Charles by Shirley Jackson Summary and Analysis Fill in the missing words

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CHARLES by Shirley Jackson
Summary and Analysis
Fill in the missing words:

adjusting - denouement - Eventually - exaggeration - expense - harasses – lapses - mischief - reverts - sublimation - twist - yells -

Little Laurie, who has just started kindergarten, keeps his parents in sus­pense with more or less shocking stories about his fellow-pupil Charles, who ________________ his teacher and classmates with his aggressive behaviour. Charles, for instance, hits the teacher, keeps pounding his feet on the floor during storytime, or _____________________ in class during story hour. Punishment obviously has little effect on him. Fearing that "all this toughness" may have a "bad influence" (3112-13) on Laurie, his mother "passionately" wishes to contact Charles' mother at the first Parent-Teachers meeting (3134-36), but her plan comes to nothing because her baby's cold keeps her from going. __________________, Laurie's daily reports about Charles begin to dominate both parents' con­sciousness. By the third week of kindergarten "Charles" has become a synonym for any kind of _________________ or damage done within the family (32 16-20). After what seems a time of reformation in Charles when his teacher calls him her "helper" (32 34), Charles ____________________ to his usual misbehaviour. Among other things, he makes a little girl say an evil word (33 3) and later says it himself "three or four times" (33 14). Anxiously, Laurie's mother attends the second Parent-Teachers meeting where no one, however, men­tions Charles. When she approaches the teacher after the meeting and introduces herself as Laurie's mother, she is informed primly that her little son had "a little trouble _________________________, the first week or so" (33 35), but now has become "a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course". Innocently Laurie's mother tries to attribute her son's______________________ to "Charles' influence", but the teacher informs her that they "don't have any Charles in the kinder­garten". It is only at this point that she realizes that Laurie — give or take an _______________________ or two — has been describing his own behaviour at school. One can only imagine her shock on realizing that she herself is "Charles' mother".
The action of the story covers a time span of a little more than four weeks. The story is told by the mother, as first-person narrator. She is both observer of the action and closely involved in it. Her feelings, thoughts and reactions during these four weeks are related directly with no trace of hindsight. Consequently, at no point is the truthfulness of Laurie's reports about Charles called into question. For both parents Charles is a 'real' figure; up to the ___________ his existence is felt as a constant menace to their little son.

Psychologically speaking, Laurie's daily performances might be seen as an intelligent form of _________________________: for quite a while Laurie successfully transforms his difficulties in adjusting to the social demands of kindergarten life into material for his fight for recognition at home. The reasons for his failure to "adjust" can only be speculated on. The first paragraph suggests that Laurie had acquired certain notions of 'grown-upness' and indepen­dence (presumably nurtured by his loving parents) which inevitably clashed with the mild forms of school discipline usual even at the kindergarten stage.

Seen from the reader's perspective, the story makes pleasant reading, because Laurie's tactics will soon be seen through. While the narrator in the story is blind to what is really going on, the reader step by step becomes aware of the improbability of Laurie's reports. The point at which one realises that Laurie is tricking his parents will, of course, vary; but from then on one knows — or suspects — more than the narrator (dramatic irony) and is amused at her _____________________________.

The suspense lies in the question: "How long can Laurie go on tricking his parents?" Consequently, the _________________________ at the end of the story comes as some sort of confirmation rather than as a surprise. The blow is dealt to Laurie's mother, not to the reader. For the juvenile reader, the charm of this story probably lies in a humorous reversal of traditional roles: Parents, by con­vention thought to be intellectually superior to their children are outwitted by the imagination and artistry of a clever little nipper.

Unit I

The Contents
1. Central character and narrator

Who do you think is the main character in the story? Give reasons why.


Laurie's mother

2. Comprehension questions (plot)

What changes does Laurie's mother observe in her son the day he starts kindergarten?

What does Laurie report about Charles in the following two weeks? How do Laurie's parents respond to these reports? How does Charles influence life in Laurie's family?

In what way does Charles' conduct change during the third and fourth week? How do Laurie's parents interpret this change? How does Charles behave shortly before the second PTA meeting? What course does the second PTA meeting take for Laurie's mother

3. Group work

Group A: Have a second close reading of the story. - Note down in brief, following the chronological order, all the information you get about Charles' behaviour and about his
teacher's corresponding reactions. Enter your find­ings into a chart, as follows:







Monday Tuesday

was fresh hit the teacher

spanked Charles spanked Charles again

Group B: Work through the text and note down all relevant information on Laurie's behaviour in outline form (entering the details into a similar chart).

First Week:

— Laurie starts wearing blue jeans.

— He goes off to kindergarten without waving goodbye.

— On returning, he shouts and slams the door, [etc.]

Group C: Summarize the corresponding reactions of Laurie's parents (enter­ing the details into a similar chart).

— Laurie's mother notices that an era of her life has come to an end.

— She tries to react casually.

  • Laurie's father asks what he learned at school, [etc.]

Unit II

Humour and Irony
1. Charles’ identity

Who is Charles? — How do you know?

2. The narrator's perspective

When did Laurie's mother realize?

3. The reader's perspective

When did you realize Laurie was not telling the whole truth?
4. Dramatic irony

How did your knowledge affect your enjoyment of the story?

5. Surface humour

What else is funny about the story?

Unit III

The Characters

1. Reader's sympathies

Which character do you sympathize with (laugh at) most? Why?

Try to explain why Laurie/Charles behaved as he did.

3. Parental attitudes

What do you think of the way the parents deal with Laurie?

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