The Theme of Love in the Science Fiction Genre in Flower for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Blade Runner by Ridley Scott

When one thinks of science fiction, a genre where dystopian futures full of emotionless androids, ruthless totalitarian leaders, and dehumanized societies are not uncommon, very rarely does the word “love” first come to mind. Instead, as is common with many other genres, readers will tend to find a hero setting out on some prodigious quest, usually following a formulaic template, and coming out as a changed man or woman in the end. But, in a few rare cases, some science fiction stories will both follow the monomyth and tell stories of love and loss.

Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner both use themes of love to help guide the protagonists on their journey down a path called ” the monomyth,” as designed by Joseph Campbell, in an effort to redefine the genre and establish alternative stories of love that are unique to the science fiction genre.

The journey down the monomythic path, as written by Daniel Keyes in “Flowers for Algernon” allows Charlie Gordon to develop as a character, but ultimately leads to his downfall, forcing him to leave the familiarity of his normal life and the identity he has known his entire life.

In “The Monomyth in Daniel Keyes’s ‘Flowers for Algernon:’ Keyes, Campbell, and Plato,” Donald Palumbo shows how Charlie Gordon follows this template. Joseph Campbell, the creator of the monomyth, says the template is a “consciously controlled” (Palumbo) pattern that authors use during storytelling, especially in myths, folktales, and religious stories. What sets this story apart from other monomythic journeys, as Donald Palumbo puts it, is that Keyes chooses to set the “adventure’s unknown world or zone of magnified power as Charlie Gordon’s intangible realm of increased intellect and comprehension, rather than as a physical location.

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” (Palumbo) While not specifically “special” in the sense that it was supernatural, remarkable, or otherwise unusual, Charlie’s birth is what started his journey on the monomythic path. Charlie is born with some mental retardation, that causes his family to basically exile him from the family. He moves into the next stage by making the conscious decision to study harder in order to better himself and win the heart of his teacher Alice Kinnian. Next, he crosses the first threshold into the supernatural world by participating in the procedure that increased Algernon the lab rat’s intelligence. Charlie is able to overcome almost every objective that comes his way, and he does end up winning the heart of his teacher, but once he crosses into the temptation stage and becomes unable to relate to her on an emotional level anymore, he abandons his quest. (“Joseph Campbell’s”) Charlie does continue for a while, and he does overcome quite a few more obstacles in trying to find a new meaning to his quest, but once his intelligence regresses, he has to abandon it entirely and leave behind the world he knows. (Palumbo)

Blade Runner also attempts to use the monomythic pattern to aid in the development of Rick Deckard as a character. Deckard’s call to adventure is not as dramatic as some other films, but is still a call to adventure nonetheless. Bryant, Deckard’s old supervisor, is the person who initiates this hero’s journey for Deckard. At first, Deckard is reluctant to accept the call to come out of retirement and hunt the replicants again, but he ultimately accepts the call. Once Deckard meets Rachael, who serves as his helper, the purpose of his quest starts to shift. Deckard learns that Rachael is in fact a replicant herself, but she has false memories that cause her to believe she is human. This causes Deckard to reach the “Belly of the Whale” stage when he starts to question whether or not he is a human at all. Following that stage, Deckard undergoes a few different trials, then he is saved by Rachael when she shoots Leon in order to protect Deckard. (Blade Runner) He then starts seeing Rachael as a love interest, transitioning him into the “Meeting with the Goddess” stage, although it could be argued that Rachael also is what drives Deckard into the “Temptation” stage and actually impedes Deckard’s progress on his quest. (“Joseph Campbell’s”)

Rachael is definitely a love interest, but their forbidden love, however romantic it might seem, ultimately impedes Deckard’s growth and continuation on the monomythic journey. Their love affair brings into question who should and who should not be considered human. Deckard is a replicant hunter and Rachael is a replicant, so the fact they fall in love at all is very strange in itself. Deckard is supposed to kill Rachael eventually too, but the fact that he is attracted to her speaks to some audiences in a way that suggest that she too may be “human” in a philosophical sense of the word. His attraction to Rachel is how Deckard comes to suspect that he may be a replicant, too. However, even if Deckard and Rachael aren’t human, they exhibit one of the most basic feelings to being human: love. And if Deckard and Rachael feel human, then they must be human, too. Their love affair is not all good. (Harrison Rachael distracts Deckard from his overall quest, and almost prevents him from finishing his monomythic journey. The role love plays in Blade Runner differs greatly from “Flowers for Algernon,” where love drives Charlie on his journey.

Charlie deals with his own problems when it comes to love in “Flowers for Algernon,” but rather than impeding his progress on his monomythic journey, love is the primary variable driving his journey. He grows up in a home with essentially no love and, because of this, he becomes uncomfortable with showing affection and becomes really eager to get in a relationship. Before he undergoes to the treatment to increase his intelligence, people take advantage of him, taunt him, and tease him. Charlie essentially has no real, genuine connection that he forms with any of the people in his life. He starts to associate intelligence with love. This initiates his call to adventure and pushes him to try to become more intelligent. Unfortunately, Charlie learns in his relationship with Alice that intelligence and love do not correlated. He also learns that there is a difference between physical love and emotional love. At his peak, Charlie’s intelligence is what causes him to push away some of his lovers. Ultimately when Charlie’s intelligence fades, he comes to terms with the fact that he can not compete intellectually with his lovers any more, and he leaves New York to start his new life.

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes and Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, both follow a monomythic path to aid the hero’s journey and establish alternative stories of love that are unique to the science fiction genre. Keyes uses the monomyth to guide Charlie on his journey, using the intelligence he amasses after the surgery as a psychological battlefield for him to navigate on his journey. Scott uses a different approach by having Deckard navigate a physical battlefield in order to protect a replicant he’s supposed to be hunting, Rachael. Deckard starts to stray from his mission when he fall in love with Rachael, but ends up redirecting his primary objective and reaching further than Charlie does on his journey. Charlie ends up being primarily driven by his love for Alice Kinnan, but his supernatural ability he acquires by trying to win her heart is what proves to be his ultimate downfall. Theses two stories help to redefine a genre that is not necessarily known for romantic love stories about star-crossed lovers by using the monomyth to guide the protagonists in a direction that guarantees them the love and affection they are seeking.

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The Theme of Love in the Science Fiction Genre in Flower for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and Blade Runner by Ridley Scott. (2023, May 01). Retrieved from

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