Charlie Gordon’s IQ: A Journey of Transformation and Regression

Initial IQ and Intellectual Struggles

Charlie Gordon, a central character in Daniel Keyes’s novel “Flowers for Algernon,” embarks on a transformative journey that revolves around his intelligence quotient (IQ). Initially, Charlie possesses an IQ of 68, which falls within the range of mental retardation. This low IQ significantly impacts his life, limiting his educational and professional opportunities. Charlie’s mother, driven by her desire for her son to be intelligent, instills in him an intense longing to be “smart.” However, when she realizes the futility of her aspirations, she threatens to kill him, leading Charlie’s father to place him in the care of his Uncle Herman.

Key Facts

  1. Charlie Gordon’s initial IQ: At the beginning of the story, Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68. This low IQ is a result of his mental retardation.
  2. Surgery to increase IQ: In the story, Charlie is given the opportunity to undergo a surgery that can triple his IQ. The surgery is experimental and has only been tested on animals, including a white mouse named Algernon.
  3. Increase in IQ: After the surgery, Charlie’s IQ increases from 68 to 204. This significant increase in intelligence allows him to experience life as a highly intelligent individual.
  4. Temporary nature of increased intelligence: Unfortunately, the increased intelligence resulting from the surgery is not permanent. Charlie’s intelligence begins to deteriorate, and he eventually returns to his original IQ level.

Experimental Surgery and Enhanced Intelligence

Charlie’s life takes an unexpected turn when he enrolls in classes at the Beekman Center for Retarded Adults. There, he meets Miss Kinnian, a teacher who recognizes his potential and recommends him for an experimental surgery conducted by a team of doctors from Beekman University’s psychology department. This surgery aims to stimulate Charlie’s brain centers and enhance his ability to learn, thereby increasing his intelligence.

The surgery proves successful, and Charlie’s IQ triples from 68 to 204. This newfound intelligence opens up a world of possibilities for Charlie. He experiences life as a highly intelligent individual, excelling in various fields and gaining recognition for his intellectual prowess. Charlie’s relationship with Miss Kinnian also deepens, evolving from teacher and student to platonic friends, lovers, and eventually returning to teacher and student.

Temporary Triumph and the Inevitable Regression

Charlie’s heightened intelligence, however, is short-lived. The experimental surgery’s effects begin to wane, and his IQ gradually declines. This regression is both physically and emotionally painful for Charlie and those around him. He witnesses the deterioration of his cognitive abilities, the loss of his newfound knowledge, and the fading of his relationships.

The regression eventually reduces Charlie’s IQ to a level lower than his initial state. Despite this setback, he retains occasional glimpses of his former intelligence, providing bittersweet reminders of the life he once had. In the novel’s poignant conclusion, Charlie chooses to move to the Warren State Home, believing it will be easier for his friends.


What is Charlie Gordon’s initial IQ?

At the beginning of the story, Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68, which is considered to be in the range of mental retardation.

How does Charlie Gordon’s IQ change after the experimental surgery?

After undergoing the experimental surgery, Charlie Gordon’s IQ increases significantly from 68 to 204, making him highly intelligent.

Is the increased intelligence permanent?

No, the increased intelligence resulting from the surgery is not permanent. Charlie’s IQ gradually declines over time, eventually returning to his original level or even lower.

What are the consequences of Charlie Gordon’s declining IQ?

As Charlie’s IQ declines, he experiences a loss of knowledge, skills, and memories acquired during his period of high intelligence. He also faces emotional distress and struggles to cope with the loss of his newfound abilities.

Why does Charlie Gordon’s IQ decline?

The exact reason for the decline in Charlie Gordon’s IQ is not fully explained in the story. However, it is implied that the experimental surgery’s effects are temporary, and the regression is a natural process.

How does Charlie Gordon’s environment and social interactions change as his IQ fluctuates?

During his period of high intelligence, Charlie Gordon experiences positive changes in his environment and social interactions. He gains recognition for his intellectual achievements and forms meaningful relationships. However, as his IQ declines, he faces discrimination and isolation due to his diminishing abilities.

What is the significance of Charlie Gordon’s journey in terms of understanding human intelligence?

Charlie Gordon’s journey highlights the complexities and limitations of human intelligence. It raises questions about the nature of intelligence, its measurement, and the impact of intelligence on an individual’s life and relationships.

What ethical considerations arise from Charlie Gordon’s experimental surgery?

Charlie Gordon’s experimental surgery raises ethical questions regarding the manipulation of human intelligence, the potential risks and benefits of such procedures, and the informed consent of individuals undergoing experimental treatments.