Is Laurie's mom innocent or naive in "Charles"? Is she just telling the story or are we getting a glimpse into her character?I understand who Laurie/Charles is in the story and his character...

Is Laurie's mom innocent or naive in "Charles"? Is she just telling the story or are we getting a glimpse into her character?

I understand who Laurie/Charles is in the story and his character traits, but I need to know about the mom.  She seems to just be relating events and not revealing much about herself.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mother of Charles is probably selectively naïve, and the reader does get a glimpse into her character in Jackson's short story.

In her biography of Shirley Jackson, Lenemaja Friedman mentions that the author based the story "Charles" on her son Laurie's childhood reports about a boy who was in kindergarten with him. So, there is a verisimilitude to the narrative of an extremely indulgent mother who refuses to acknowledge the poor behavior of her own child.

That this mother is blind to her son's own behavior indicates much about her nature. In the first paragraph, as she states that Laurie has "renounced" his childish overalls for blue jeans with a belt, it is apparent that the mother perceives this behavior as an act of independence. When Laurie returns from school in "the same way," flinging the door open as he shouts, "Isn't anybody here?" the mother does not reprimand the boy nor does she remark upon his behavior. This lack of comment on Laurie's behavior suggests her acceptance of such actions from her own child. But, when he mentions that a boy named Charles "was fresh," she is concerned and eager to hear what this boy has done, listening intently to Laurie's report. Moreover, after hearing these reports that she finds disturbing, she confers with her husband, asking him if he thinks that kindergarten is "too unsettling for Laurie." Clearly, she has blinded herself to the reality of her own child's behavior because she should be able to perceive the parallels between Charles's actions and those of Laurie. That the mother does not perceive these similarities—even as Laurie misbehaves constantly at home in much the same manner as Charles—indicates that she is very naive.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like most mothers, Laurie's mom wants to believe that her son is honest and trusting, and up until this time, she has no reason to believe otherwise. But Laurie suddenly changes, and although his mother notices some of the more obvious alterations in her son's character, she fails to observe others. Laurie's rebelliousness leads to the creation of a new identity and a new name--the much more masculine, Charles--that the mother fails to see until his teacher breaks the news. Whether Laurie/Charles shows signs of a split personality or other social disorder is uncertain, but there is little doubt that the mother is surprised to hear the news that the two boys are one and the same. She is both innocent and naive as well as highly unaware of how serious the changes in her son have become. Laurie's "insane" laughter and insolent behavior directed at the father in his own home should be a clue that the little boy's change is not typical of growing pains.  

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