What's interesting about the reveal in the climax of Shirley Jackson's "Charles" (1948) is that it's satisfying even though the reader can see it coming from a mile off. We derive a grim sort of satisfaction from the climax because even though we as readers know the secret of the story, the two parents at the heart of it are deliberately clueless. Their suspension of disbelief is of the willing kind—sort of like a wishing-away of reality by shutting their eyes.
The story's central conceit is that, as their kindergarten-age son Laurie brings home outrageous stories of an ill-behaved classmate named Charles, they witness his own behavior worsen. Charles "hits the teacher" while Laurie "laughs insanely" and calls his father dumb while playing a trick on him. The mother worries Charles is a bad influence on Laurie, even as Laurie greets his father with: "Hi, Pop, y'old dust mop."
When Laurie comes home late one day, he tells his parents that this is because his entire class has been made to stay back on account of Charles's misbehavior, a bizarre explanation which his parents believe. When his father asks Laurie about Charles's last name, Laurie evades the question. His parents ignore this red flag too, but to the reader the puzzle behind the Charles/Laurie link becomes increasingly clear. In the story's final scene, Laurie's mother attends a parent-teacher meeting, eager to accost Charles's mother. Based on Laurie's stories, she even has preconceived notions about this woman would look:
At the meeting I sat restlessly, scanning each comfortable matronly face, trying to determine which one hid the secret of Charles. None of them looked to me haggard enough.
However, when she finally meets Laurie's teacher, she gets the ominous response: "We're all so interested in Laurie" and later the information that Laurie has had trouble adjusting in class. But the mother still doesn't catch on, plodding ahead blindly, till her bubble is burst.
"Laurie usually adjusts very quickly," I said. "I suppose this time it's Charles's influence."
"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."
Charles has never existed: he has been a doppelgänger of Laurie's—a sort of Mr. Hyde to his Dr. Jekyll. Perhaps Charles has been a way for Laurie to live out his "naughty side" without guilt. We sense this in Laurie's tendency to become teacher's helper, especially when a parent-teacher meeting is around the corner. Obviously, little Laurie is finding a way to indulge his more socially unacceptable side without the disapproval of his parents. But for me, the more interesting conflict is not the one between Laurie's twin natures but rather the one that exists between his parents' image of him and his reality.
Many parents want to see their child as perfect, which is a reflection of their own ego. In doing so, they end up harming their child in deep ways, an irony presented in Jackson's short story by the fact that Laurie's Hyde-identity has been plain as day before his parents, yet they have chosen to ignore it. As the story opens Laurie's mother can't get over:
...[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.
Instead of addressing the worsening in Laurie's behavior, his parents find an easy scapegoat in the "other," or Charles. Therefore, Laurie's bad behavior is excused as Charles's influence. Though the story ends right at the climax, Laurie's parents are left with the frightening possibility that it is Laurie who is actually behind all of Charles's more violent doings, such as hitting a girl with a seesaw till she bled. Often, a story's climax is followed by a falling action and a resolution, but in "Charles," Jackson deliberately cuts off the story at the peak of cold realization. This makes the possibility of what will happen next even more chilling to us and to Laurie's parents.