Who is narrating the short story "Charles"? 

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The narrator of the story is Laurie’s mother.

This story describes a little boy starting kindergarten from the point of view of his well-meaning but generally clueless mother.  She tends to take her little boy’s word for it with no matter what he says.  Even though her son is a handful, she seems to expect his transition to kindergarten to be a smooth one.  She is not hands-on with communicating with the teacher, and she therefore does not recognize that her son is lying.

Laurie goes to kindergarten every day and tells her about a terrible boy named Charles who gets in trouble every day.  Laurie himself is no angel.  No narrator foreshadows Charles’s true identity by describing Laurie’s behavior after school (especially foreshadowed by the fact that Laurie has to think before he says the boy’s name).

At lunch he spoke insolently to his father, spilled his baby sister’s milk, and remarked that his teacher said we were not to take the name of the Lord in vain.

When Laurie describes the terrible things that Charles does at school, the parents seem to enjoy it.  They are probably thinking that it is good that there is a little boy who is worse behaved than their son.  Every day, Laurie comes home with a new story of what Charles has done.  He yells at the teacher, gets other students to say bad words, makes messes, and generally seems unapologetic.

At the PTA meeting, Laurie’s mother decides to confront Charles’s mother.  She is interested in seeing the mother of the boy who is making so much trouble, and is very judgmental.

At the meeting I sat restlessly, scanning each comfortable matronly face, trying to determine which one hid the secret of Charles. None of them looked to me haggard enough. No one stood up in the meeting and apologized for the way her son had been acting.

When Laurie’s mother talks to the teacher, she tells her that Charles had trouble adjusting at first but is getting better.  His mother is confused.  She says it is Charles’s influence.  Then the teacher tells her that there is no Charles in kindergarten.  It is at this point that Laurie’s mother realizes that the stories she has been hearing have been about her son all along.

A first person narrator is the least reliable narrator.  She is too close to the story, and has no objectivity.  Yet in this story, the use of a first person narrator allows for the ironic revelation at the end about the real identity of Charles.  After foreshadowing this with Laurie’s behavior, his pause before telling his mother Charles’s name, and the fact that his mother never goes to the school, we have a story of an overwhelmed mother who doesn’t understand that her child is out of control.  By telling the story from her point of view, the reader not only gets a different perspective on why Laurie is who he is, but also an appreciation for his mother.

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