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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Progress Report 17
Charlie is going downhill. He is depressed and thinks of suicide. Then thoughts of the "other" Charlie make him ashamed - "His life is not mine to throw away. Iíve just borrowed it for a while and now Iím being asked to return it." He keeps reminding himself heís the only person to have such experiences and realizes that he must document them as his contribution to mankind. Charlie works very hard and avoids sleep. He plays loud music in order to keep awake and the neighbors call the police. His relationship with them becomes hostile, but he doesnít even notice the change.
Charlie has an abrasive session of therapy with Strauss. Charlie is irritable and constantly tries to provoke Strauss. He compares him to a barber who gives "ego shampoos," and asks whether an "idiot" can have an "id?" Strauss lets him rave, and refuses to be provoked. Charlie lies back on his couch and has a strange experience. He sees "a blue-white glow from the walls and the ceiling gathering into a shimmering ball...forcing itself into my brain...and my eyes.... I have the feeling of floating...and yet without looking down I know my body is still here on the couch..." He feels as if he is released from the earth. "And then, as I know I am about to pierce the crust of existence, like a flying fish leaping out of the sea, I feel the pull from below." Unwillingly, Charlie is pulled back to earth and comes to consciousness. He wonders whether it is a hallucination or is it the kind of experience described by the mystics? He returns to reality feeling as if he is being thrown against the walls of a cave, beyond which is a "holy light" which is more than he can bear. He is filled with "pain" and "coldness and nausea" and he screams.
Charlie ends the therapy session, telling Strauss that he wonít come back. He is immensely depressed and is haunted by Platoís words, "--the men of the cave would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes..." They seem to reflect the bizarre see-saw that his life has been, and the dreaded shrinking of his intelligence.
Charlie still struggles with his reports. He goes unwillingly to the Beekman lab, as he feels that he owes it to the team there. But, he balks at the grind of the same old mazes he used to do with Algernon. He notices that it is taking him much longer now than it did before to solve a maze. Burt puts him through the Rorschach inkblots, but he realizes that he has forgotten what to do. He becomes incoherent, then tells Burt that he is not a guinea pig and therefore should be left alone. He rejects Burtís sympathy saying, "we donít happen to belong on the same level. I passed your floor on the way up and now Iím passing it on the way down, and I donít think Iíll be taking this elevator again." He then rushes out of the university.
Strauss visits Charlie but Charlie refuses to open the door to him. Charlie tries to read ĎParadise Lostí which he loved, but he canít Ďmake senseí of it. He relives the awful past when his mother had tried to teach him reading and had threatened Ďto beat it into him until he learns.í In anguish, Charlie breaks the binding and rips the pages out. He leaves it lying on the floor "its torn white tongues were laughing because I couldnít understand what they were saying." He prays, "Iíve got to try to hold onto some of the things Iíve learned. Please God, donít take it all away."
Charlie wanders about at night, aimlessly. He first stands on the streets, looking "at faces." Once, a policeman takes him home when he is lost. Another time, a pimp cheats him of ten dollars.
One morning, Charlie walks home to find Alice asleep there. She refuses all attempts to put her off, and insists that she has come, "because thereís still time. And I want to spend it with you." Charlie says thereís only enough time for him to spend with himself. She refuses to pity him, saying that, the future "was no secret" and intellectually, he is at her level now. She reaches out determinedly and this time the psychological barriers donít go up. Charlie loves her "with more than my body." He feels he has "unwound the string she had given me, and found my way out of the labyrinth to where she was." This sexual experience is not simple - "it was being lifted off the earth, outside fear and torment, being part of something greater than myself. ... We merged to re-create and perpetuate the human spirit." It reminds him of the Ďstrange visioní he had experienced during his therapy with Strauss. He finds a kind of comfort in knowing that what they have, "is more than most people find in a lifetime."
Alice and Charlie go to a concert, but he finds he canít pay attention for long. Aliceís presence is a "bad thing" because it makes him feel that he should fight his fate, "freeze" himself at this level, and not lose her.
Alice tells Charlie he has blank spells when he lies around for days and doesnít know her. He knows it is inevitable, but he canít help wondering if he can fight the regression, fight against becoming like all those at the Warren Home, like Charlie Gordon as he was. Charlie is in torment as he thinks about all this.
Charlie wants to look up some reference in his Report on the "Algernon-Gordon Effect" and discovers that, he canít even understand the report any more. He is suffering and is angry at everything. Aliceís attempts to care for him and keep his home clean enrage him. The more she humors him, the wilder he gets remembering how the staff at the Warren home patiently humored the inmates. Charlie however is repentant when Alice weeps.
Charlieís physical activity is getting affected. He blames Alice and prefers to think that her rearrangements are to blame. She responds with patience and pity and this irritates him further. The only thing he enjoys now is the T.V, which he watches all day and night. It is the "window" through which he is doomed to watch life, always as the observer. He is disgusted at giving in to drugging himself, "with this dishonest stuff thatís aimed at the child in me. Especially me, because the child in me is reclaiming my mind." Yet, he wants to forget everything that has happened to him as well. On finding a German research paper he had used in his work, he is shattered to find that he can no longer read German. All the languages he had learnt have been wiped clean from his mind!
After a constant struggle over the deliberate mess he had made of his apartment, Alice and Charlie have a final rave. Alice charges him with "wallowing in his own filth and self-pity," of mindlessly watching T.V and of snarling at people. She tells him that he was loved and respected more when he was retarded, and had a sense of humor. Charlie finds it increasingly hard to understand what she is saying. He accuses her of pushing him as his mother used to, and asks to be left alone now that he is "falling apart." Alice breaks down, then packs her bags and leaves.