The short story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson there are examples of both internal and external conflict.
The protagonist, Laurie, exhibits conflict within himself, internal conflict. As a young kindergarten student, Laurie, exhibits inappropriate behavior. In an effort to justify the misbehavior he creates an imaginary, insubordinate child named Charles. He reports all of Charles’ misdeeds to his parents as he struggles with his own actions. Due to his lack of firm expectations at home, Laurie is unsure of his boundaries at school, and for a few weeks, he tests his teacher’s patience by breaking many rules. As he becomes accustomed to school guidelines, Laurie begins to acquiesce and becomes the “teacher’s helper.” The inner conflict begins to resolve.
During the third and fourth weeks it looked like a reformation in Charles; Laurie reported grimly at lunch on Thursday of the third week, “Charles was so good today the teacher gave him an apple.”
“What?” I said, and my husband added warily, “You mean Charles?”
“Charles,” Laurie said. “He gave the crayons around and he picked up the books afterward and the teacher said he was her helper.”
The mother also demonstrates inner conflict as she struggles with her feelings about Charles. She wants to meet Charles’ mother to see what kind of woman would have such an insolent child. It is not until the end of the story that she determines she is mother of that child.
External conflict, that of a character against nature, another character or society, exists in several instances. While Laurie struggles with his internal conflict, he is also struggling against societal norms of school behavior. In his home, his parents do not consistently enforce expected behaviors at the dinner table, and in the treatment of his parents and younger sister. He spills milk and is insubordinate when speaking to his parents.
The teacher spanked him and made him stand in a corner. He was awfully fresh.”
“What did he do?” I asked again, but Laurie slid off his chair, took a cookie, and left, while his father was still saying, “See here, young man.”
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.”
“Good heavens,” I said, mindful of the Lord’s name, “I suppose he got spanked again?”
“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.
Laurie resolves his inner conflict at school by learning and following expectations. The external conflict with his parents may be resolved when the mother learns that Laurie is the disobedient child, but the author leaves that ironic moment for the reader to consider.