Charles Questions and Answers
by Shirley Jackson

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What is the internal and external conflict in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?

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Sarah Zometa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Besides the internal and external conflicts the other respondent posted, there are some other angles to explore in Jackson’s ironic short story “Charles.”

Another obvious external conflict is the one between Laurie and his kindergarten teacher, since he is constantly disruptive in ever more dramatic ways. Laurie struggles to behave properly in the restrictive environment of a classroom, and while he briefly behaves himself, Laurie acts out because of the stress that starting school has caused him.

Besides Laurie’s internal conflict to cope with the demands of school, Laurie’s mother experiences internal conflict as she struggles with addressing her son’s shifting attitude at home. She definitely notices a negative change in Laurie’s demeanor, but she doesn’t know how to acknowledge or correct the behaviors she finds unacceptable. The mother’s inability to decide how to fix these issues ultimately contributes to Laurie’s continued misbehaviors at school.

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Elizabeth Stover, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Internal conflict is conflict that happens within the character's mind. Essentially, he or she is fighting with himself over choices or a decision. In "Charles", the main character Laurie experiences inner conflict. The reader does not find this out immediately but rather at the end of the story when we realize that the character Charles who is causing trouble in Laurie's class is not another student but is Laurie himself. A conflict between doing right and wrong waged inside Laurie and as a kindergarten student, he decided to make up a character.

An external conflict, one that happens between a character and another person, the world or nature, is that between Laurie and his parents. While not always an outward manifestation of arguments, the parents and Laurie struggle to maintain a calm relationship and to effectively communicate. Additionally, the simple fact that the parents do not realize that Laurie has fabricated Charles, provides an example of conflict in this constant struggle to communicate that exists between Laurie and his parents.

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