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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel has been divided into Progress Reports as submitted by the narrator Charlie Gordon to researchers in the Psychology Lab at Beckman College. These reports form chapters and their form and language reflect Charlie’s state of mind (and spelling).
Progris riport 1 - Martch 3
Charlie Gordon introduces himself. He is thirty-two-year-old and works at Donner’s Bakery in New York, where he is paid $11 a week. He explains that he attends Miss Kinnian’s class for retarded adults at Beckman College, where he has learned to read and write. He has been introduced to Dr. Strauss and Prof. Nemur who ‘will see if they can use me.’ Charlie wants ‘to be smart.’ Miss Kinnian tells him that perhaps the two experts can help. The readers also learn that Dr. Strauss has asked him to write down, what he thinks and what happens to him during the day. He is therefore maintaining this record for the psychologists to study.
The progress report form has been used innovatively by the author. It is organic to his subject - which is the transformation of a mentally retarded young adult into a genius, and his later regression.
The report format and the first person narrative involve the reader directly in the functioning of Charlie’s mind. This first report establishes the emptiness of Charlie’s own life and his innocence - the readers are told that he is thirty-two-years old, works in Donner’s bakery at a low wage, and is keen enough to study on his ‘time off.’ His ‘guinea pig’ status is also established when Charlie says that, they ‘will see if they can use me.’ The severe limitations of Charlie’s capacity for thought are clear in, ‘I can’t think any more because I have nothing to rite so I will close for today.’ This and the brevity of Charlie’s first report, emphasize his mental state. The simple sentences peppered with bad spelling and wrong usage contribute to this impression.
Progris report 2- Martch 4
Burt, a doctoral student at the college, conducts Charlie’s first test. Charlie is afraid that he has failed it and won’t be ‘used.’ The lab and the white coat make him feel Burt could be a doctor, except that he doesn’t tell Charlie "to open my mouth and say ah!" Burt’s repeated suggestions that he should relax only gets him "skared becos, it always means its gonna hert." For the test, Burt shows Charlie a lot of white cards with red and black ink splattered on them. Burt explains it’s a ‘raw shok test’ (Rorschach Inkblot test) and asks Charlie to describe what he sees in the inkblots. Charlie tries desperately hard but is unable to visualize anything but an ‘inkblot.’ He is sure he has failed the test when Burt’s frustration makes him break his pencil-point. Charlie feels that, even his ‘luky rabbit’s foot’ hasn’t helped.
Charlie’s fear of the unknown and his ‘normal’ expectations of pain and bad treatment from those around him, are underlined by this chapter. He clings to ‘lucky’ objects for comfort in a hostile world. The reader gets a graphic picture of the experience in the lab, and the subject’s keen desire to please and win approval. It is a re-creation of every individual’s childhood horror story of a visit to a doctor. Charlie tries hard, putting on and off his reading glasses, trying to pump the researcher for hints, but failing. He is shown to be like a child in some ways, but he does not have the ability to imagine and fantasize, like a normal child. In spite of his anxiety, Charlie’s determination to continue and ‘get smart’ is unshaken.