Charles by Shirley Jackson: Summary, Analysis and Review

the text "charles by shirley jackson summary analysis" written next to a portrait of shirley jackson

For those of you that loved The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, here comes another tale, less fictional and more realistic, atleast to the relatively new parents out there. It’s about Shirley Jackson’s early trysts with raising children that were, more often than not, outside her comprehension and control.

Loosely based on events from her own life while raising children in the 1940s, this is a humorous tale about gullible parents and the problematic child. 

Charles by Shirley Jackson: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story revolves around a very young kid, Laurie, who has recently started Kindergarten. His mother is disheartened at the end of an era where his kid’s clothes have changed from a bib to jeans and a shirt and him enjoying the company of an older girl, not looking back to say goodbye to his mother.

At the end of the first day, when asked what he learned that day, Laurie quickly mentions that he “didn’t learn nothing” and quickly goes on to mention that a kid called Charles was spanked by the teacher for being ‘fresh’. 

A similar thing happens the day after, where Charles is the highlight of Laurie’s day. Charles was bad again today. He hit a teacher.

The parents, flabbergasted, had hardly digested the news when Laurie plays a trick with his dad that ends up with him saying to his dad, ’Gee, you are dumb.’

His parents continue questioning him about the events of the day and get to know that the reason for Charles hitting the teacher was simply an instruction to use a color of crayon that he didn’t particularly like. 

The events that follow get considerably more interesting. Charles, the little class rebel, seems to have become a highlight in all of Laurie’s daily reports – and has become a name evoking much interest in their household. 

Charles had all sorts of misbehavior under his belt – hitting a teacher, hitting fellow children, teaching classmates bad words, disrupting class, to name a few.

What seems curious is that Laurie mimics that behavior at home. His mother sees this and worries that Charles is a bad influence on her sweet little son. Charles is such a name in the household that they start calling mischief as ‘pulling a Charles’.

Laurie’s mother is looking forward to the PTA meeting, hoping to see Charles’ mother, who in her mind, would be the most haggard-looking woman at the meeting, thanks to being the mischief-maker’s mom.

She does not see anyone who matches that description. 

She meets the teacher and is surprised to discover that Laurie had difficulty adjusting to Kindergarten and that he has been improving now.

She discards that input considering it nothing but Charles’s fault.

The teacher is visibly confused hearing that name and tells her that they do not have any student named Charles, leaving it to an implicit conclusion that it was Laurie and not Charles that was causing all the trouble at school.

Charles: Review and My Thoughts

“Yes,” I said, laughing, “you must have your hands full in that kindergarten, with Charles.” “Charles?” she said. “We don’t have any Charles in the kindergarten.”

These two lines from the story encapsulate the complete story in them. 

How often do we look inward when questioned? 

How often is it the neighbor’s kid’s fault when our kid gets into a fight? 

And how often are other parents credulous having a kid ‘pull such a thing’ straight under their noses?

Guess ostriches are not the only creatures that close their eyes and believe that their hunter (problem) went away.

Its never our (our kids’) fault, Is it?

Shirley Jackson amazes us once again with her astute observations and excellent penmanship!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s