Thursday, October 15, 2009

Flowers for Algernon

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The eighth grade reading class is one of my personal favorites. There’s something about being at the top of middle school that brings a little too much confidence, a few too many hearts hand drawn in the margin, and a mouth quick to hand out advice—about anyone or anything.

Last week we read “Flowers for Algernon,” a thought provoking story about a man named Charlie, who takes part in a surgical procedure that increases his intelligence. His progress is detailed in his personal journal, and measured against a mouse, Algernon, who consistently betters his attempts at a maze. As the plot progresses Charlie supersedes Algernon, only to watch him deteriorate before his eyes, predicting Charlie’s own inevitable demise. In the end Charlie runs away…he can’t stand to be around people that knew him at his peak, knowing that they would watch him fall further, when he would no longer be able to protect himself against their demeaning or pitying remarks.

So was it worth it? Should he have had the procedure? The students overwhelmingly said no: it was better for him to not know what he was missing. Better to not make sense of the criticism behind his back, better to not appreciate symphonic music, understand multiple languages, or experience a relationship. Better to just stay away from risk, or pain.

Surely it’s better to live in oblivion.

We had our own Algernon wander around our apartment last week. And then we had another. We caught them in a couple traps, but only after determining that the tiny piles of dirt around the house were actually mouse excrement. There was a pile in the bathroom, a pile under the kitchen table, and a pile…on my bed.

Curtis went out to the store at 10:30pm, and returned a hero with the necessary weapons to fight off our apparent invasion. The traps were set, but after a nearly sleepless night no rodent had ventured under the poised, tense metal.

The following evening we returned to find, with eyes bulging, a dead mouse in the trap. I never actually set eyes on the deceased intruder; Curtis cleaned it up, and set the new trap without ever needing my (unwilling) assistance.

Minutes later, tucked away in bed, we were jarred awake by the loud SNAP of the trap as it caught yet another assailant. Adrenaline rushing, I once again supported (from under the covers of my defiled bed) Curtis as he tossed the still-moving mouse and set up yet another trap.

Every evening when I return from work, I check this third trap with much anticipation, and find great joy to find it empty.

Yet sometimes I wonder if it was better not to know…not to scour the apartment for small pellets, not to race to turn the lights on to reveal a rodent.

I prefer traps.

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