In the short story, "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, what are the internal and external conflicts, and how are they resolved?

Expert Answers
beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, the conflicts are both external and internal.  Examples of the external conflicts are the constant tug of war with the boy Laurie and his parents.  The parents don't seem able to curb his behavior from taking a cookie he was not allowed to his constant reciting of tales about the naughty boy at kindergarten.  Internal conflict is illustrated by the mother trying  to decide what to do or say at the meeting with the kindergarten teacher about "Charles." This conflict is resolved by the teacher telling the mom that there is no child in the class named Charles, and that Laurie is the one in trouble. The story is indeed ironic when you remember that irony is the opposite of what you expect.  The reader and the mother are quite surprised and are not expecting to find out that the naughty boy is not a boy named Charles, but the mother's own son Laurie.  Neither parent is very effective with Laurie who is constantly in trouble which does not really resolve the conflicts nor bode well for Laurie's future.

epiphany123 | Student

In the story, "Charles", by Shirley Jackson, the child makes his entry into society by attending kindergarten.  He faces conflicts that are both internal and external.  First, he is leaving his home and family for the first time to start that path of separation and become his own person.  He fears that he does not have the tools to be on his own and acts out at school to gain attention.  At the same time, his misbehavior is unacceptable in the classroom, so he creates an imaginary scapegoat to avoid trouble at home.  He struggles with right and wrong and fights that battle internally.  Externally, the school and its rules demand that students conform to its code of behavior and enforces punishments for those who do not conform.  Laurie is calling for help from his parents, but he does not want to disappoint them, so he creates Charles. Ironically, the parents have contributed to the behavioral problems by not demanding that their son follow the rules at home.  They fail to see that Laurie might be unable to follow rules within the school setting and automatically accept Charles as a scapegoat.  The conflicts reach their resolution when Laurie finally accepts that he must abide by the rules and become a functioning member of society in the classroom.  He adjusts, and there is no longer a need for Charles.  When Laurie's parents find that their own child is actually the infamous Charles, they are forced to assume responsibility for not preparing their child at home to meet the demands of the bigger world outside.