Monthly Archives: July 2014

The most memorable narrator: Flowers For Algernon

Purple flowers

Flower image courtesy of kzida, Morguefile.

Narration is a well-used tool among many authors. Some fiction writers, such as Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, prefer to tell the entire story through the first-person eyes of one character. Others vary the narrator from chapter to chapter (and in some books I’ve read, the narrator’s name is helpfully printed at the beginning of the chapter so you can easily tell who’s who).

And then there’s Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. This book is a collection of poems that serve as the epitaphs for the residents of a town and tell their life stories. Spoon River Anthology kept popping up on the book list during my school days; it’s strange to realize that the book is almost a hundred years old now. The narrator of each poem tells the individual story of how he or she lived and what led to his or her death.

The most memorable narrator I’ve ever read, however, is Charlie Gordon of Daniel Keyes’ book Flowers For Algernon. Keyes writes the book in a journal-type form, starting with Charlie’s beginning as a 32-year-old man who works as a janitor and delivery boy in a bakery. Charlie is learning-disabled and the beginning of the novel reflects it with punctuation errors, poor spelling and Charlie’s naive attitude.

Later on, Charlie undergoes an experimental operation designed to increase his intelligence, as it did with a lab mouse called Algernon. As Charlie recovers from the operation, his self-awareness grows, he becomes wiser (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) in the ways of the world and he sees other characters in his life differently. He sees their greed, condescension, fear and envy and the text changes to reflect his new literacy and attitudes. Charlie also starts his first romantic relationships.

Near the end, the operation affects both Algernon and Charlie. Charlie’s mental deterioration shows as more and more errors gradually appear in the book’s text.

So far, this book is the only one I’ve ever seen that has a character’s emotional and mental metamorphosis told through its first-person text. It’s a powerful storytelling device and it makes for a memorable book.

Blog readers, who is your most memorable narrator?







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