Is there any hyperbole in the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?

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kcoleman2016 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Before we discuss the answer to this question, let's ensure that the definition of this literary device itself is clear. 

What is hyperbole? Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally. Something that uses hyperbole could be described as "hyperbolic."

Is there hyperbole in "Charles," by Shirley Jackson? Yes, there is. Much of the hyperbole is in Jackson's diction, or word choice, as well as in her phrasing. I'll list several examples here, accompanied by explanation:

  1. "he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs": To renounce is to "formally declare one's abandonment," and it is an incredibly formal, serious term to use in relation to a kindergartener.
  2. "my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me": To claim that her son's entire identity would be transformed by one simple action, his attire, is ludicrous. 
  3. "he began to laugh insanely": This would imply that the narrator's son had actually lost his mind.
  4. Laurie's descriptions of Charles might also be read as hyperbolic, as they are described in such lurid detail.
  5. "Charles was an institution in our family": The exaggerated wording of the phrase helps deliver its true message - Charles as a person had not joined, but the idea of Charles and his misbehavior had become a byword for misbehavior itself. 

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