Original Research

On being a discontinuous person: Ontological insecurity, the wounded storyteller and time in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon

Tony Ullyatt
Literator | Vol 36, No 1 | a1173 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v36i1.1173 | © 2015 Tony Ullyatt | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 November 2014 | Published: 17 July 2015

About the author(s)

Tony Ullyatt, Research Unit: Languages and Literature in the South African Context, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


This article explores ontological security and insecurity in Daniel Keyes’s novel, Flowers for Algernon. It opens with a very brief overview of the 1960s counter-culture to contextualise not only Keyes’s novel but also Laing’s theories of ontological (in)security. After a discussion of Laing’s concept of ontological security and insecurity, the focus shifts to Arthur W. Frank’s notions of the wounded storyteller and how Charlie Gordon’s entry into the medical world constitutes a colonisation of the body that brings with it a deepening sense of ontological insecurity. In entering the world of medical research, Charlie becomes the wounded storyteller, offering a first-person account of his experiences during the experiment and its aftermath. As the initial success of the surgery deteriorates steadily into failure, with the protagonist’s intelligence returning steadily to its pre-operation level, the question of time and how he can make the best use of it to record the experiment becomes paramount. The final section of the article centres on the growing link between the surgery’s failure and how it increases the protagonist’s ontological insecurity. He uses the diminishing amount of time available to him in search of understanding the fuller implications of the experiment. Eventually, he reverts to his initial rudimentary ontological security when he finds himself with the same intellectual level, as prior to the experiment.


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