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Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles" is an ironic tale about a young boy's experience at school. Throughout the story, the narrator's son returns home and tells tales about a little boy in his class named "Charles" and his misdeeds: Charles yells at his teacher, throws chalk, and hits his classmates.
His mother is concerned because her "little boy" may be influenced negatively by this classmate, and she finally decides that she must meet Charles' mother. When she cannot find him at the Parent-Teacher meeting, she unwittingly approaches the teacher only to find out that there is not a boy named Charles in the class, but that the narrator's son is now a "fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course." It is then that the narrator realizes her son is "Charles."
This is a prime example of situational irony. As you read the text, you may also believe that "Charles" is the bad influence and the bad seed. The humor is that the narrator never suspected her son could be the bad influence. Jackson is playing on a typical parental reaction: Parents don't believe their children are capable of doing wrong. "Not my child! Not my perfect little angel!" It is this common thread that makes the story believable, plausible, and amusing.
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