The short tale “Charles” by Shirley Jackson explores two themes: the tendency of many parents to overlook characteristics in their own children and the strong yearning for attention that children have. Both his parents and his kindergarten instructor are bewildered by the kindergarten-aged Laurie’s adventures.
As Laurie enters kindergarten, his mother observes some concerning behaviours. Laurie now slams the door when he arrives home, speaks angrily to his father, and has even stopped waving to his mother as he leaves for school in the morning.
Laurie has also been misbehaving in kindergarten, but this narrative takes place much earlier than the time when instructors emailed and contacted parents at the drop of a hat, since the only indication of trouble is Laurie’s nightly stories about a misbehaving classmate named “Charles.”
Charles apparently slaps his fellow pupils and his teacher, and he also rants in class, but he finally realises his error and even becomes the teacher’s assistant. Laurie’s mother comes closest to predicting the truth, at least until the next PTA meeting, where the teacher will divulge all, when she surmises that Laurie is also misbehaving and may be receiving a negative influence from this class misfit.
Clearly, Laurie’s parents do not know their son well enough to recognise that the stories are fabricated, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Laurie definitely enjoys the attention he receives at school and at home, but he gradually discovers that he prefers the positive kind.