Charles Questions and Answers
by Shirley Jackson

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What is the irony in Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles"?    

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Shirley Jackson uses dramatic irony in her short story "Charles" about a young boy who is in his first year of school. Dramatic irony occurs when there is a contrast between what a reader realizes is true and what characters in the story believe. Throughout the story, young Laurie, who has just started Kindergarten, repeatedly comes home from school with stories about a classmate named Charles, who is continually in trouble and is portrayed by Laurie as being a bully and a brat. Charles torments other children, is disrespectful to the teachers and is often "fresh," as Laurie puts it. It should be apparent to the reader within the first few paragraphs that Laurie is just as disruptive as Charles. He hits his baby sister, is "fresh" to his father, and is all too happy to apply his own misdeeds to the fictional Charles. Thus, the reader already knows what the parents cannot bring themselves to believe: that Laurie is Charles.

Laurie's mother never suspects that her son, even though he is a terror at home, could really be as bad as Charles. She becomes more and more concerned that Charles might possibly be a bad influence, but the father simply believes that it's good for Laurie to meet such children—"Bound to be people like Charles in the world. Might as well meet them now as later." Both parents are in an obvious state of denial over Laurie's behavior. Finally, Laurie's mother attends a parent-teacher gathering and is anxious to find out about Charles. She is promptly informed by the Kindergarten teacher that there is no boy named Charles in the class and that all the teachers are very "interested" in Laurie. 

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