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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Progress Report 10 April 21
Charlie makes history at the bakery. He rearranges the baking machines so as to speed up production. Mr. Donner gives him a ten-dollar weekly raise and a fifty-dollar bonus. Charlie is thrilled and wants to go out for a celebration. Unfortunately, no one seems free to join him. He notes that everyone seems frightened of him. They no longer play tricks on him like Frank once did, like knocking his legs from under him when he had been sleepy once. They aren’t friendly either. Charlie recalls a scene when Frank had knocked him down. This had made Gimpy very angry and he had asked the boys to leave Charlie alone. Gimpy, bluff and dour, with a bad foot, had been Charlie’s champion.
On that day, Frank had suggested that they teach Charlie to bake rolls. Charlie was excited but he didn’t have the confidence to assert himself. Finally, everyone had got in on the experiment, and both the bakers had tried to show him how to mould the dough. Charlie was eager to please Gimpy, who had always been kind in his own gruff way. He watched both bakers but found their different styles confusing. Gimpy tried to tempt him with a cheap shiny pendant on a chain. He accepted the dough and then panicked. The words ‘teach’ and ‘learn’ bring back an oppressive childhood memory of his mother’s arm raised to strike him for not learning something. The other people in the bakery told him to continue and finally he started rolling the dough into a ball and making little rolls the way Gimpy was doing it. Then Gimpy insisted that Charlie should repeat the activity on his own, without watching them.
The second time, Charlie had forgotten everything and while he was trying to remember, the others had given up on him and moved away. In spite of him not ‘deserving’ the shiny medallion, Gimpy had given it to him. Charlie was touched by his kindness, but had wished, that the others would be more patient with him. He is sure that he would have remembered the work if they had given him time. When they had discussed him with a casual "Go on, you big baby", Charlie had fooled around with his comic book, acting as if it was a hat, to make them laugh. Looking back on that scene, Charlie is wistful.
Charlie is now beginning to notice a change in the attitude of the people at the bakery towards him. He is conscious that he owes the huge change in his life to Nemur and Strauss, but "the pleasure’s gone because the others resent me." Charlie attributes this change to the fact that they don’t understand what has happenned to him and therefore does not blame them. He feels lonely, and decides to ask Miss Kinnian to go to a movie with him.
Charlie wants permission from either Nemur or Strauss before inviting Miss Kinnian, so he visits the campus. Here, he overhears a heated argument between the two. Nemur has agreed to present a paper on their experiment with Charlie at a convention in Chicago. Strauss objects to this idea as he feels that it is too early. Charlie overhears them hurling abuses and criticisms at each other. He suddenly realizes he has no right to listen, as "they might not have cared when I was too feeble-minded to know what was going on, but now that I could understand they wouldn’t want me to hear it." He therefore leaves the campus. Their quarrel upsets him as, for the first time, he sees them as, "not gods or even heroes but just two men worried about getting something out of their work."
April 26 & 27
Charlie finds himself getting more and more attracted towards the intense literary and intellectual discussions between students at the university luncheonette. He is shocked and then excited by their debates on the existence of God. He soon becomes deeply involved in reading a lot of literature and he describes this as, "feeding a hunger that can’t be satisfied."
His identifying with the students rekindles an old memory, and he dreams of a scene between his mother and his teacher at P.S. 13, his first school. His mother tries to scratch the teacher when she advises the family to send Charlie to a special school. He remembers that he was six years old then and his sister Norma was not been born. His mother, a tense, talkative woman, "was always fluttering, like a big, white bird-around my father, and he too heavy and tired to escape her pecking." She screams at his father, refusing to accept Charlie’s condition - "He’s not a dummy. He’s normal. He’ll be just like everyone else." His father objects to her "driving him as if he were an animal that could learn to do tricks." The loud voices frighten Charlie who takes refuge in a game with his bunch of beads. His mother flings them away, commanding him to play with his alphabet blocks. His mother’s sudden outburst scares him and by looking at him his mother realizes that he has to go to the toilet. She asls him to go the toilet alone but Charlie is too petrified to move and therefore spoils his clothes. She goes towards him to hit him and Charlie turns to his father for comfort. Unable to influence her, Charlie remembers his father walking out of the apartment.
Now, Charlie suddenly recalls that their names were Rose and Matt. Even in the dream, he is unable to see their faces clearly. It has been a long time.
The progress Charlie makes after the operation is shown almost imperceptibly. The device of a first person narrator is very effective in this novel. It allows him to depict Charlie’s thoughts and condition without the distancing or patronizing attitude that an omniscient narrator might have had. It also underlines the huge difference between the original Charlie and his persona after the operation.
Three major developments are seen in this chapter. One is the disappointment of the post-operation Charlie’s hopes, of the deepening his friendship and of shared enjoyment with his "mates" at the bakery. The earlier "dumb" Charlie had believed them to be his friends and had been happy in their company. Now he is increasingly isolated from Frank, Joe and even Gimpy, his protector in earlier days. At another level, the reader is shown that even the earlier ‘friendship’ was more in Charlie’s mind. Joe, Frank, and others had treated him sometimes with tolerance and at the others times, with a gleeful spite.
The second important development is Charlie’s slowly revealed memories of his home life, which appear mostly in his dreams. The dominant figure is that of his mother. Her fanatical determination that Charlie should be "normal," makes her the center of his youthful fear and discomfort. She is seen as a bird of prey pecking at his gentle father.
The third important element is Charlie’s new perspective of Nemur and Strauss, the two experimental scientists. Earlier Charlie was shown as accepting them as agents of hope in his life. There was irony in the depiction of their puppet-master attitudes, but the irony was not in Charlie’s mind. After the operation he looks at them analytically, they are not ‘Gods’ any more, and in their confusion and egotism, lies Charlie’s insecurity.
The readers also notice that, the Progress Reports become longer and more complex, with the increasing intelligence and complexity of Charlie’s mind.