Editor's Choice

What are the internal and external conflicts in "Charles" by Shirley Jackson?

Quick answer:

In "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, the main internal conflict is within the protagonist, Laurie, who creates a fictitious character to cope with his struggle between right and wrong. Laurie's mother also experiences internal conflict as she grapples with her son's behavioral changes. The principal external conflicts occur between Laurie and his kindergarten teacher due to his disruptive behavior, and between Laurie and his parents, who struggle to communicate effectively with him and remain oblivious to his deception.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Besides the internal and external conflicts the other respondent posted, there are some other angles to explore in Jackson’s ironic short story “Charles.”

Another obvious external conflict is the one between Laurie and his kindergarten teacher, since he is constantly disruptive in ever more dramatic ways. Laurie struggles to behave properly in the restrictive environment of a classroom, and while he briefly behaves himself, Laurie acts out because of the stress that starting school has caused him.

Besides Laurie’s internal conflict to cope with the demands of school, Laurie’s mother experiences internal conflict as she struggles with addressing her son’s shifting attitude at home. She definitely notices a negative change in Laurie’s demeanor, but she doesn’t know how to acknowledge or correct the behaviors she finds unacceptable. The mother’s inability to decide how to fix these issues ultimately contributes to Laurie’s continued misbehaviors at school.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Internal conflict is conflict that happens within the character's mind. Essentially, he or she is fighting with himself over choices or a decision. In "Charles", the main character Laurie experiences inner conflict. The reader does not find this out immediately but rather at the end of the story when we realize that the character Charles who is causing trouble in Laurie's class is not another student but is Laurie himself. A conflict between doing right and wrong waged inside Laurie and as a kindergarten student, he decided to make up a character.

An external conflict, one that happens between a character and another person, the world or nature, is that between Laurie and his parents. While not always an outward manifestation of arguments, the parents and Laurie struggle to maintain a calm relationship and to effectively communicate. Additionally, the simple fact that the parents do not realize that Laurie has fabricated Charles, provides an example of conflict in this constant struggle to communicate that exists between Laurie and his parents.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, what are the internal and external conflicts, and how are they resolved?

The short story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson there are examples of both internal and external conflict.

The protagonist, Laurie, exhibits conflict within himself, internal conflict. As a young kindergarten student, Laurie, exhibits inappropriate behavior. In an effort to justify the misbehavior he creates an imaginary, insubordinate child named Charles. He reports all of Charles’ misdeeds to his parents as he struggles with his own actions. Due to his lack of firm expectations at home, Laurie is unsure of his boundaries at school, and for a few weeks, he tests his teacher’s patience by breaking many rules. As he becomes accustomed to school guidelines, Laurie begins to acquiesce and becomes the “teacher’s helper.” The inner conflict begins to resolve.

 During the third and fourth weeks it looked like a reformation in Charles; Laurie reported grimly at lunch on Thursday of the third week, “Charles was so good today the teacher gave him an apple.”

“What?” I said, and my husband added warily, “You mean Charles?”

“Charles,” Laurie said. “He gave the crayons around and he picked up the books afterward and the teacher said he was her helper.”

The mother also demonstrates inner conflict as she struggles with her feelings about Charles. She wants to meet Charles’ mother to see what kind of woman would have such an insolent child. It is not until the end of the story that she determines she is mother of that child.

External conflict, that of a character against nature, another character or society, exists in several instances. While Laurie struggles with his internal conflict, he is also struggling against societal norms of school behavior. In his home, his parents do not consistently enforce expected behaviors at the dinner table, and in the treatment of his parents and younger sister. He spills milk and is insubordinate when speaking to his parents.

The teacher spanked him and made him stand in a corner. He was awfully fresh.”

“What did he do?” I asked again, but Laurie slid off his chair, took a cookie, and left, while his father was still saying, “See here, young man.”

The next day Laurie remarked at lunch, as soon as he sat down, “Well, Charles was bad again today.” He grinned enormously and said, “Today Charles hit the teacher.”

“Good heavens,” I said, mindful of the Lord’s name, “I suppose he got spanked again?”

“He sure did,” Laurie said. “Look up,” he said to his father.

“What?” his father said, looking up.

 “Look down,” Laurie said. “Look at my thumb. Gee,

you’re dumb.” He began to laugh insanely.

Laurie resolves his inner conflict at school by learning and following expectations. The external conflict with his parents may be resolved when the mother learns that Laurie is the disobedient child, but the author leaves that ironic moment for the reader to consider.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, what are the internal and external conflicts, and how are they resolved?

In the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson, the conflicts are both external and internal.  Examples of the external conflicts are the constant tug of war with the boy Laurie and his parents.  The parents don't seem able to curb his behavior from taking a cookie he was not allowed to his constant reciting of tales about the naughty boy at kindergarten.  Internal conflict is illustrated by the mother trying  to decide what to do or say at the meeting with the kindergarten teacher about "Charles." This conflict is resolved by the teacher telling the mom that there is no child in the class named Charles, and that Laurie is the one in trouble. The story is indeed ironic when you remember that irony is the opposite of what you expect.  The reader and the mother are quite surprised and are not expecting to find out that the naughty boy is not a boy named Charles, but the mother's own son Laurie.  Neither parent is very effective with Laurie who is constantly in trouble which does not really resolve the conflicts nor bode well for Laurie's future.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on