Determine one character trait to describe Laurie's father in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson. 

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I really like amysor's choice of traits, as Laurie's father is extremely unobservant throughout Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles." The character trait I choose for Laurie's father is ineffectual.

The narrator of the story is Laurie's mother, and she is the one who does most of the interacting--and reacting--with Laurie as he comes home from kindergarten each day. On his first day of school, Laurie comes home for lunch and begins acting out, beginning with speaking insolently (disrespectfully) to his father. When his father asks Laurie if he learned anything in school today, 

Laurie regarded his father coldly. “I didn’t learn nothing,” he said.

As the conversation continues, Laurie regales his parents with stories about the bad boy in class, a boy named Charles. Once he has finished talking, however, he is no longer interested in saying anything more. 

Laurie slid off his chair, took a cookie, and left, while his father was still saying, “See here, young man.”

Laurie is obviously dismissive of his father, and the boy is rude and disrespectful again the next day when he chants an insulting little rhyme at his father, ending with the line, "Gee, you're dumb." The next week, he comes home from school and is insolent to his father again. 

Laurie said, climbing into his chair at the table, “Hi, Pop, y’old dust mop.”

What makes Laurie's father ineffectual is that he does nothing when his kindergartner is dismissive and insulting. He might as well not even be there, if all he is going to do is be the butt of his son's immature little jokes. This is obviously not teaching his son anything positive. Later, a parent-teacher meeting is held. Laurie's mom is sick and of course his father does not attend. The next month, Laurie's mother does go to the meeting, but all her husband does is tell her to invite Charle's mother over for tea so he can "get a look at her."

Laurie consistently speaks disrespectfully to his father, and his father allows it. In fact, he barely even reacts to the things his son says. It is true that Laurie's father is unobservant; however, in his defense, Laurie's mother is much more engaged with her son and she does not realize the truth about the fictional Charles either. Because he is present but does nothing and has virtually no impact on the rearing of his son, I call Laurie's father ineffectual. 

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