Charles (short story)


Charles (short story)

"Charles" is a short story by Shirley Jackson, first published in Mademoiselle in July 1948. It was later included in her 1949 collection, The Lottery and Other Stories, and her 1953 novel, Life Among the Savages. This story is a prime example of situational irony where many times the reader can figure out that Charles and Laurie are one and the same but Laurie's father and mother in this story don't realize this until the ending.

Plot summary

Young Laurie has recently started kindergarten, and his mother (who also narrates the story) laments that her "sweet-voiced nursery-school tot" is growing up. She also notes changes in his behavior: he no longer waves goodbye to her, slams the door when he comes home and speaks insolently to his father.

Laurie begins telling his parents stories about an ill-behaved boy in his class named Charles. Charles throws things, yells and hits his teacher and classmates. Though in a way fascinated by the strange boy, Laurie's mother wonders if Charles' bad influence is responsible for Laurie misbehaving and using bad grammar. Her interest in Charles increases as the stories continue, and she looks forward to meeting his mother at the upcoming PTA meeting.

Over the ensuing weeks Charles seems to be going from bad to worse until one day Laurie tells his parents that Charles behaved himself and that the teacher made him her helper. By the end of the week, however, Charles reverts back to his old self when he makes a girl in his class repeat a bad word. The next school day, Charles says the word several times and throws chalk.

When the next PTA meeting rolls around, Laurie's mother is determined to meet Charles' mother. She closely examines the other parents and sees nothing but pleasant faces and is surprised when Charles is not mentioned at all. After the meeting, she approaches the teacher and introduces herself as Laurie's mother. The teacher says that once Laurie adjusted he became "a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course." Laurie's mother then mentions Charles and the teacher tells her that there is no one named Charles in the class. (The story thus implies that all the trouble has been caused by Laurie.)


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