What clues to the identity of Charles can you find in the opening paragraph of the story?

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The opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles " foreshadows the truth that is revealed in the end: Charles does not exist outside of Laurie's imagination. Laurie created Charles to deflect from his own outrageous behavior, and even take credit for it. His parents continue under the...

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The opening paragraph of Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles" foreshadows the truth that is revealed in the end: Charles does not exist outside of Laurie's imagination. Laurie created Charles to deflect from his own outrageous behavior, and even take credit for it. His parents continue under the delusion that Laurie is a well-behaved child even despite the instances of bad behavior he displays throughout the story, beginning with the opening paragraph: 

The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, 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.

Jackson's choice of the word "renounced" to describe Laurie's attitude toward overalls suggests there was a battle of some degree over wardrobe between parent and child. Many parents accompany their children on the first day of kindergarten, but the narrator is denied this privilege, watching him walk away with a next door neighbor. It would be reasonable to infer that this was not necessarily the narrator's choice. Since she is lamenting the loss of her sweet-voiced nursery school tot, it suggests she is not ready to award the independence Laurie has taken—that it wasn't her idea. 

The narrator also describes Laurie as a swaggering character, which suggests the confidence and arrogance of teenage rebellion more than kindergarten excitement. 

The narrator also states that Laurie forgot to stop and wave good-bye, which suggests he has been instructed to do so. If he had been instructed to do so, this is a failure to comply with his mother's reasonable request, which foreshadows the rebellion and insolent behavior to come. 

 

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While Charles's true identity is only revealed at the end of the story, Shirley Jackson gives us some clues in the opening paragraph when she describes the changes Laurie is undergoing. On the day Laurie starts kindergarten, he no longer likes wearing the same clothes: he swaps his "overalls with bibs" for "blue jeans" and a belt. Similarly, Laurie's demeanor also changes significantly: he is no longer a "nursery-school tot" but instead is described by his mother as a "swaggering character" who does not wave to her from the street corner anymore.

These clues are important because they foreshadow the birth of Laurie's alter ego, Charles, and his many bouts of bad behavior. They are subtle enough, however, to go almost unnoticed by the reader, and this makes the story's surprise ending (in which Charles's true identity is revealed) even more effective.

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