The central theme in Flowers for Algernon is Man Playing God. The basic structural layout of the novel supports this theme. The novel's chronological timeline begins March 3 and ends November 21. The seasonal interpretation is obvious. Charlie's surgery takes place in the spring, a time of new beginnings, new growth, and re-birth. The progress reports, and our journey with Charlie, come to an end in the heart of autumn. Autumn is the season that displays nature's decline. Autumn isn't death as symbolized by winter, but it is the loss of new growth and the beginning of regression. A synonym for autumn is "fall," and that word, in the verb form, is what we witness in Charlie.
Charlie's personal odyssey spans a period of nine months, which is both a plot technique and a representation of the human gestation period (a period in which new life is developed and nurtured, culminating in the birth of a new individual). At the conclusion of Charlie's nine-month development, however, no new individual is born. Rather, readers witness the rebirth of the original Charlie. This "failure" symbolizes the ultimate failure in the concept of Man Playing God.
Many overt references to this theme run throughout the novel. Many people, including Charlie, discuss tampering with man's intelligence. The first nurse Charlie encounters after his surgery introduces this theme. She tells Charlie that if God had wanted Charlie to be smart, God would have made him that way. Charlie also remembers his mother telling him about God, and that they were to pray to God to make Charlie smart. Even Dr. Guarino, "with the Lord's help," might be able to make Charlie like other children. Finally, Professor Nemur admits this ambition in his speech at the International Psychological Association presentation when he says, "We have taken one of nature's mistakes and by our new technique have created a superior human being."
Another theme that is essential to Flowers for Algernon is one of friendship. This...