"But I know now there's one thing you've all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn."
Alice Kinnian plays the heroine to the hero of Charlie Gordon in the romantic tragedy Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Throughout the book she is Charlie's best friend and a romantic interest of his. Although she gets angry and frustrated at him with times, she uses patience, understanding, and love to get through the hard times. While everyone else around Charlie disappoints him and/or abandons him, Alice remains Charlie's best friend (along with the mouse Algernon) and supports him as best as she can.
Flowers for Algernon takes place in progress reports from Charlie Gordon from March 3 to November 21 of an unknown year. The surgery that is performed on Charlie to increase his intelligence is carried out on March 11. Charlie's intelligence seems to begin to rise shortly after the operation. In his progress report on September 17 Charlie thinks he has begun to notice a decline in his increased functioning and intelligence.
Alice Kinnian starts out as Charlie's teacher at the Beekman University Center for Retarded Adults. It is revealed that Charlie learned to read and write better there largely because of Alice. According to Alice when she talked to Dr. Strauss (the doctor in charge of the experiment that raises Charlie's intelligence) that Charlie was her best student and that he tried the hardest because he was the one who wanted to learn more than anyone else.
Over time Charlie begins to alienate his co-workers at Donner's bakery. As Charlie's intelligence begins to rise he comes to believe that his co-workers and others were laughing at him rather than with him. But Alice tells Charlie that people liked him because he was able to laugh with them and at himself. "'Yes, but even though you didn't understand why they were laughing, you sensed that if they could laugh at you they would like you. And you wanted them to like you. You acted like a child and you even laughed at yourself along with them." Eventually the owner of Donner's bakery is forced to let Charlie go because the other employees are uncomfortable around Charlie and won't work with him. Mr. Donner tells Charlie that "they're all scared to death of you", and "There was a delegation in to see me last night." Towards the end of the book as Charlie regresses he gets his job back for a time, and his co-workers seem to accept him again. Charlie seems to have taken Alice's words to heart (although he has regressed). He thinks "And besides they were once your friends and if they laffed at you that dont mean anything because they liked you to."
On May 1, almost two months after the operation, Charlie and Alice go to a movie and dinner. At the movie Charlie is sensually aware of Alice. Charlie is nervous and hesitant to touch Alice, but he eventually rests his elbow on the back of her seat. At dinner Alice takes Charlie's hands. In the taxi on the way home Charlie tries to take her hand and she tells him she doesn't think it is good for him, that she has upset him, and she's worried it "'might have a negative effect.'" Outside of Alice's apartment tries to reach for Alice's shoulder but she stops him and takes his hand. She tells him that "'We can't let this get personal. Not yet.'" On May 16 Alice and Charlie go to a concert in Central Park. Charlie puts his arm around Alice and when he touches her shoulder she becomes somewhat hesitant. Charlie pulls her towards him. But "Then it happened. It started as a hollow buzzing in my ears...an electric saw...far away. Then the cold: arms and legs prickly, and fingers numbing." Charlie thinks he sees a boy crouched nearby exposing himself. He chases after the boy but can't find him. When he asks Alice if she saw the boy she tells him she didn't. Later when Alice and Charlie are outside Alice's apartment she asks him inside for coffee but he says no. "I put my arm around her, but it happened again. If I didn't get away quickly, I would pass out. Later that night Charlie thinks that the boy he saw was a hallucination. As late as about three months after the surgery (June 5) Charlie writes in one of his progress reports that "Our relationship remains platonic."
On June 25 Charlie goes to Alice's apartment. He thinks about making love to her but he gets "'Just a little dizzy. It'll pass.' But I knew it would only get worse as long as Charlie felt there was danger I'd make love to her." To try to remedy the situation Charlie turns out the lights and tries to pretend that Alice is his neighbor Fay Lilliman. Charlie starts to unbutton Alice's blouse but stops. He decides it is wrong to use Alice that way. He tells Alice that "'It has to do with Charlie. For some reason he won't let me make love to you.'"
Later, on September 24, after seeing an article in the newspaper and realizing that his sister was the one who allowed him to be experimented on, he decides to visit her and his mother, Rose. His mother now suffers from senility and doesn't recognize him at first but eventually does. However she mostly refuses to acknowledge him. His sister Norma comes home and is delighted to see him. They talk and she apologizes for how she treated him when they were children. It has been revealed in memories of Charlie's that prior to this meeting Charlie's mother was overprotective of his sister because she was afraid that he would hurt her. She wished that Charlie was normal and tried to convince herself that he could become normal. Also his sister was mean to him because she considered him a burden and because she considered it awkward having him as a brother. However Norma apologizes to him for how she acted as a child and tells Charlie that it's hard for her caring for their mother. Norma and Charlie have reconciled, and Charlie goes away satisfied.
Charlie noticeably begins to regress back to his old self pre-experiment starting on September 17. He slowly notices himself becoming absent minded, less coordinated, and having trouble enjoying the books and music he has come to like. On October 11 Charlie comes home in the morning to find Alice asleep. Charlie accidentally wakes her up and she tells him she came because she called Charlie's neighbor Fay and Fay was worried about him. "'So I decided to put in an appearance.'" Alice kisses Charlie. "Alice was a woman, but perhaps now Charlie would understand that she wasn't his mother or his sister." Charlie says of the experience that "I don't pretend to understand the mystery of love, but this time it was more than sex, more than using a woman's body. It was being lifted off the earth, outside fear and torment, being part of something greater than myself." Alice tells Charlie that he can decide when she should leave. On October 21 Charlie has a fight with Alice and she leaves his apartment. Alice tries to clean up Charlie's apartment but he wants her to leave things the way they are. He decides to try and make her leave by telling her "Just leave me alone. I'm not myself. I'm falling apart, and I don't want you here. Alice begins to cry and leaves the apartment. By November 21 Charlie has regressed almost completely. He forgets he isn't in Miss Kinnian's class anymore and goes to attend: "I went in and sat down in my old seat in the back of the room and she lookd at me funny and she said Charlie where have you been. So I said hello Miss Kinnian Im redy for my lessen today only I lossed the Book we was using. She started to cry and run out of the room." Charlie remembers about the operation and leaves. He decides to attend the Warren State Home and Training School. He writes one last progress report saying goodbye to Miss Kinnian and some others.
Alice Kinnian is the greatest force of good in Flowers for Algernon and my favorite character. She is always Charlie's best friend, and eventually a love interest and a partner for a while. Throughout the experiment and as his intelligence increases Alice encourages him to be patient. Although at times she becomes exasperated with Charlie she always tries to help him, even to her own detriment. She shows him love, compassion, patience, and kindness. The quote from Charlie that begins this writeup is probably at least partly inspired by Alice. It is one of the best quotes from Charlie and underlines one of the greatest themes of the book.