A lot of information online suggests that Laurie (Charles) is both the protagonist and the antagonist. How could this be the case? Discuss using the following two theories: A - Laurie's mother is...

A lot of information online suggests that Laurie (Charles) is both the protagonist and the antagonist. How could this be the case? Discuss using the following two theories:

A - Laurie's mother is the protagonist because she wants a safe and effective educational environment for her son, Laurie.  Charles (Laurie) is the antagonist because he causes bodily harm to his teacher/classmates and disrupts the educational progress of the class with his antics.

B - Laurie is the protagonist because he wants to continue his crazy attention seeking behavior at school without consequences at home. He thus creates an alter ego, Charles, for whom he can place all blame. Laurie's mother is the antagonist because she wants to meet and chat with Charles' mother to discuss, and hopefully put an end to, Charles' (Laurie's) disruptive behavior at school. 

Expert Answers
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reason we see Laurie interpreted as both protagonist and antagonist is due to the role both play in terms of plot. The protagonist is largely the main character who drives the action in the story; as such, every decision or action the protagonist makes elicits a reaction from the other characters in the story. The antagonist, of course, contends with the protagonist; this tug of war  drives the plot forward.

In the story, Laurie is the protagonist; like all little boys, he has a little of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in him. Interestingly, Dr. Jekyll is often viewed as the protagonist in Louis Stevenson's story, while Mr. Hyde is definitely the antagonist. Similarly, in Shirley Jackson's story, it is Laurie who drives the action of the plot: it is he who has created his alter ego, Charles. Therefore, every infraction Charles commits is also, by relationship, Laurie's. However, a part of Laurie also wants to feel good about himself, so he allows his alter ego to take the fall for his less than admirable predilections. Through Charles, Laurie can indulge in the kind of behavior his parents or teachers might find offensive. In the meantime, Laurie still gets to be known as the good kid.

This is similar to the plot in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. While Dr. Jekyll goes about as a respectable doctor, engaging in philanthropic work and attending to his religious duties, he can freely indulge in his cruel vices through his alter ego, Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde gets the blame for everything, while Dr. Jekyll gets off scot-free. Eventually, however, Dr. Jekyll finds himself unable to control even his transformations into Mr. Hyde; in essence, Mr. Hyde comes to take over the transformation process, and eventually, he 'kills' off Dr. Jekyll. Now, Mr. Hyde is the clear antagonist.

You can see this process in Shirley Jackson's story as well. As the story begins, we see how smug Laurie is: he's the good boy, while Charles is the bad apple in class. He even begins to enjoy linking Charles' name to any negative incident at home; the fact that his parents join him in his game accords him great satisfaction. It becomes an empowering experience for Laurie. However, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you can see Laurie struggles to 'control' Charles. This is why Charles alternates between being a helpful boy as well as being a disruptive student in class. So, in essence, Laurie is both protagonist and antagonist: the dual conflict between the good and the bad in Laurie drive the action of the story.

Ominous hints of Charles' future, reminiscent of Mr. Hyde's, is reflected in the incident when Charles gets a little girl to say a bad word twice in class. In telling the story to his mother, Laurie happily asserts that nothing happens to Charles as a consequence, while the little girl gets her mouth washed out with soap. However, Charles eventually earns a similar punishment when he is himself caught saying the bad word three or four times. Like Dr. Jekyll at the end of Stevenson's story, we are left wondering if Charles will eventually succeed in appropriating Laurie's character for himself.

Laurie's parents, meanwhile, are supporting characters or character foils. Usually, a character foil provides a contrast to the protagonist; the character foil's role is to highlight the importance of the major character. Laurie's parents play the role to perfection, as their sole and overwhelming concern in the story centers on Laurie/Charles. They react to Laurie/Charles rather than indulge in actions which drive the story.

I hope this is helpful!