Structure

“Charles” by Shirley Jackson is structured around a single event in the life of a boy – the beginning of kindergarten. Despite his parents’ expectations, Laurie seems to behave badly, as he is influenced by the presence of a badly behaved boy named Charles. At the end, however, Laurie’s parents find out that Charles was only a figment of the boy’s imagination.

The short story has an unusual structure, with an exposition, a rising action, a climax and a falling action. As you are about to see, the ending of the story is climactic, and the falling action comes immediately after the rising action, in an unusual way.

Title

 

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Beginning

The exposition introduces readers to the narrator and the main character – her son, Laurie, who has just begun kindergarten:

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,...

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Middle

The rising action introduces several tension points, as Charles seems to be the center of attention in the kindergarten. Each day, Laurie comes home and tells his parents something new about Charles’ bad behavior: Charles hit the teacher, hit the teacher’s friend, hit a boy, hurt a girl, threw chalk, yelled, or said bad words. At the same time, Laurie seems...

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Ending

The climax comes at the end of the short story. During the P.T.A. meeting, Laurie’s mother scans the room for Charles’ mother, but she can’t identify her.

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