What are some examples of wordplay in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"Charles" is a short story with a twist ending by Shirley Jackson, in which a boy named Laurie creates an alter-ego named Charles to blame for his own bad behavior in kindergarten.

Wordplay, encompassing anything from puns to subtle satire in grammar and context, is here shown largely as contextual clues to Laurie's rebellion against authority. At home, where he is shown safely telling stories about a terrible boy, Laurie pushes against his parents with small verbal jibes. He calls his father "dumb" and an "old dust-mop," all innocuous enough and ignored in the face of the more interesting Charles. At school, where he is not so terrified of parental judgement, his actions are larger: using the playground toy "see-saw" to hit a girl, he is made to stay inside during recess; throwing chalk "deprive[s him] of black-board privileges. Each action relates directly to its consequence.

A good example of this contextual wordplay appears early in the story.

"The teacher spanked a boy, though," Laurie said, addressing his bread and butter. "For being fresh," he added, with his mouth full.
"What did he do?" I asked. "Who was it?"
Laurie thought. "It was Charles," he said.
(Jackson, "Charles," Google Docs)

This is both a pun and a clue as to the ending, as well as being the creation-moment of Charles himself. Laurie, trying to find a way to explain that he was "fresh" in class and was punished, attempts to simply slide it by his parents. His "addressing his bread and butter" is an attempt to minimalize the story by not engaging his parents directly. When Laurie speaks directly to his father, his tone is "cold," but the lie is built on the theme of "bread and butter," mentally associating with warmth. It is also a pun, as Laurie's "freshness" can be felt in the food itself; fresh food, fresh behavior. However, Laurie finds himself forced to further explain the lie, and Charles is born.

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