Anti-psychiatry and disability in Flowers for Algernon and Clans of the Alphane Moon

Rob Mayo


Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964) by Philip K. Dick and Flowers for Algernon (1966) by Daniel Keyes are contemporaneous with the anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s. As each novel depicts mentally disordered and/or intellectually disabled characters coming into conflict with the psychiatric institutions which define their conditions and administer their lives, they may both be considered examples of literary anti-psychiatry, akin to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by (1962) Ken Kesey.

This essay places both novels in context, not only of contemporaneous anti-psychiatry theorists, but also of J. G. Ballard’s concept of ‘inner space’. Through this critical prism the essay explores the novels’ relation to present-day concerns of disability studies. The essay demonstrates many shortcomings of Dick’s work, especially regarding his novel’s depiction of mental illness and treatment of its female characters. However, while Flowers for Algernon is the superior novel in almost every other consideration, Clans for Algernon creates a conceptually fascinating and radically transgressive ‘inner space’ which surpasses Keyes’ ultimately more conservative work.

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