If the main conflict is man versus himself in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, what is the climax?

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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.

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The climax in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson occurs when Laurie's obtuse mother finally attends parent-teacher night. There she hopes to meet the parents of Charles, his teacher, and especially Charles.

After learning of the antics, bad language, and disrespect of a boy named Charles, Laurie's mother and father are curious and wish to attend the first Parent-Teachers meeting, but their baby has a cold, so the mother remains home. Thus, Laurie's parents continue to believe that there is a very poorly-behaved boy in the class of Laurie, while ignoring the fact that Laurie himself is very disrespectful at home. For instance, after reporting what Charles has done, Laurie plays a trick on his father and deprecates him, having him look up, then down, then look at his thumb as Laurie boldly says, "Gee, you're dumb."

Finally, after hearing outrageous things about Charles, Laurie's mother is told that Charles now has become the teacher's helper. So, when the next P.T.A meeting nears, Laurie's mother plans to attend and ask about Charles.

Her emotion is at its peak as she sits "restlessly, scanning each matronly face, trying to determine which one hid the secret of Charles.
But there is no mention of Charles. This is the point of highest intensity, or the climax.

Finally, the mother introduces herself to the teacher after both of them approach each other with caution. When the mother mentions that she is Laurie's mother, the teacher is polite, but cautious. The teacher says, "We're all so interested in Laurie." Then, she informs the mother that there is no Charles, resolving the "secret" of Charles's identity. 

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The climax of Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles" comes at the end of the story. Typically, a climax comes well before the falling action and conclusion in a text, but here the climax comes at the very end.

Prior to the climax, Laurie's mother finding out that he is Charles, everything leading up to the parent teacher meeting puts both readers and Laurie's parents (especially his mother) almost on edge as to see what Charles will do next. It is not until Laurie's teacher states that there is no Charles in her class that readers figure out the Laurie has made up Charles and that the behaviors he is speaking about at home are his own.

Therefore, the introduction and rising action takes up the majority of the action of the story. Readers hang on like Laurie's parents waiting to find out what Charles did that day in school. It is not until Laurie's teacher tells his mother that there is no Charles in her classroom where both readers and Laurie's mother come to know the truth. This, then, is the climax, falling action, and conclusion rolled into one given the story ends here. In reality, the story closes with the climax. No resolution or closure is given for the reader or Laurie's mother.

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