Charles by Shirley Jackson: Summary, Analysis and Review

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For those of you that loved The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, here comes another tale, less fictional and more realistic this time. 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 who has recently started Kindergarten and 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 their questioning 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 Laurence’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 – planning to recognize her as the most haggard-looking woman.

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 to be simply Charles’ influence on her son. 

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.

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

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