In the story "Charles," how does Laurie feel about his/Charles' behavior?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story, "Charles," the main character Laurie is proud of the fictional Charles's behavior. 

Laurie invents the character of Charles on his first day of kindergarten. He comes home slamming the door, leaving his hat on the floor, and shouting. He spills his...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story, "Charles," the main character Laurie is proud of the fictional Charles's behavior. 

Laurie invents the character of Charles on his first day of kindergarten. He comes home slamming the door, leaving his hat on the floor, and shouting. He spills his baby sister's milk at lunch and speaks disrespectfully to his father. When prompted, he tells his father he didn't learn "nothing" in school. Then he tells the tale of a boy being spanked for being fresh. In the quote below, one can see Laurie's enjoyment in telling the tales of Charles's insolent behavior at school. 

"The next day Laurie remarked at lunch, as soon as he sat down, “Well, Charles was bad again today.” He grinned enormously and said, “Today Charles hit the teacher.” 

The fact that he grins enormously while he tells of the heinous deeds shows that he is proud either of his actions, or of the deceptive tale he has weaved, or both. 

The next incidence of Charles' bad behavior is ironic. Consider the passage below: 

"On Monday Laurie came home late, full of news. “Charles,” he shouted as he came up the hill; I was waiting anxiously on the front steps. “Charles,” Laurie yelled all the way up the hill, “Charles was bad again.” “Come right in,” I said, as soon as he came close enough. “Lunch is waiting.” “You know what Charles did?” he demanded, following me through the door. “Charles yelled so in school they sent a boy in from first grade to tell the teacher she had to make Charles keep quiet, and so Charles had to stay after school. And so all the children stayed to watch him.”

Ironically, Laurie is reporting Charles' actions which mirror his own, as he has throughout the story, and yet his parents still don't make the connection that Charles and Laurie are one in the same. In the quote above, Laurie is late and he is shouting all the way down the street. He explains his lateness by telling his mother that all the students stayed after to watch Charles. Charles had to stay after for shouting. It is apparent that Charles was not raised to believe shouting was acceptable. His mother models more polite behavior by not answering his shouts until he comes close enough to speak at an appropriate level. 

In the following quote, Laurie offers what could be a clue to the motivation behind Charles's actions: 

“What are they going to do about Charles, do you suppose?” Laurie’s father asked him. Laurie shrugged elaborately. “Throw him out of school, I guess,” he said."

One could make a reasonable inference that Laurie didn't like school, and acted out in such a way as to get himself expelled.  

It is interesting to consider Laurie's physical description of Charles. When his mother asks him what Charles looks like, this is his response:

 “He’s bigger than me,” Laurie said. “And he doesn’t have any rubbers and he doesn’t ever wear a jacket.”

Considering Laurie's insolent behavior around his home, and his outlandish behavior at school, one could infer that he is a strong willed child. When he describes Charles, he says he is bigger than Laurie. It's possible Laurie wishes he was bigger. He also says he doesn't have any rubber boots and doesn't ever wear a jacket, which would be a concern for the child's welfare from an adult perspective. From Laurie's perspective, it's more likely that he doesn't like wearing jackets and rubber boots and so he includes this dislike in his fictional character. 

More evidence for the assertion that Laurie is proud of Charles's behavior is found in the following quote when "Charles" told a girl to say an obscene word at school and she complied: 

“What word?” his father asked unwisely, and Laurie said, “I’ll have to whisper it to you, it’s so bad.” He got down off his chair and went around to his father. His father bent his head down and Laurie whispered joyfully. His father’s eyes widened. “Did Charles tell the little girl to say that?"

The fact that Laurie whispers this word joyfully provides evidence that he is proud of the behavior, or at least that he is enjoying the reactions he is getting from his invented character's escapades. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team