What is the climax in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?The main conflict is man vs. himself.

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literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The climax of Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles" comes at the end of the story. Typically, a climax comes well before the falling action and conclusion in a text, but here the climax comes at the very end.

Prior to the climax, Laurie's mother finding out that he is Charles, everything leading up to the parent teacher meeting puts both readers and Laurie's parents (especially his mother) almost on edge as to see what Charles will do next. It is not until Laurie's teacher states that there is no Charles in her class that readers figure out the Laurie has made up Charles and that the behaviors he is speaking about at home are his own.

Therefore, the introduction and rising action takes up the majority of the action of the story. Readers hang on like Laurie's parents waiting to find out what Charles did that day in school. It is not until Laurie's teacher tells his mother that there is no Charles in her classroom where both readers and Laurie's mother come to know the truth. This, then, is the climax, falling action, and conclusion rolled into one given the story ends here. In reality, the story closes with the climax. No resolution or closure is given for the reader or Laurie's mother.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The climax in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson occurs when Laurie's obtuse mother finally attends parent-teacher night. There she hopes to meet the parents of Charles, his teacher, and especially Charles.

After learning of the antics, bad language, and disrespect of a boy named Charles, Laurie's mother and father are curious and wish to attend the first Parent-Teachers meeting, but their baby has a cold, so the mother remains home. Thus, Laurie's parents continue to believe that there is a very poorly-behaved boy in the class of Laurie, while ignoring the fact that Laurie himself is very disrespectful at home. For instance, after reporting what Charles has done, Laurie plays a trick on his father and deprecates him, having him look up, then down, then look at his thumb as Laurie boldly says, "Gee, you're dumb."

Finally, after hearing outrageous things about Charles, Laurie's mother is told that Charles now has become the teacher's helper. So, when the next P.T.A meeting nears, Laurie's mother plans to attend and ask about Charles.

Her emotion is at its peak as she sits "restlessly, scanning each matronly face, trying to determine which one hid the secret of Charles.
But there is no mention of Charles. This is the point of highest intensity, or the climax.

Finally, the mother introduces herself to the teacher after both of them approach each other with caution. When the mother mentions that she is Laurie's mother, the teacher is polite, but cautious. The teacher says, "We're all so interested in Laurie." Then, she informs the mother that there is no Charles, resolving the "secret" of Charles's identity. 

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