Talking about the mood of any given story can be a tricky undertaking. “Mood” is not the most specific of words. It refers to a story’s general, inexact feeling, atmosphere, or tone. Indeed, the abstract quality of “mood” can make describing the mood rather difficult.
One way to make the process easier is by identifying words that call to mind a certain mood. For example, in Shirley Jackson’s short story “Charles,” the boy, Laurie, speaks “insolently” to his dad, spills his little sister’s milk, and then tells his family about a boy who was spanked during school.
All of the above happens over lunch. This lunch scene, which takes places early on in the story, appears to set the mood of the overall narrative. The words used in this scene convey an odious, petulant, and disorderly mood that continues throughout the story.
It’s also reasonable to refer to the mood as contentious or combative. Laurie’s bellicose attitude towards his parents and the stories that he tells about Charles instill the story with an aggressive, hostile mood.
Often, the mood connects to what happens in the story. In this case, the eerie, unsettling atmosphere of Jackson’s tale links to the strange relationship between Laurie and this mysterious Charles child. In a certain light, the mood prepares the reader for the ending.