In the story "Charles," why does Laurie begin to cooperate at school?

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Laurie adjusts to kindergarten’s expectations and begins to behave better when the teacher asks him to help her.

When Laurie first starts kindergarten, he is a real terror.  His parents have no idea that he is misbehaving, because they never talk directly to the teacher and the teacher never talks to them.  Although Laurie misbehaves at home, they never seem to make the connection that he may be misbehaving at school.

Laurie makes up a little boy named Charles that he tells his parents behaves badly at school.  His parents believe every word of it, and even seem to enjoy the stories of the bad behavior Charles does at school.  They do not notice that Laurie is a problem at home and may be the one who is the problem at school. 

It is clear from the beginning that Laurie is a brat.  He is rude to his parents and they do not seem to be able to control him.

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.

As his journey to kindergarten continues, Laurie brings home stories of how Charles is punished.  Obviously the teacher does not ignore his behavior.  He is spanked  several times, forced to miss recess, and made to “to stand in a corner during storytime” for being disruptive, rude, or violent. 

In each case, Laurie does not appear to be resentful or contrite.  Then again, he is telling his parents that someone else is the one being punished, so he may not want to give too much detail.  Just making up a story shows that he has some feelings about.  It is his way of trying to communicate with his parents.

Laurie’s parents worry that “Charles” is a bad influence on their child.  Laurie comes home one day saying that "Charles" and the whole class had to stay after school.  The incident seems to upset him more than the other punishments, but he continues to get in trouble.  His mother misses the Parent-Teacher meeting, so she still knows nothing. Too bad!  If she had gone, she would have learned what was going on that much sooner.

Laurie seems to realize that he is not going to get kicked out of school for being bad.  About a month into kindergarten the teacher begins to ask him to help her, and he “grimly” determines that he might as well.  He gets into trouble a few more times, but less often, and when Laurie’s mother goes to the meeting, his teacher confirms that he is mostly better.

“We had a little trouble adjusting, the first week or so,” she said primly, “but now he’s a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course.”

It seems that Laurie has accepted his lot.  He is in school to stay.  He is not going to get himself kicked out.  He seems to like being the teacher’s helper.  There are only so many ways he can be bad.  With the occasional relapse, he has settled in to behaving himself and being socialized to school.

This story is a good example of an ironic twist ending.  You do not realize the first time you read it that Charles is not real.  There is a lot of judging going on by the mother.  Of course, it is easy for the reader to judge her too.  If you look carefully though, you will notice that she is probably just overwhelmed.  She has a young son who is a handful, and a baby too.  The reader would do well not to make the same mistake she does, and be too judgmental of her either.

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