Charles Questions and Answers
by Shirley Jackson

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In "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, what are the problems that Laurie and his parents experience as he makes the transition from nursery school to kindergarten?

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Laurie has a difficult time controlling his impulses into socially unacceptable behavior as he makes the transition from nursery school to kindergarten, causing problems for himself and his parents.

The problems Laurie experiences in his start in kindergarten are rooted in a lack of impulse control.  His problems escalate from the first behavior of "being fresh" with the teacher.  He hits both teachers and students, is disobedient, yells during quiet time, stamps on the floor, and throws chalk. Laurie also encourages other students to get in trouble, as evidenced in how he was able to convince another student to say a "bad word."  Laurie is unable to control his impulses. This means that he does whatever he feels like doing and does not pause to consider how his actions will impact others or if they are socially appropriate.

A problem Laurie's parents are experiencing is how to react to the disruptive behavior about which they hear so much.  Laurie convinces his parents that a student named Charles is responsible for the poor behavior.  As a result, both the father and mother simply dismiss it as "someone else's child."  His parents' problem is that they never address the problems with Laurie.  They fail to acknowledge the "teachable moment" they have with their son.  They lack the communication skills to talk to Laurie about what he is observing. The mother displays concern, while the father's interest is superficial, almost like idle conversation.  Neither one of them speak to Laurie about how such behavior should be seen as unacceptable.  Their inability to talk with their son makes the revelation at the end of the story more startling.

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