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“Charles”. Shirley Jackson. English 9AMr. ShimizuNov. 2013. Born in 1916 in San Francisco, but moved as a teenager to Rochester, NY. Went to Syracuse University and met her future husband (book critic Stanley Edgar Hyman) while on the school’s lit. magazine.

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Shirley Jackson

English 9AMr. ShimizuNov. 2013

Born in 1916 in San Francisco, but moved as a teenager to Rochester, NY.

Went to Syracuse University and met her future husband (book critic Stanley Edgar Hyman) while on the school’s lit. magazine.

Moved to Vermont, where Stanley was a professor and had 4 children, one son named Laurence (Laurie).

Died of heart failure at age 48 in her sleep; was overweight and a smoker; suffered nervous breakdowns according to Darryl Hattenhauer (Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic)

Stephen King considers her a major influence and calls her The Haunting of Hill House one of the best horror stories ever written in his Danse Macabre.

“Charles” came out in 1948 and WWII (1939-45) was still fresh in readers’ minds

During wartime, nations use propaganda to create a clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys … dichotomy is a division between two things thought to be opposed or entirely different from each other

The question is, does such a dichotomy between good and evil really exist? We called ourselves the liberators of Europe during the war (the good guys), but we imprisoned and relocated Japanese-American citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor just like the Nazis did with Europe’s Jewish population.

Mob mentality can overtake society during wartime: Nazism swept over Germany and bloodthirsty patriotism swept the USA after Pearl Harbor … Evil lurked even in the small-town America of “Charles” …

Preview of Conflict and Theme

Character vs. Society

Character vs. Self

  • The influence of social pressure on our choices

  • We choose to believe what we want to believe … right?

  • Can we believe anything we want to, behave how we want to? What are the consequences of not believing what everyone else does, of not behaving like everyone else wants us to?

  • Are people born evil? Is there such a thing as original sin?

Discuss answers to these questions with your elbow partner(s) …

Characters + Point of View

NARRATOR = a young mother whose son Laurie has just started kindergarten; first-person protagonist

LAURIE = the narrator’s son; goes from a sweet little boy to a rude, mouthy kindergartner under the supposed influence of a bad kid in his class named Charles

LAURIE’S FATHER = narrator’s husband; the target of Laurie’s teasing

CHARLES = a “bad seed” student who fascinates Laurie’s whole family

LAURIE AND CHARLE’S TEACHER = a character with a surprise for Laurie’s parents

STORY NOTE #1: What a character does says volumes about who he or she is as a person


Use context clues to uncover the meaning of unfamiliar words.

“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 goodbye to me.”

What does “swaggering” mean?

“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?”

What does “raucous” mean?


Not only is Laurie shown to be rude (slamming the door, throwing his cap on the floor, and shouting unnecessarily) but swaggering adds another level to his rudeness—not only is he rude, he’s rude in an in-your-face, obnoxious way intended to get himself noticed.

Consider: he slams the door loudly, talks loudly, and wants to know if anyone’s home to witness his bad behavior


Jackson unfolds the story by having Laurie tell his parents stories about Charles’ behavior when he comes home everyday for lunch. By not showing Laurie and Charles at school, she keeps suspense.

–lysuffix: indicates/forms an adjective out of the word

Insolently(p.73)scornfully (p.75) matronly (p.77)

elaborately(p.73)heartily (p.75)cautiously (p.77)

incredulously (p.76)


Fresh Unfortunate 

Unsettling Sudden 


  • Who is Charles? How is he important to the story?

  • What clues in the story let you know what’s really going on? (Think: dramatic irony)

  • Think about theme: What does the reader know that characters in the story do not? Why don’t they see what the reader sees?

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