The language employed in “Charles” by Shirley Jackson is fairly simple and easy to understand. Because of the irony of the situation, the entire text comes across as comical, as Laurie’s parents do not realize that their child has been lying to them all along.

As you have seen, the story combines descriptive passages with narrative passages and dialogue, which makes the text more dynamic and realistic. For instance, the dialogue between Laurie’s mother and the teacher is realistic and mimics a real-life conversation at a P.T.A. meeting:

“Laurie usually adjusts very quickly,” I said. “I suppose this time it’s Charles’s influence.”
“Yes,” I said, laughing, “you must have your hands full in that kindergarten, with Charles.”
“Charles?” she said. “We don’t have any Charles in the kindergarten.” (p. 5, ll. 25-31)

There are several linguistic devices employed in the short story, some of which we present below:


Imagery (or the use of descriptive language in literature) is used for the purpose of creating vivid images in the minds of the readers. For example, the following quotation contains visual imagery and helps readers understand how Laurie looks like and how his mother sees him:

The day my son Laurie started kindergarten he renounced corduroy overalls with bibs and began wearing blue jeans with a belt;



The name “Charles” is repeated throughout the text and becomes a leitmotif for the story. Both Laurie and his parents become so obsessed with Charles that they even introduce his name into their family life:



Charles is probably the most important symbol in the story. On the one hand, Charles symbolizes Laurie’s need for attention. As his parents seem interested in what he has to say when Charles is mentioned, the boy continues to lie about Charles, as possibly this is the only way he can get them to be interested in him.


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