Shirley Jackson: Charles

The story that I chose for today is “Charles” by Shirley Jackson.

“The Lottery” by the same author is perhaps  more famous and more anthologised but that dark story can wait for another day.

In this, the narrator is the mother of two small children. Laurie, the older of her two children, has just joined the kindergarten class in a school.

For several days from the first day Laurie on returning home from school describes the mischiefs that Charles did and the punishments that he received from the teacher.

With the third week of KG, Charles was an institution in the narrator’s family. There were some signs of the clever little nipper improving but still his tricks don’t seem to have ended completlely. Laurie’s mother is eager to go to the PTA meeting where she would have a chance of coming face to face with Charles’s mother.

Read the story. It is available for free online. Please google for it and select a suitable site from where you can get a doc file. (I am unable to provide a link. I reread it in a book that I have.)

In what genre would you put this story? Parenting? Psychological? Fantasy? Humour?


“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 sweetvoiced nursery-school tot replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye to me.”


6 Responses to Shirley Jackson: Charles

  1. Ganesh says:

    I would categorize this as fantasy / humour. After all, it is a kindergarten kid we are dealing with, and to term it psychological would be complicating things a little too much.

    All in all, a pretty nice story with the ending made quite obvious when Laurie says that all the children stayed back at school when Charles was supposed to be under detention!

    • cgrishikesh says:

      I do agree that somewhere along the story one can guess the ending but it’s great nevertheless.
      Yes, it is in a collection titled ‘Fantasy’. I did not want to mention it as that
      would be a give-away. Hence that red herring “psychological”!

  2. The genre? Well, not parenting. Not humour since I wasn’t amused! Neither fantasy – I am awed at such a behaviour!!! Hence to me it is no red herring – the psychological option! Something scarily wrong with the kid! I can’t get reconciled to such a fantasy and behaviour in a normally ‘healthy’ child!

  3. Shuchi says:

    I would have called it fantasy if the imagined tales were harmless/constructive (such as of Calvin from the comic strip). This one is not quite that, so – I’m with Mrs. PP here – psychological!

    I am visualizing the parents’ reaction after the story ends. More tragedy than humour.

  4. Shuchi says:

    Talking of scary kids reminds me of Robin Cook’s Mutation and Saki’s Sredni Vashtar. If there was an award for most frightening kid to appear in fiction, these two would win.

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