What are some examples of foreshadowing in "Charles?"
Foreshadowing is a literary device used by authors to hint at events that will come later in a story. Shirley Jackson uses foreshadowing masterfully in the short story "Charles."
The very first paragraph foreshadows the ending as the narrator describes the change in her son. He used to wear overalls, which are often attributed to young children. Now he is wearing the more grown-up attire of jeans and a belt. The word choice that Jackson uses, "renounced," suggests the plot twist that is to come. He didn't just casually change his mind, he refused to abide by the rules of his mother's choice of clothing any longer.
The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a longtrousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me.
There is more foreshadowing in the lines following when Laurie returns home from kindergarten. It is clear to readers that it isn't just Laurie's clothing that has changed, his entire attitude seems to have changed.
He came home the same way, the front door slamming open, his cap on the floor, and the voice suddenly become raucous shouting, “Isn’t anybody here?” At lunch he spoke insolently to his father, spilled his baby sister’s milk, and remarked that his teacher said we were not to take the name of the Lord in vain.
“How was school today?" I asked, elaborately casual.
"All right," he said.
"Did you learn anything?" his father asked. Laurie regarded his father coldly. "I didn’t learn nothing," he said.
"Anything," I said. "Didn’t learn anything.”
It is again Jackson's word choice that foreshadows future events. Notice that Laurie "regards his father coldly." This is foreshadowing the fact that this horrible child named Charles is really Laurie. His parents seem to have their hands full with Laurie's shouting, spilling milk, and bad grammar. They don't correct his bad behavior, only his grammar. Later in the story, they get so caught up in his stories about Charles they can't even conceive of the fact that Charles and Laurie might be one and the same. Even though throughout the story, the author has placed clues, Laurie's parents are still oblivious. Some other examples of foreshadowing are the insults Laurie levels at his father. He tells him a joke: "Look up, look down, look at my thumb, gee you're dumb." He also greets him with this insolent phrase: "Hi pop, y'old dust mop."
It could be argued that both times Laurie stays after school are examples of foreshadowing, as well. Laurie has to stay after school for bad behavior, but he tells his parents on both occasions that all the children stayed to watch Charles afterschool. It doesn't occur to either parent that this is perhaps a little odd, and neither parent checks the story with the teacher.
In "Charles," Jackson uses foreshadowing from the very beginning of the story. In the first paragraph, for instance, she hints at Laurie's bad behaviour in kindergarten by describing the change in his behaviour and the way he dresses:
"... my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me."
Similarly, this idea is reinforced by Laurie's manner of entering the house after his return from kindergarten. Jackson says, for instance, that Laurie speaks with a "raucous" voice.
Finally, Jackson foreshadows the teacher's response to Laurie's behaviour in the third paragraph when describing lunch. The teacher tells Laurie to not take the lord's name in vain, for instance, and this hints at the many times that the teacher will tell Laurie off.
By using foreshadowing in this way, Jackson builds suspense in the story, making the reader want to know more about what happens to Laurie in this important stage of his life.
Foreshadowing is clues offered by the author to lead readers to define what is to come. Sometimes these clues are very obvious; other times, the clues are hidden. Readers must be able to "read between the lines" to find clues which are hidden.
In regards to Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles," many examples of foreshadowing can be found. Laurie's mother, from the very beginning, defines her son as changed (even as he walks out the door to his first day of kindergarten). Upon reentering, her son has changed even more. No longer the quiet child, he enters the house raucously shouting. Laurie's mother openly states that this is a new behavior.
As the first week of school progresses, Charles is disrespectful to his father, mean to his sibling, and loud. The behaviors seen by Laurie, while ignored by his parents, mirrors the behaviors seen in Charles. Engaged readers can pick up on the parallels laid by Jackson throughout the story.