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Grace Billman

14 August 2015
Summer Reading Essay
Keyes and Plato wrote on very different topics at very different times, however, they both
demonstrate similar thematic thinking. Platos excerpt from The Republic and Daniel Keyess
Flowers for Algernon both heavily display one of the main themes in Keyess work: knowledge,
in and of itself, is not everything.
Plato states, when he sees anyone whose vision is perplexed and weakhe will first
ask whether that soul of manhaving turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of
light. The mans total bearing is his vision, the turning from the darkness to the light is gaining
knowledge and leaving the archaic past behind. However, if the man is dazzled by his newfound
knowledge he cannot always properly adjust and regain his equal bearings or vision. This is
what happens to Charlie after the operation. Charlie is now in possession of a genius IQ but still
cannot tell how to proceed in regards to questions of morality. When Charlie learns of Gimpys
stealing he is conflicted and turns to Dr. Strauss who informs him of his moral obligation to tell
Mr. Donner. Charlie realizes it is not that simple (Keyes 89). Charlies vision is clouded and
while he possesses the knowledge of how to either lie to Mr. Donner or turn Gimpy in, he cannot
take a strong moral stand. With his increase of knowledge he can now see all sides and see the
shadows that the light creates. This creates a basic human struggle which Charlie has never
before encountered the struggle of good versus evil which no amount of brain power will
help with.

As Charlie gains knowledge he loses some of his equal bearing and falls short in his
previously gregarious ways. After Charlie visits Alice Kinnians class, she harshly calls him out
on it stating, Its your attitude toward people youre not the same kind of human being
(Keyes 122). She details how hes lost his warmth and what made people like him. As with the
relation between the speed of his increase in knowledge and his regression, his loss of his affable
nature directly responds to his growing IQ. Charlie sees his attitude before the operation as one
of the reasons he was picked on and seeks both consciously and subconsciously to distance
himself from that behavior, despite it leaving people with a positive impression of his character.
Charlie assumes that with his smarts he now has it all, failing to see that they cannot provide him
with the friends that he had before the operation and thus, he loses them in his search for the
In conjunction with Charlies loss of happy manners, he becomes arrogantly selfabsorbed after his operation. His brilliance becomes the foundation of his disdain and
furthermore, his isolation. When it first occurs, Charlie is not aware of it, simply thinking the
college students conversations childish (Keyes 97). He has just stepped into Platos metaphorical
light and can see almost nothing around or beyond it. Later however, he with the aid of
Professor Nemur came to the conclusion, I was an arrogant, self-centered bastardincapable
ofthinking about other people and their problems (Keyes 253). Charlie has grown
accustomed to the light and is no longer dazzled by it and has obtained stronger sight and can see
that his bearing is off and his knowledge had made him hard and he is greatly ashamed of it. This
is the closest Charlie will ever come to a clear vision and a fully equal bearing of himself. Soon
after, Charlie discovers the flaw in Nemur and Strausss theories and names it the Algernon-

Gordon Effect. With this discovery he learns his time in the light is limited and he will soon
descend to the darkness from whence he rose.
Keyes and Plato both describe the nature of man and how great knowledge does not a
great man make. Their similar message spans centuries and still stands as a reminder to people
today that knowledge is not and cannot be the end all or be all.