Story of the Week, presented by The Library of America, is on hiatus for the remainder of July.
In the meantime, fill your summer reading with our
284 previous selections.
We’ll be back again in August!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Charles

Shirley Jackson (1916–1965)
From Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories

In a 1997 appreciation, Jonathan Lethem observes that Shirley Jackson’s “forté was psychology and society, people in other words—people disturbed, dispossessed, misunderstanding or thwarting one another compulsively, people colluding absently in monstrous acts.” Likewise, Joyce Carol Oates in a recent interview describes her as a “literary Gothicist”; Jackson did not write “about the supernatural as an end in itself—only its psychological manifestations.” There is a conspicuous lack of ghosts and ghouls in Jackson’s fiction; instead there are haunted minds.

Although today she is better known for tales of psychological horror (especially
The Haunting of Hill House and, of course, “The Lottery”), Jackson also wrote humorous, unsentimental tales of ordinary domestic life. “Charles” is the first of her numerous semi-autobiographical stories of life as a 1940s housewife raising children who sometimes seemed one step outside her ability to control them. Jackson originally published the story in Mademoiselle and included it in the collection The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris, and she later incorporated this episode, stripped of its fictional veneer, in her memoir Life Among the Savages. Alternating between menace and whimsy in its description of Laurie’s impish classmate, the story draws its piquancy less from the outcome than from its humor and its sly winks at the credulity of parents.

Bonus story: Thanks to the generosity of the Jackson estate and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, we are able to make available a second story from the just-published Library of America Shirley Jackson collection to Story of the Week readers. Click here (PDF) to download “Trial by Combat,” about the unsettling showdown between a young woman and the not-quite-menacing widow who is her neighbor.


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.

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.

“How was school today?” I asked, elaborately casual.

“All right,” he said.

“Did you learn anything?” his father asked.

Laurie regarded his father coldly. “I didn’t learn nothing,” he said. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this story!

Kelli at Lovely Vintage Cottage Life said...

Oh my goodness, tooo cute! What really makes me chuckle is that "Charlie's" behavoir back in the 1940's is considered "cute" or "cheekie" today.

DawnB said...

Oh, my! It's always a shock when you find out that it's YOUR child that's becoming the one that's the bad influence that you've been warning them to avoid! :{

Anonymous said...

I would have wondered the same thing ; ( should we send our child around this bad example ? ) . What a rude awakening to find out your heretofore ( almost )perfect child had been someone you did not know exsisted ! Oh the blinded eyes of love !

Anonymous said...

My 8th grade students love this story. We analyze it and have always reached the conclusion that the teacher& the parents should have been up on charges for neglect among other things!! LOL

Anonymous said...

As a 7th grader, I love this story. Its fun to think how kindergarten students are punished today compared to then. We have it easy!

Anonymous said...

As an 8th grader it is funny to see how they used to get punished and compare it to how we get punished.We defiantly have it easier!!

Anonymous said...

My teacher read it to us for language arts one day and it was really funny! After reading it, you can look back and see the hints of foreshadowing!

Anonymous said...

This story was read to me by my E.L.A. teacher and I laughed, but I also felt sorry for him being spanked. Laurie is a bad boy.

Anonymous said...

lol

Nathan George said...

haha that is funny!!! :D ('_')

Anonymous said...

I read this story a thousand times ita soooo cute

Anonymous said...

I love this

Anonymous said...

I saw that twist from a mile away :(

Anonymous said...

umm I love this story so much it is so interesting:)

Anonymous said...

It's a little unsettling, thinking about how little you really notice about people.

Rebecca said...

When i first read the story Charles, It was so adorable because as a student this story is funny to me. I cant believe a kindergardenr would do all those things . I'm older and i never did those things and i would not let my child do those things. It was very interesting beecause Charles is gotten iin so much trouble but the teachers dont call the parents so at the end i was very surprised whenn i found out charles wasnt real

Kaiel Hinton said...

This story was so interesting to me and my classmates. When we read the story in 7th grade, it found out at the end of the story that Laurie is Charles. That was shocking to us all.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha ... oh Charles. This amusing short story follows a family with a young boy who tells them the daily antics of a fellow student named Charles. It's too funny and a quick read. If you have kids, pick this up!

Anonymous said...

This story is interesting and very confusing and I love it.

Anonymous said...

This story was so interesting and I saw that there was going to be a twist at the end because of Laurie talking about this charles boy at his school everyday after school and not talking about himself at all.

Kaiel Hinton said...

This was so interesting!

Anonymous said...

Charles is a funny book to read. It shows how kids acted up and how they got treated for what they did. I enjoyed the book. It surprised me in the end that Laurie turned out to be Chares. He was the one being really bad. The parents were gulable enough to believe that Charles was real. Even though Laurie actually turned out to be Charles.

Anonymous said...

Charles had a plot twist , at first i thought it was a girl because of soemthing it said but then again i thought it was a boy. I was aching to find out the truth!!!

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting story and really good I remember back in my days I made up Tyrone but my actions were a bit more passive.

Anonymous said...

I loved the book, it was pretty mysterious. I loved the part when the parents found out when there was no Charles in the kindergarden.

Anonymous said...

As a seventh grader, I really think that the story was interesting and funny
HA! HA! HA! HA!
:)

Anonymous said...

This was a cool book! It was interesting.

Anonymous said...

I think this book was okay but um that story twist was about a week ago.

Anonymous said...

As a 7th grader I fond this story very cute and interesting! I was not ready for the ending when i found out that the main character Laurie was actually Charles. ;) :)

Anonymous said...

this book is boring i never seen a boring book like this in my entire life.

Anonymous said...

This story is interesting, confusing, and surprising.

Anonymous said...

this story was so interesting because it had mystery in the story because no one knew who Charles, was only Lurie knew, and at the end when the teacher said there is no Charels in here the mystery was solved it was Lurie the whole time.

Anonymous said...

I thought that this book was good at showing how some kids can act one way in front of their parents and how they act in front of others.:p

Anonymous said...

listen up this story is the bombdidigad it screems passion ive never seen a twist like this before

Anonymous said...

This story is amazing, the way it goes back to the early 1900's and the twist at the end! I wish the author would make a part 2.

Anonymous said...

This Is the Best Story Ever I Love This Book I Read It More Than Once I Love It

Anonymous said...

When I read this book I was surpirised to find out what what really happeneing. I read it at first I did not understand what was going on so I reread the story and finally got the concept of the story. At the end of the story I wanted to read more to find out what the mother and the teacher did, so I was really interested in this book.

Anonymous said...

I Read this book with my 7th grade class. This was a wonderful book i loved the plot twist that Laurie was Charles classic.

Anonymous said...

As a 7th grader i read this story in Language arts it was cute and funny.

Anonymous said...

yassss i loved this story it was so cute and it had a funny twist this little boy was something else.

Anonymous said...

I totally saw that coming

Anonymous said...

Charles by Shirley Jackson is a very funny book. I love how the book ended. It left me wanting to read more. I read the book 3 tmes, and i started to notice details that I didnt see before. This book is very short but it is a great story for all ages. It even has a humorous side to it! So read this great, funny story.

nat said...

I read this stroy in 7th grade. this story was confusing at first. when the story contines it gets funnier. final the teacher said there is no Charles in my class

Anonymous said...

i think the book charles was a very interesting book. shirley jackson did a fantastic job.i enjoyed this book so much because it was funny and laurie made up charles. i think he made up charles because his parents was paying all the attintion to his new sibling so he desided to make up sime to get his parents attintion.but i enjoyed the book alot cant wait to read your other books <3

Anonymous said...

As a seventh-grader this story is too cute. Little Laurie grows up and begins to act out. And is alter ego, Charles, just too funny. He hides his alter egos facade and become Laurie. As he alternates back and forth to Laurie and Charles. And the ending is a cute but, interesting twist. But, overall it was cute and interesting.

Kervins Racine said...

"Charles" is a fantastic book that show jealous amonge kids. That made a imaginary character that express himself in negative action. I believe that's what made this story come to life.

Anonymous said...

This is the best book ever. If i was a critic i would get this 4 stars this is a funny book, This is a good book for everyone i love the twist at the end. My class read this book and it was fun and humorous at first it was a little confusing but this book is a really fun book. I recomend thsi book to everyone to enjoy this funny and fun book.

Anonymous said...

This book was interesting! I was interested in the character "Charles" because almost every day, he would do something that made him get spanked! Also, because Laurie was Charles this whole time, got me confused, but I understanded it! I was very interested in the book, and willing to listen to another!

Anonymous said...

The book Charles was interesting and what was interesting about Charles was that the teacher never called Laurie's parents. Usually, if a student act out in class, the parents would be called. Anyway, it's such a bundle of joy and I can connect this story exactly to my life

Christian Hammond said...

I think that in the short story is a little bit funny because Laurie made up Charles just to probably get more attention by his parents.

Anonymous said...

this book charlie's is so cute how the mother and father was so interested in this bo named charlies which was actually there son laurie it had me like lol

Anonymous said...

This story is good. Its funny and its very entertaining.

Anonymous said...

The book was pretty interesting and hilarious. It totally made me like lol. Giggle Giggle, charles is a narley kid. That dude rox.

Anonymous said...

I love this story it's a funny book to read it's a very interesting i like were there was a turn at the end of the story,I also like that laurie made up charles to cover what he did in school

Anonymous said...

my personal opinion about this story is. I love this story this is a very great story and the reason why i say this is a good confusing story is i think Shirley Jackson nailed this story because she had both perspectives on both characters Laurie and Charles had me laughing and i really think this story was a hit and now its one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

The story Charles is a really cool story. I love when Charles was really bad it makes me think of me. That's why I love this story!

Nateria Burrell said...

this book was amazing. GIGGLE GIGGLE
i was lol so much. i was surpised that there was no charles lol

Anonymous said...

The story Charles is a really cool story. I love when Charles was really bad it makes me think of me. That's why I love this story!

kayla said...

The story Charles is a really cool story. I love when Charles was really bad it makes me think of me. That's why I love this story!





I GO TO W.H.A THAT'S MY SCHOOL.