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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The action of the novel is set in New York City. The protagonist works at a bakery in New York. From here he goes to evening classes at Beckman College. When the novel begins, he is already thirty-two years old, but does not remember anything of his home. Later, the readers are told that his mother and sister still live in their old home in Brooklyn in Marks Street, which is a poor neighborhood. His father Matt Gordon has long since left his wife, and has a barbershop on Wentworth Street, a run-down section of the Bronx. Thus, New York is the background against which the action moves. Only one event, the Psychology convention takes place in Chicago.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
He is a thirty two-year-old, mentally retarded adult, who is living and working in New York. His life changes dramatically when he undergoes an experimental operation to improve his intelligence. Charlie is the protagonist as well as the narrator of the story.
She is a teacher at the Beckman special school for retarded adults where Charlie is a student. She suggests his name to the research team of the psychology department, as a possible candidate for the experiment. Charlie loves and depends on her, and she cares for him till the end of the novel.
Charlie’s unconventional neighbor is an artist. Reckless and generous, she has an affair with Charlie, which ends when his mind begins to regress.
Charlie’s mother who appears mainly in Charlie’s flashes of memory that he has about his disturbed childhood. She initially denies his retarded state and drives him to overcome it, but rejects him completely after bearing a second normal child. She makes an appearance towards the end of the novel, as a senile and still unhappy, obsessed woman.
Charlie’s father, who represents the voice of kindness and sanity in the family, but is too gentle to prevail over his dominant wife. He finally sends Charlie away, fearing for his safety, and later walks out on his wife and daughter.
Harold Nemur & Jay Strauss
They are neuro-surgeons and psychiatrists who are the senior members of the research team that experiments on Charlie. His feelings for them change from respect and trust, to suspicion and contempt after the operation. Nemur is the more unsympathetic of the two.
Charlie’s younger sister. She, like the parents, appears in the scenes that Charlie remembers, until the end, when he visits his family home. A spoiled and high-strung girl, she reflects her mother’s attitudes. The adult Norma is very different from the child.
The laboratory assistant, who is a junior member of the team. Initially seen as kind and patient, Charlie considers him a friend. Burt however is too much a part of the team to be really committed to Charlie.
He is the owner of the bakery, where Charlie works. A kind, paternal figure, he looks after Charlie and becomes his guardian after his uncle’s death.
A senior baker with a bad leg. He is sympathetic to Charlie’s problems and protects him from the others. Their friendship is affected when he is found cheating Donner.
Frank Reilly & Joe Carp
Initially role models for Charlie, they represent the brutish insensitive people for whom, anyone with a handicap is fair game.
She is a woman worker who protects Charlie and suggests that, he attend the special school. She has serious doubts about the changes in Charlie and feels that they are dangerous.
Charlie’s land lady. She feeds and looks after Charlie in his regressive phase, when he has rejected all his other friends.
Ray Winslow & Thelma
He is the head psychologist and she is a housemother at the Warren State Home for retarded people. Charlie regards the Home with dread, but is comforted on meeting them. They are both sincere and dedicated people, doing their difficult jobs in the best way they can.