What are some of the characteristics of Laurie in "Charles"?

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In "Charles," we can describe Laurie as being very keen to assert his independence. This is shown clearly in the first paragraph when his mother says that he "renounced" (gave up) his corduroys in favor of jeans and a belt. In other words, Laurie is eager to make the transition from a toddler, always at home with his mother, to an independent kindergartener.

Secondly, Laurie is very mischievous. We see this through his antics at school; he's "fresh," he hits the teacher, and he refuses to do exercises in class. Although Laurie blames Charles for this mischief, it is also made clear from his behavior at home, particularly the way he talks to his father, that Laurie is prone to bouts of bad behavior.

Finally, Laurie is deceitful and has no problem telling lies. Instead of confessing to his bad behavior, Laurie claims that it is all the work of Charles, another child in his class. Note that Laurie never tells his parents the truth. It is only through a meeting with his teacher that Laurie's mother learns the truth: Charles doesn't really exist.

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Laurie essentially is an undisciplined, disrespectful, deceitful, conniving, but clever and very intelligent child.

From the exposition of the story, it becomes apparent that Laurie is undisciplined and willful as he "renounced" his baby overalls and is now a "swaggered character" who no longer waves good-bye to his mother. When he returns home the first day he slam[s] the door open and shouts with a "raucous" voice, "Isn't anybody here?"

Yet, the parents are surprised to learn of a boy named Charles who is purportedly "fresh" when he speaks to his teacher, and then even strikes her. (Laurie smiles as he relates this.) One day when Laurie recounts that Charles has let the seesaw hit the head of a little girl, the mother naively asks her husband, "Do you think kindergarten is too unsettling for Laurie?" In another instance of irony, Laurie returns from school late, "yelling" all the way as he comes up the hill toward his mother that

"Charles yelled so in school they sent a boy from another class to tell the teacher to make him be quiet, and so Charles had to stay after school."

Laurie finally becomes so willful at home that his mother states,

Laurie did a Charles when he filled his wagon full of mud and pulled it through the kitchen....

And, yet, Laurie's parents are still deceived about their child. Even after he tells them that Charles prompted a girl to say an offensive word in school, and then says the same word at home himself some days later, the parents do not make the connection.  Indeed, there is no question that Laurie is far more clever and creative than his gullible parents who must be told by Laurie's teacher that there is no Charles.


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Shirley Jackson's use of descriptive language offers readers a vivid view of the character Laurie in the short story "Charles." The following descriptors offer insight into the character of the narrator's son.

Swaggering- Seems to define Laurie as a little older than he really is. Readers may picture a boy with a chimp on his shoulder by this description.

His "voice suddenly become raucous." Here, readers can picture a boy running into the house, unconcerned with anything which is going on. Therefore, this shows his self-centered aura of the typical kindergartner.

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.

If readers are to infer, the previous passage states that Laurie was the one who took the Lord's name in vain given she uses the pronoun "we." Also, the spilling of his sister's milk and speaking rudely to his father show is lack of concern for others.

“He sure did,” Laurie said. “Look up,” he said to his father.

“What?” his father said, looking up.

“Look down,” Laurie said. “Look at my thumb. Gee, you’re dumb.” He began to laugh insanely.

In the dialogue above, one can infer that Laurie is disrespectful of his parents. A child should not call a parent dumb. While seemingly harmless, when put together with all of the other indirect characterizations, Laurie is far from the "sweet-voiced nursery-school tot" he used to be.

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