What is the plot of the story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?

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The basic plot of Shirley Jackson's short story, "Charles," is as follows: 

Laurie is a boy who is beginning kindergarten. His mother is the narrator of this story. Laurie comes home with stories about what a boy in his class has done nearly every day. The boy's...

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The basic plot of Shirley Jackson's short story, "Charles," is as follows: 

Laurie is a boy who is beginning kindergarten. His mother is the narrator of this story. Laurie comes home with stories about what a boy in his class has done nearly every day. The boy's name is Charles. Charles hits the teacher, bangs the see-saw onto the head of a classmate, and throws chalk, among many other socially unacceptable deeds. 

Laurie's parents begin to wonder about the type of influence Charles is with their son. Laurie's father states that it's better for him to learn now rather than later how to deal with these things, because there are bound to be people like Charles in the world. 

All the while, Laurie is showing behaviors at home that mirror Charles's behavior. He yells loudly more than once, spills his baby sister's milk, and speaks insolently to his father. One example of this is when he says "Hi pop, y'old dust mop." 

For a short time, Laurie reports that Charles's behavior improves, but soon he is back to his old antics. He tells a girl to say an evil word in class, and she does. Then, Charles becomes bold enough to say the word himself. 

Laurie's mother attends the PTA meeting and is desperate to meet Charles's mother. Laurie's father asks his wife to invite Charles's mother over for tea so he can "get a look at her." Laurie's mother scans the faces of all the mothers during the PTA meeting to try to deduce which one is Charles's mother.  

Later, Laurie's mother approaches Laurie's teacher. Laurie's teacher remarks "We're all so interested in Laurie." She shares that Laurie had some trouble adjusting, but that he's a fine little helper now, "With occasional lapses, of course." Laurie's mother asks about Charles. The teacher replies that there is no student in kindergarten named Charles.  

 

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"Charles" tells the story of Laurie, a young boy who is just beginning kindergarten. The story is told from the perspective of Laurie's mother, who witnesses incredible changes in her son during this period. He is no longer a "nursery-school tot," for example, and kindergarten transforms him into a "long-trousered, swaggering character."

Each night, Laurie comes home from kindergarten and tells his mother and father about a child in his class called Charles who routinely misbehaves. On the first day, Charles got into trouble for "being fresh," for example, and on the next, he was punished for hitting the teacher. Charles seems to be such a bad pupil that Laurie's mother wonders if kindergarten is too "unsettling" for her son. Charles's behavior soon improves, however, and he becomes the teacher's helper, but it is not long before he is misbehaving again and he becomes a sort of "institution" in Laurie's household.

When Laurie's first parent-teacher meeting comes around, Laurie's mother is keen to speak with Charles's family for herself. In an ironic twist, however, she is quickly cornered by Laurie's teacher and is shocked to find out that Charles does not exist. Charles and his many misdemeanors were, in fact, carried out by her own son, Laurie.

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Shirley Jackson wrote "Charles" as a short story for Mademoiselle magazine in 1948. It was later reprinted in other anthologies of her work. This light, humorous story contains some irony wherein the reader seems to be able to figure out what the parents cannot in the story, that the characters Laurie and Charles are one in the same person.

The story begins with Laurie setting off for kindergarten and his mother reflecting about the way he is growing up so fast. Laurie heads off to school enthusiastically and without hesitation but returns with stories of a boy in his class, Charles, who constantly gets into trouble. Laurie's stories of Charles' include some good days but mostly days when Charles is in trouble at school. Because Laurie seems purposely vague in answering his parent's questions and is late getting home one day when he states Charles must stay after school, the reader begins to figure out that Charles and Laurie are one in the same.

However, the story continues with Laurie's mom eventually finding herself at a parent and teacher conference together when she asks the teacher about the troublesome Charles. The teacher's reply confirms what the reader has figured out by now, "there is no Charles in our class," the story ends.

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