it shows that Charlie cannot conceptualize because he takes things very literally.
When Charlie first meets Bert he is polite and courteous. Then when confronted by Bert during the Rorschach test, his inability to conceptualize shows, and he says that he can only see an inkblot. Then later on in the play, Charlie says that ‘I like to draw pictures but I won’t makeup lies’. This line contributes to Charlie’s image of being noble and that he was brought up to be honest, and that he tries to make the best of what he has.
As the play progresses, Charlie’s personality becomes different; from a caring, nobleman to someone who is spiteful, protective of himself and selfish. The implementation of language illustrates this change effectively. This change occurs because of his inability to communicate with the world around him due to his increasing intelligence. He feels like a misfit because initially he was too inane to fit in, and after the effects of the experiment have reached their peaks, he was too intelligent to socialize. His increased IQ is shown when he is talking to Ms. Kinnian in the cafï¿½ bar, as he tries to explain something so complicated that Ms. Kinnian is unable to follow.
This inability to communicate sparks anger in Charlie, ‘I was almost angered’, as did the realization that the world is not what it seemed like before. ‘No one I’ve ever known is what he appears to be on the surface’. The effect of this line emphasizes how Charlie has changed from being a simple-minded person to one who feels anger and regret. When Charlie says ‘Before, when they laughed at me, they despised me for my ignorance, now, they hate me for my knowledge. What in God’s name do they want of me?’, it sums up his emotions and what he feels.
Joe and Frank’s characters are demonstrated through the use of language in the play. Their speech constructs the characters and also affects how the character’s personalities come across to the audience. Their use of slang and improper tenses shows that they do not have particularly high intelligence. “I don’t think he had no operation’. This implies that although they are superior to Charlie initially, the way they speak constructs their personality as ordinary people. Joe and Frank’s personalities are constructed and conveyed the most effectively through their speech and the use of language.
Progress reports play a large part in the structure of the play. They show how Charlie changes, and because it is a recurrent structure, you can use it to compare previous and current reactions. This is shown by how Charlie’s style of speech changes from simplistic and childlike, to that of a genius with sophisticated ideas, and then back again. The obvious contrast between “The operation dint hurt” and “No guarantee of permanence” makes it easy to show Charlie’s change in character. The use of progress reports provides an added method of giving the audience insight into Charlie’s character.
Ethics play a large part in the play. They encourage the thought of how society treats people with low intelligence. The way that society treats people differently from themselves is shown clearly by the event which happened in the coffee shop when the young mentally handicapped man in the shop drops the plates. The immediate reaction of the customers is one of spite and jeering. “Good catch! Nice one! Well, he didn’t work here long’. This shows that the initial reaction of most people towards those who are of different intelligence is one that makes them feel lonely.
These people are used most commonly for a cheap laugh, and Charlie realizes this and then is struck with what he did. “…My God” The factory workers are a prime example of how society tolerates individuals with low intelligence. For example, before, when Charlie had a low IQ, they treat him as his superiors and used him as the source of cheap laughs. When Charlie’s intelligence increases, they grow insecure and frightened. When Charlie gives his suggestion that the machines in the factory could be arranged in a different way, this makes Joe, Frank and other factory workers feel less superior to him.
This is mainly because since factory workers are not very high on society’s scale, there are few that they can feel superior to. One of these few people is Charlie, and when he becomes more intelligent than them, they feel that they have no one to look down on anymore, and feel scared. When Joe says “What’d they do Charlie? Put some brains in?”, it clearly shows the superiority which they feel over Charlie. Throughout the play, the theme of society’s treatment of people with low intelligence is conveyed through the language of the characters.
The medical issue embraced by the play is that whether the two doctors were ethically correct in operating on Charlie, because of his inability to give his full consent. Charlie was not smart enough initially to fully understand the operation, which could be understood as the doctors taking advantage of his ignorance.
His blatant misunderstanding of how the doctors said that the experiment might not be permanent is shown by his reaction immediately after the operation. “But you said I’d be smart”. This implies that he does not fully understand the operation, and thus, shows his inability to give his full consent. The theme of medical issues confronted in the play is conveyed through the use of language and provides an added concept to the play.
In the radio play ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes and adapted by Bert Coules, the language and structure of the play used by the playwright convey the characters and themes in a variety of ways. Intentional grammatical errors in speech show the depth of Charlie’s character and it also highlights the change of his intelligence. The progress reports which Coules uses also help the audience to notice the change which happens to Charlie.
The main themes of the play are how the medical and ethical issues of increasing intelligence are confronted, and how society treats people with high or low intelligence. Through the dialogue of the characters, we are given a clear and vivid impression of each character’s traits. The effective use of language and structure conveys the characters to a point where it feels that we know them intimately, and that makes the themes so vivid. Bert Coules has made the play ‘Flowers for Algernon’ an improvement, a play to which we can all relate.
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