Charles—a little boy (revealed at the end of the story to be imaginary) who causes all sorts of trouble in Laurie’s kindergarten class
Laurie—a young boy just beginning kindergarten
Mother —Laurie’s kind but unobservant mother
Father—Laurie’s equally unobservant father
Baby sister—Laurie’s younger sister and merely referred to in passing
Laurie’s teacher—a teacher at Laurie’s kindergarten
As indicated by the swagger with which he leaves home for the first day of kindergarten, Laurie is eager to start school and break away from his childhood. His rejection of his childish “corduroy bibs” for the more manly “blue jeans and a belt” signify his desire to grow up, and the fact that he “forgets” to wave good-bye to his mother at the corner represents the abruptness with which he turns his back on his childhood and maternal nurturance. His mother calls him a “sweet-voiced nursery-school tot” as the story opens, which is an unusual description for a child, whom one would generally characterize by his nature rather than by his voice. However, it is indeed his voice that does characterize him, because readers learn about Laurie by hearing the stories he tells rather than by viewing what he does. And while he says he is telling stories about Charles, a boy who causes all variety of problems at school, he is in fact using Charles to tell stories about himself, a bad part he splits from the rest of him to retain the harmony of home and the safety it represents.
Indeed, separation from the mother is an important aspect of growing up, but so is negotiating in a socially acceptable way unconscious desires that conflict with accepted rules of behavior. Here little Laurie has problems, for rather than behave according to the rules, he breaks them without taking responsibility for doing so, instead attributing his transgressions to a shadow figure of himself, a doppelganger, an alter ego who is he and yet not he. Significantly, it is in front of his parents that he splits himself into the good child and bad child, projecting all of the latter on the make-believe Charles. At school he is simply the kid who gets into trouble.
The father comes home to eat lunch with the family but is ineffectual as an authority figure. Although his father says, “See here young man” to keep him at the table, Laurie grabs a cookie and slides off his chair to walk away. It is to his father, not his mother, that Laurie speaks rudely, such as when he says, “Hi, Pop, y’old dust mop,” and when his father asks him a question, he regards his parent “coldly.” Yet it is also to his father that he can confide the bad word Charles uses at school, such language binding father and son....
(The entire section contains 751 words.)
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- Critical Essays