The main character in the short story “Charles” by Shirley Jackson is Laurie. When he is in kindergarten, he behaves badly and, once home, he blames it all on Charles, whom his parents think is real. However, Charles is only a figment of the boy’s imagination and a way of preventing his parents from finding out his true personality. In what follows, we will focus on Laurie/Charles and the characterization of Laurie’s parents.
Laurie’s outer characterization describes him as a young boy beginning kindergarten. Although he used to wear “corduroy overalls with bibs” (p. 1, l. 2), he now wears “blue jeans with a belt” (p. 1, ll. 2-3), looking like an older boy, not like a baby. Laurie also has a younger baby sister (p. 1, ll. 11-12).
Laurie’s inner characterization surfaces during the first day of kindergarten. When he leaves home, he does not stop at the corner and wave good-bye to his mother, who believes he forgot to say goodbye. However, as the rest of the story unfolds, we realize that Laurie probably did not forget but deliberately chose not to wave to his mother.
When he returns home from the kindergarten, Laurie’s entrance reveals that something in his behavior has changed, as he is violent and rude:
He came home the same way, the front door slamming open, his cap on the floor, and the voice suddenly become raucous shouting, “Isn’t anybody here?” 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. (p. 1, ll. 8-13)
However, his parents do not seem too concerned by his behavior. Instead, they want to know what Laurie learned in kindergarten. When he talks about Charles, Laurie manages to distract his parents’ attention away from his rudeness. As you can see from the following quotation, they seem to ignore Laurie’s bad behavior and focus on what Charles did:
Laurie’s parents are important characters because they are the ones who get to know Charles first hand through their son, Laurie. They also have a baby girl, who is not described extensively.
Laurie’s mother, the narrator, is nostalgic for the times when Laurie was a baby and finds it hard to see that her son is growing up:
The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt; I watched him go off the first morning with the older girl next door, seeing clearly that an era of my life was ended, my sweet-voiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me. (p. 1, ll. 1-7)
The above quotation shows that she finds it hard to let her son go and that she suffers when her son ignores her.