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The American author Shirley Jackson's short story "Charles" was first published in the July 1948 issue of Mademoiselle magazine. The story subsequently appeared in Jackson's semiautobiographical collection of short stories titled Life among the Savages (1953). Jackson based this collection on her experiences of bringing up her four children. The child protagonist of "Charles," Laurie Hyman, has the nickname of Jackson's own son Laurence Hyman. According to Lenemaja Friedman in her biography Shirley Jackson (1975), the author based this story on the real-life Laurie's childhood tales of another boy at kindergarten.

"Charles" is the story of a young boy's first month at kindergarten. He returns home each day to recount the exploits of a naughty child called Charles who is repeatedly punished for being "fresh" to the teacher, injuring his fellow students, and indulging in other forbidden activities. Themes of the story are chiefly psychological and include the creation of self-identity, the fictionalization of the self, projection (the process whereby people locate undesirable or disapproved-of aspects of their own selves in others), and the ubiquity of evil. However, the treatment of this serious subject matter is humorous and ironic. The story never veers into the dark horror that typifies Jackson's stories and novels, though it does exemplify her interest in the workings of the human mind. "Charles" is Jackson's second-best-known short story, after "The

Lottery" (1948), and it is widely taught in schools. It is often classified as domestic realism. "Charles" is currently available in Jackson's The Lottery, and Other Stories (2005).


Shirley Jackson was born Shirley Hardie Jackson on December 14, 1916, in San Francisco, California, to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson. Her father was an executive at a lithography company, and her mother was a housewife. While Jackson later claimed to have been born in 1919 to appear younger than her husband, her biographer Judy Oppenheimer, for Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson (1988), determined that she was actually born three years earlier.

In 1923 the family moved to the affluent San Francisco suburb of Burlingame, where Jackson attended Burlingame High School. While there, she began to compose short fiction and poetry. In 1933 the family moved to Rochester, New York, and the following year Jackson enrolled in the liberal arts program at the University of Rochester. She withdrew in 1936 because of depression, a condition that was to recur in later years, and concentrated on writing, establishing strict work habits that she maintained throughout her life. In 1938 she decided to finish her schooling and attended Syracuse University, where she published pieces in campus magazines. She graduated in 1940 with a degree in English. In the same year she married her classmate Stanley Edgar Hyman, who became an author and critic, and the couple moved to New York City.

Jackson's first nationally published short story, "My Life With R. H. Macy," appeared in the New Republic in 1941. Over the next few years she continued to publish short stories. Her first child, Laurence, was born in 1942, and a daughter, Joanne, followed in 1945. In the same year the family moved to North Bennington, Vermont, where Jackson lived for the rest of her life. She and her husband had two more children, Sarah in 1948 and Barry in 1951.

Jackson's first novel, The Road through the Wall, was published in 1948. Its subject matter, the spitefulness and snobbery of affluent people in a respectable suburb, is characteristic of Jackson's bleak view of human nature. This disturbing element reached its peak in her best-known short story, "The Lottery," which was published in the June 28, 1948, issue of the New Yorker. The story features a modern version of an ancient scapegoat ritual in which a lottery held in small-town America culminates in the stoning to death of the winner. The story caused public outrage, and the publishers remarked that the story prompted more mail than anything the magazine had published before. It also cemented Jackson's reputation as a popular and critically acclaimed author. Her vision of the evil inherent in human nature is present even in the humorous story "Charles," which first appeared in the July 1948 issue of Mademoiselle magazine.

Jackson's second novel, Hangsaman, appeared in 1951. Its treatment of a young woman on the brink of mental breakdown shows Jackson's interest in the complexities of the human mind and in mental and emotional pathology, themes that are also evident in "Charles." Jackson wrote several novels influenced by the gothic genre, which combines horror and romance and reached its peak in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Gothic novels typically involve an innocent young heroine who finds herself in danger at an old mansion, where she becomes involved with a mysterious but attractive man. Jackson's gothic-influenced novels include The Sundial (1958), The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Much of Jackson's fiction shows her life-long interest in the supernatural, an interest reflected in her nonfiction book The Witchcraft of Salem Village (1956).

Jackson also published humorous books based on her life with her family. Life among the Savages (1953), in which "Charles" was incorporated, and Raising Demons (1957) are collections of short sketches originally published in women's magazines. In 1963 Jackson published a children's book, 9 Magic Wishes. Her primary reputation as a novelist, however, was as a master of adult gothic fiction and the psychological thriller. Jackson was given the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1961 for her story "Louisa, Please," and she won the Arents Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Achievement from Syracuse University in 1965.

On August 8, 1965, Jackson died suddenly of heart failure at her home in North Bennington, Vermont. At the time of her death she was working on a novel, which was published post-humously along with other stories and writings in Come along with Me (1968).


In "Charles," the narrator, a mother who, it may be deduced, is called Mrs. Hyman, describes her son Laurie Hyman's first month at kindergarten. The story opens with Laurie abandoning his infant's clothes and walking off to kindergarten in a more grown-up outfit of jeans. He forgets to say goodbye to his mother.

Laurie returns home that day in an insolent mood. In the first of many daily reports about a naughty boy at kindergarten named Charles, Laurie tells his parents that today, the teacher spanked Charles for being "fresh." After Laurie's second day at kindergarten, he reports that Charles hit the teacher and was spanked again. Laurie behaves rudely to his father, Mr. Hyman. Then Laurie explains that after punishing Charles, the teacher told the other children not to play with him, but everyone did. On the third day, Laurie says that Charles hurt a little girl with a seesaw, and the teacher kept him in during the break. On the next two days, Charles is punished for pounding his feet on the floor and throwing chalk.

On Saturday, Mrs. Hyman asks Mr. Hyman if he thinks that kindergarten is suitable for Laurie, as Charles seems to be a bad influence. Mr. Hyman replies that there are people like Charles in the world, and Laurie may as well get used to dealing with them now as later.

On the following Monday, Laurie returns home late from kindergarten with another tale of Charles's bad behavior. This time, Charles yelled in class, and the teacher made him stay behind after school. All the other children stayed behind to watch him, as they find him interesting. Laurie greets his father disrespectfully, calling him an "old dust mop." Mr. Hyman asks Laurie what Charles looks like. Laurie replies that Charles is bigger than him, and he does not wear "rubbers" (overshoes) or a jacket.

On Monday evening, the first parent-teacher meeting since Laurie began kindergarten is held. Mrs. Hyman cannot attend as the baby has a cold. She is disappointed, as she very much wants to meet Charles's mother.

The next day, Tuesday, Laurie returns home with the news that the class had a visit from a friend of the teacher. The man had made the children do exercises, but Charles had not done them. Laurie demonstrates one of the exercises. Mrs. Hyman assumes that Charles had refused to do the exercises, but Laurie tells her that Charles had kicked the teacher's friend and so was not allowed to do the exercises. Mr. Hyman asks Laurie what will happen to Charles, and Laurie replies that Charles will probably be thrown out of school.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Charles yells during the story hour and hits a boy in the stomach, and on Friday he is kept behind after school. Once again, all the other children choose to stay with him.

Charles becomes a byword in the Hyman family for any kind of uncooperative, naughty, or even careless behavior. In Laurie's third and fourth weeks at kindergarten, however, Charles appears to be reforming. One day, Laurie announces that Charles was so good that the teacher gave him an apple and called him her "helper." Mr. and Mrs. Hyman can hardly believe this sudden reformation. Mr. Hyman thinks that Charles is merely plotting more wicked deeds. But for the next week, Charles continues to be helpful in class, and no one is kept behind after school.

Mr. and Mrs. Hyman are intrigued at this change in Charles, and Mrs. Hyman resolves to seek out Charles's mother at the next parent-teacher meeting, which will be held the following week, in order to investigate the reason for it. On the Friday of that week, however, Laurie reports that Charles is back to his usual naughty self. He told a little girl to say a bad word. The girl said it twice, and the teacher washed her mouth out with soap as a punishment, at which Charles laughed. Charles escaped punishment, as he was operating under the guise of teacher's little helper by handing out crayons. On Monday, Charles says the bad word himself and his own mouth is washed out with soap. He also throws chalk.

That evening, Mrs. Hyman sets out for the parent-teacher meeting. As she is leaving, Mr. Hyman asks her to invite Charles's mother over for a cup of tea, as he wants to meet her as well.

At the meeting, Mrs. Hyman scans the room for a woman who looks haggard enough to be Charles's mother, but there is no obvious candidate. No one there mentions Charles. After the meeting, Mrs. Hyman seeks out Laurie's teacher and asks her about her son. The teacher says that Laurie had some trouble adjusting to kindergarten for the first week or so but now is "a fine little helper" who has only "occasional lapses." Mrs. Hyman replies that Laurie usually adapts quickly and suggests that Charles's influence is unsettling him. The teacher, puzzled, replies that there is no child called Charles in the kindergarten.



Charles is an alter ego, or other self, that Laurie Hyman creates. In discussions with his parents, Laurie blames the fictional Charles for the mischief he himself creates at kindergarten: being "fresh" to the teacher and hitting her, throwing chalk, and injuring his classmates. In this respect, Charles becomes Laurie's scapegoat (a person unfairly blamed for a misfortune or unacceptable behavior).

If Laurie's claims are to be believed, Charles (in reality, the misbehaving Laurie) proves so interesting to the other children that when he is kept behind in detention after school, the others voluntarily stay behind with him. This shows that however annoying Charles is to the teacher, Laurie portrays him as having a magnetic attraction for his classmates. In fact, there is no objective evidence that the other children stay behind with Charles/Laurie, so this may be another of Laurie's fabrications. However, the reader is likely to find Charles the most interesting character in the story. When Charles is finally revealed to be a fiction, this adds a layer of complexity to the character of Laurie, who until that point is simply a rather rude child with little power to fascinate.

The Classmates

Laurie's classmates are foils to his identity as Charles. A foil is a person or thing that contrasts with the character under consideration, thus bringing his or her qualities into higher definition. Laurie variously portrays his classmates as the innocent victims of Charles's bad behavior, as his admiring audience (when they voluntarily stay behind to watch him in detention), and as his naive gulls (when he convinces a little girl to say a rude word and take the punishment that, morally, is due to him). The classmates are described only in relation to Charles, apparently having no individual identities of their own. This reflects the self-centeredness of Laurie's world, as he is utterly absorbed in creating his fictional other self.

Laurie Hyman

Laurie Hyman is the young son of Mr. and Mrs. Hyman and the protagonist of "Charles." At the outset of the story, he is beginning kindergarten, and the story covers his first month there. It is clear that this period is a rite of passage for Laurie and his mother. Laurie is no longer her baby, forgoing corduroy overalls with bibs. He walks off to kindergarten wearing the more adult outfit of jeans with a belt. His clothes are an outward sign that he has instantly grown up and begun to detach himself from his mother and to form his own identity. Overnight, he has become "a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave goodbye to me."

When Laurie returns from kindergarten, he is often insolent to his father, on one occasion telling him, as part of a schoolboy's rhyme, "Gee, you're dumb." His growing disrespect toward his parents is another sign of his defining of his own identity and is indicative of the blooming of his alter ego, the obnoxious Charles. By blaming Charles for his bad behavior, Laurie is able to act out at school, tell his parents about it, and yet escape their wrath.

Laurie ultimately tries out two personas: the wicked and the good, the mischief maker and the teacher's helper. He begins with the first, then experiments with the second before returning to the first. Thus he develops throughout the story by channeling his behavioral impulses through his alter ego.

Mr. Hyman

Mr. Hyman is Laurie's father and the husband of Mrs. Hyman, the narrator. Mr. Hyman is not a fully developed character. His main role is to provide a focus for Laurie's disrespect and to provide a sounding board for Mrs. Hyman's thoughts about Laurie and Charles.

Mrs. Hyman

Mrs. Hyman is the narrator of the story, the mother of Laurie, and the wife of Mr. Hyman. Her main role is to inquire about Charles's exploits at kindergarten. In her unquestioning belief in Laurie's ruse in blaming Charles for his own bad behavior, Mrs. Hyman exemplifies two traits that Jackson frequently satirized in her fiction: first, a naive conformity in her readiness to embrace her son's fiction, and second, prejudice in her imagining the mother of a boy such as Charles to be a sight to behold. In Jackson's more serious fiction, conformity and prejudice often give rise to evil. In this story, Jackson's satire against these tendencies is much more gentle, giving rise to no consequences beyond a moral lesson for the Hyman parents. However, the story does raise implicit questions about the roles of these traits in allowing evil to grow and predominate in society.

The facts that Mrs. Hyman shares the same name as Jackson (whose married name was Mrs. Hyman) and that Laurie shares the same name as Jackson's own son are graceful touches that put forward the author herself and her family as the targets of the satire. Far from preaching to the rest of humanity, Jackson is aiming her psychological probings at herself and those closest to her.

The Teacher

Laurie's unnamed teacher appears in person only at the end of the story, but before then, Laurie frequently refers to her in his accounts to his parents of Charles's exploits. She seems to be a somewhat helpless butt of Charles's mischievous pranks. Although she punishes Laurie/Charles for his transgressions, this does nothing to prevent him from continuing his bad behavior.


The Creative Imagination and the Fictionalization of the Self

In creating the imaginary Charles, Laurie is constructing an identity for himself. As Charles, he is first bad, then good, and finally bad again while masquerading as good. Thus, his self-fictionalization becomes increasingly sophisticated. At first, it enables him to escape the retribution of his parents. Later, when he persuades a little girl to say a bad word, such that she is given punishment that is morally due to him, it enables him to escape the retribution of his teacher, too.

Laurie's transformation of Charles from bad to good and then back to bad again shows that he has a sense of power over his creation as he experiments with different personas. His parents, up to the point when the teacher reveals that there is no Charles in her class, accept his fiction. They even use it as a reference point for unwanted or destructive behavior in the household: "the baby was being a Charles when she cried all afternoon." Thus they are taking as a moral standard the self-serving deception of their own small son.

Laurie's self-fictionalizing mirrors the act of the author in creating the story of "Charles." The parallel is reinforced by the author's naming Laurie after her own son and Mrs. Hyman after herself. The author appears to suggest that just as she creates fiction as a writer, all human beings can create themselves. The self that others see is to some extent a fiction. Often, even the people closest to the fiction maker, as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Hyman, believe the fictions. In the same way, readers of a literary work of fiction temporarily suspend their disbelief.


Prejudice means the act of pre-judging a person or thing, of forming an opinion without sufficient knowledge to back it up. Mr. and Mrs. Hyman are quick to accept Laurie's fiction to the effect that Charles is the wayward son of some other woman. Mrs. Hyman forms the view that Charles is a "bad influence" on her son, and, in a modern psychological version of an old circus-style freak show, both Hyman parents are fascinated by the prospect of meeting the mother of such a unique child. Their prejudice is turned back against themselves by the story's final ironic reversal, which reveals that the wicked Charles is none other than their own son Laurie.

Family Relationships

"Charles" reveals the problematic nature, as well as the comic potential, of family relationships. The first paragraph of the story reflects a common experience of mothers: the moment when the "sweet-voiced nursery-school tot" is "replaced by a long-trousered, swaggering character who forgot to stop at the corner and wave good-bye" to his mother. The incident shows the mystery and strangeness that can attach even to those we consider closest to us. Jackson shows that the minds of other people are essentially unknowable. Laurie exploits this fact, convincing his parents that his own actions are carried out by another person.


  • Jackson was interested in mental illness and imbalance and in the moral failings of ordinary people. Through researching the field of psychology, identify some of the mental pathologies and moral failings that are humorously exemplified in "Charles." Write a brief report on each trait, taking the story as your starting point and analyzing the trait in terms of psychological theory. Include in your answer an analysis of the most extreme forms of these behaviors from the point of view of psychology.
  • Read Jackson's short story "The Lottery," which is available in The Lottery, and Other Stories (2005). Write an essay in which you compare and contrast the author's treatments of the theme of evil in "The Lottery" and in "Charles."
  • Read one other literary work that may be said to contain the themes of dissociative identity disorder and/or the creative imagination. Possible works include the following novels: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Shirley Jackson's The Bird's Nest (1955), and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). Write an essay on how these two themes are presented in the work you select. Include in your essay a section comparing the author's treatment of these themes in your chosen work and Jackson's treatment of these themes in "Charles."
  • Write a short story, sketch, play, or poem in which you, or a fictional character, create a fictional alter ego (other self). Add a short analysis of what the creating character loses and gains through the invention of the alter ego.
  • In psychology, psychological projection, or Freudian projection, is a defense mechanism in which one attributes to others one's own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or emotions. In "Charles," both Laurie and his parents indulge in this behavior. Lead a class discussion in which people identify traits that they find unattractive or upsetting in other people and then examine the ways in which they themselves express or suppress that trait.

The story also conveys the helplessness that parents can feel when faced with the antics of their children. Mr. and Mrs. Hyman can do nothing except witness the unfolding of Laurie's drama. As Laurie becomes more independent, he moves to a great extent beyond the comprehension and control of his parents.

The Nature of Evil

The evil that can lurk beneath a veneer of respectability and ordinariness is a common theme in Jackson's fiction. In her story "The Lottery," small-town America becomes the scene of a brutal scapegoat ritual in which an innocent woman is stoned to death with the eager participation of her neighbors. The source of evil in this case is the very community that might be expected to support its individual members. Lenemaja Friedman, in her biography Shirley Jackson, comments that in "The Lottery" Jackson presents a view of humankind as "basically unenlightened, narrow, and evil."

Similarly, in "Charles," the source of evil turns out to lie disturbingly close to home. This is not apparent at the beginning, when the Hyman family seem to be the essence of respectability. They are concerned about their son being subjected to the "toughness," "bad grammar," and "bad influence" of Charles, and they even consider removing Laurie from school in order to avoid exposing him to these elements. But all along, the destructive traits they fear are located in their own son. Evil, Jackson seems to suggest, is not always conveniently located in some other place, in other people who are set apart from the decent majority. People must look for it within themselves and their own families and communities.

It is true that "Charles" is lighthearted in tone and subject matter, as nothing terrible happens or is likely to happen, at least within the time boundaries of the story. However, the plotline of Laurie's concealment of his own destructive traits in the persona of Charles could very easily have been transferred into one of Jackson's gothic suspense novels and given a much darker treatment.


Situational Irony

"Charles" depends for its effect on situational irony, a literary device in which what transpires is different from what the reader and/or characters expect, lending a different level of meaning to everything that has previously occurred. The irony lies in the fact that the terrible Charles turns out to be the Hymans' own son, Laurie. The evil that they had comfortingly located in some other person is in their own family: they produced it. The "bad influence" on their son was not the fictional Charles, so the only possible candidates are themselves.

Dramatic Irony

In her encounter with Mrs. Hyman at the parent-teacher meeting, the teacher plays down Laurie's destructiveness. She says, "We had a little trouble adjusting, the first week or so … but now he's a fine little helper. With occasional lapses, of course." Readers are aware that this is an understatement that is possibly meant to salvage the teacher's or the school's professional reputation, as the full details of Charles/Laurie's bad behavior have already been disclosed. Readers also know that recently, Charles/Laurie escaped punishment that was due to him for persuading a girl to say a bad word. He escaped detection partly because at the time that the crime was committed, he was assuming the role of teacher's "fine little helper," by passing out crayons. The gap between what the teacher says and what the readers know creates dramatic irony (a literary device in which the reader or audience knows something that a character does not, lending a different meaning to what the character is saying or doing). A question then arises: if Laurie is already able to cause innocent people to be punished for his own misdeeds when he is outwardly helping the teacher, what evil might he accomplish were he to perfect his mask of respectability? Thus, readers may conclude that the teacher is deluding both herself and Mrs. Hyman in pronouncing her positive judgment of Charles's progress. The dramatic irony used in this episode also enables Jackson to satirize the euphemistic, politically correct, and less-than-honest manner in which authority figures often talk about troublesome people.

Domestic Realism

Jackson's "Charles" is often placed in the literary genre of domestic realism. Works of this genre attempt to examine the everyday customs and rules of society, particularly within the family and household, in a way that resists idealization. Domestic realism's first peak of popularity came in the form of nineteenth-century novels written mainly for and by middle-class women about the realities of daily life for women of their own class and the working class. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860), Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868), and Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome (1911) have all been cited as examples of domestic realism.

Toward the end of World War II and afterward, dramas of domestic realism dominated American theater. These included Tennessee Williams's plays The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), which centered on a tenuous model of family life, and Arthur Miller's All My Sons (1947), in which a crime against morality and society committed by a father splits apart his family.

In "Charles," Jackson simultaneously develops and undermines the notion of domestic harmony. Mr. and Mrs. Hyman are presented as a respectable suburban couple with a conventional life and strong views on right and wrong behavior. They are shocked and intrigued by the antics of Charles as recounted by Laurie. Charles represents a force of disobedience and anarchy that disturbs their comfortable world.

Jackson makes a strong satirical point of the fact that the Hyman parents duly locate the anarchist impulses outside their own world, placing the responsibility for the obnoxious Charles onto some haggard, worn-out mother who is fascinating by virtue of the fact that she must be different from them. When Charles and his mother are exposed as imaginary, the responsibility for evil, by default, rebounds upon the Hymans themselves. The disconnection between the outward appearance of respectability and harmony and the chaos that can lie beneath is a favorite theme of Jackson's. It disturbs the reader because it implies that evil is latent in the most bland and seemingly innocuous locations and situations.


A bildungsroman is a novel about the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of the protagonist, usually a young person. Generally, the character grows in moral stature and becomes wiser and more worthy of respect throughout the novel. The short story "Charles" subverts this tradition, as Laurie turns from an innocent tot to a "swaggering" character who causes chaos in kindergarten and deceives his parents into thinking the culprit is the fictional Charles. By the end of the story, Laurie has become able to hide his wickedness under the guise of being the teacher's "fine little helper." Laurie is perfecting not his moral character but his ability to get away with bad deeds. In this story, Jackson conveys through comedy a view of unregenerate humankind that is evident in darker hue in her more serious work.


World War II and the Growth of Psychology

In 1944 and 1945, the Allies (including Great Britain and the United States) discovered and liberated concentration and extermination camps in Europe. In these camps, the Nazis had exterminated around six million Jews, as well as unknown numbers of minority peoples such as Roma, homosexuals, and the disabled. Revelations about the extent of the Holocaust, as the genocide of Jews became known, prompted widespread shock and questioning about the existence of hidden evil within an apparently civilized society (Germany). Perhaps partly for this reason, the postwar years marked a massive growth of interest in the field of psychology, which examined and attempted to explain human mental pathologies and their characteristic behaviors.

Among the ideas that gained currency was that of psychological projection, or Freudian projection. The concept was originated by the psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and developed by his daughter Anna Freud in her book Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen (1936; The Ego and Mechanisms of Defense, 1937). It was taken up and further developed by the psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which one attributes to others one's own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or emotions. Laurie indulges in this mechanism in "Charles," locating his socially unacceptable behavior at kindergarten in his imaginary alter ego, Charles.

The Cold War

The cold war was a period of tension and rivalry between the United States and the Communist Soviet Union from the end of World War II in 1945 until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The period was characterized by a nuclear and conventional arms race, massive military spending, and the involvement of both superpowers in proxy wars around the globe. The term cold war arose from the fact that no direct military action occurred between the superpowers. Nevertheless, many people in the United States and Europe lived in terror of nuclear devastation, and the period saw the growth of anti-nuclear "Ban the Bomb" demonstrations.

The horrors of World War II and the tension of the cold war combined to exercise a profound influence on the literature of the postwar years. In the case of Jackson's work, this influence is most explicit in her gothic novels. Her husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman, in his preface to The Magic of Shirley Jackson (1966), is unequivocal in drawing the connection between recent historical events and Jackson's work:

Her fierce visions of dissociation and madness, of alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror, have been taken to be personal, even neurotic, fantasies. Quite the reverse: they are a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb.

It would be no exaggeration to note that some of these elements, namely dissociation, alienation, and cruelty, are present in implicit and embryonic form in the outwardly gentle comedy of "Charles."


  • 1940s: Domestic realism, a literary genre that focuses on the everyday customs of society, dominates American theater and is also found in fiction such as Jackson's. Frequently, the ideal of the stable and conventional family unit is subverted.

    Today: Literature reflects the wide variety of social customs and notions of family that have increasingly gained acceptance. These include same-sex marriages, mixed-race relationships, having children outside marriage, single-parent families, and other arrangements that were widely viewed as eccentric or unacceptable when Jackson wrote "Charles."

  • 1940s: The Holocaust and other events of World War II prompt a growth in the field of psychology, which attempts to explain the darker workings of the human mind.

    Today: Concepts from psychology such as projection, multiple personalities, and dissociative identity disorder influence literary works, particularly in the genres of psychological realism and crime and suspense fiction.

  • 1940s: The ongoing development of the atomic and hydrogen bombs after the end of World War II, along with the escalation of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, creates widespread fear that humankind will destroy itself. The mood is reflected in literature by works expressing moral uncertainty and pessimism.

    Today: Governments and media reports focus on the likelihood that a terrorist group will obtain a nuclear weapon. While literature expressing a sense of doom for humankind abounds, some writers accuse governments of manufacturing or exaggerating the dangers for their own ends.

Women, Domesticity, and Postwar Conservatism

The years following World War II in the United States marked a period of profound conservatism, in politics and in society. From the late 1940s to the late 1950s, a phenomenon known as McCarthyism took hold, characterized by intense anti-Communist suspicion. McCarthyism took its name from Senator Joseph McCarthy, who between 1947 and 1957 investigated politicians, artists, writers, actors, intellectuals, government employees, and other Americans for alleged Communist sympathies.

As any kind of progressive thinking came under suspicion, it was safest to lead a conventional and conservative life; many who were investigated saw their careers or lives destroyed. Mainstream films and advertising were dominated by a rigid vision of the family that from 1947 came to be known as the nuclear family (with the term springing not from associations with nuclear bombs or energy but from the Latin for kernel or nut). The nuclear family consisted of father, mother, and children. In the United States of the 1950s, convention dictated that the man, as head of the household, worked and was the breadwinner, while the mother looked after the home and had primary responsibility for bringing up the children.

This is the family model that is represented in "Charles" and the model that closely reflected Jackson's own situation, with the important qualification that Jackson combined her family duties with a successful writing career. Jackson exploits the convention of the nuclear family in order to subtly undermine it, showing the chaos and mystery that may lurk beneath the well-ordered veneer. The gap between the parents' expectations and what actually happens creates both unease and comedy.


Most critical writing on Jackson has focused on her gothic and psychological novels and on her best-known short story, "The Lottery." Lenemaja Friedman notes in her 1975 biography, Shirley Jackson: "Very little has been written about Shirley Jackson; … comments are often limited to a sentence or two." Friedman's bibliography lists just six short reviews of Life among the Savages (1953), the collection in which "Charles" was published. While all the reviews but one are favorable, they treat the collection as entertainment rather than a work of literary merit.

Critical appreciation of Jackson's fiction has increased over the decades. In parallel with this process has come a greater recognition of the darkness present even in her family chronicles, of which "Charles" is an example. Two early reviews of Life among the Savages, neither of which single out "Charles" for special mention, remark only on the upbeat aspects of the stories. Jane Cobb, in her 1953 review for the New York Times, contrasts the collection with the "creeping horrors" that she associates with Jackson's story "The Lottery," noting that it is "as warm as it is hilarious and believable." Marion West Stoer, in her review in the same year for the Christian Science Monitor, praises Jackson's "keen ear for dialogue," "quiet wit," and "resigned humor." In a comment that could apply to "Charles," Stoer remarks on the many "studies of amiable despair which parents everywhere will recognize," as well as on the "solid foundation of affectionate family relationship" and "wholesome aspect" that are evident in the collection.

Another critic who praises Jackson's ability to convey the trials of family life in a realistic and humorous manner is Anne LeCroy. In her Studies in American Humor essay, "The Different Humor of Shirley Jackson: Life among the Savages and Raising Demons" (1985), LeCroy comments that Jackson's humor most often stems from her understanding of the "everyday nuances and working of the average family," including "the helpless frustration mothers often feel at observing the inexplicable behavior of their children."

Judie Newman, writing in 1990, emphasizes the darker aspect of Jackson's chronicles of family life. In her essay in American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King, while not specifically mentioning "Charles," Newman notes that "the titles of these celebrations of maternal experience, Raising Demons and Life among the Savages, immediately suggest works of horror fiction." This theme is taken up by Roberta Rubenstein in her essay "House Mothers and Haunted Daughters: Shirley Jackson and Female Gothic," published in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. Rubenstein writes that the "droll tone" of Life among the Savages and Raising Demons is "belied by the title words, underscoring the ‘savage’ and ‘demonic’ elements that laced Jackson's vision of family."

Dale Hrebik, in his essay on Jackson for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, singles out "Charles" for special discussion. Unusually among critics, Hrebik directly confronts both the light and dark aspects of the story. He writes, "While it is a realistic and humorous family story, it also provides another instance of Jackson's interest in the evil within everyone, even the most familiar."

James Egan, in his essay in Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy (2005), argues that Jackson's fiction represents the comic, satiric, fantastic, and gothic literary modes alike. He notes that in her domestic tales, such as Life among the Savages, Jackson "simultaneously develops and undercuts, or at least qualifies, a normative environment." Egan adds that "the normative environment itself appears haphazard, topsy-turvy, on the verge of collision." This comment aptly describes "Charles."

Jackson's mastery of the gothic, horror, suspense, and comic genres has secured her place in the literary canon. "Charles" is the second-most frequently anthologized of Jackson's short stories, after "The Lottery," and is widely studied in schools.


Claire Robinson

Robinson has an M.A. in English. She is a teacher of English literature and creative writing, and a freelance writer and editor. In the following essay, Robinson explores how Shirley Jackson's "Charles" operates on two levels: as a comic chronicle of the doings of a mischievous child and as a disturbing companion piece to her later horror fiction.

Comments by Stanley Edgar Hyman on the public's perception of his wife, Shirley Jackson, shed considerable light on her short story "Charles." In his preface to The Magic of Shirley Jackson (1966), Hyman notes that people often expressed surprise at the difference between Shirley Jackson's motherly appearance and gentle manner and "the violent and terrifying nature of her fiction." He adds that when she published "two light-hearted volumes about the spirited doings of our children, Life among the Savages and Raising Demons, it seemed to surprise people that the author of her grim and disturbing fiction should be a wife and mother at all, let alone a gay and apparently happy one."

These two aspects of Jackson—her comforting appearance and her discomfiting fictional creations—stand as a metaphor for possible reader responses to "Charles" (contained in Life among the Savages). On one level, "Charles" can be read as a chronicle of the mischievous but essentially harmless ways of a child. On another level, it is far more disturbing. This may be particularly true for those readers who, in common with Jackson, have some knowledge of psychology.


  • Jackson's most famous short story, "The Lottery" (1948), is an interesting complement to "Charles." The two stories share the theme of the evil that lies latent under respectable appearances, but while "Charles" is at root a comedy, "The Lottery" is a dystopian horror story. Dystopian is the opposite of utopian; utopian describes an idealized society, whereas dystopian describes a night-marish society.
  • The Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's horror novel Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) centers around the dual personality of the respectable Dr. Jekyll. Jekyll's alter ego, Mr. Hyde, is a violent, criminally minded man. Eventually, Jekyll is taken over by Hyde because of his moral weakness. Stevenson, like Jackson, was convinced of the inseparability of good from evil in humankind.
  • The protagonist of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (1957) is Tom Ripley, a man with a talent for mimicry who murders a rich young man and steals his identity, managing to build a successful life for himself as a result. The novel is a study in the manipulation of identity and psychopathic behavior.
  • The 1950s (1999), by Stuart A. Kallen, gives an overview of 1950s America. The book is aimed at high school and college students and features sections on communism, racial injustice, the cold war, teen culture, science and technology, and other topics relevant to the era.

Many children and even teenagers create imaginary friends, and sometimes they use these imaginary friends to indulge in psychological projection, or Freudian projection. Psychological projection is a defense mechanism in which one attributes to others one's own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or emotions. For example, the child or teenager may claim that while he does not disobey authority, engage in violence, or take drugs, his imaginary friend does. Some psychologists would interpret this claim to mean that the boy in question either does engage in these behaviors or would like to.

Most children grow out of their imaginary friends and the accompanying projections. But according to some psychologists, a more extreme form of projection can affect children and adults alike. Some psychologists claim the existence of a mental illness called dissociative identity disorder, in which the sufferer creates multiple identities or personalities with different characteristics and behaviors. (The condition was previously known as multiple personality disorder.) The degree of awareness of what is fantasy and what is reality varies between individuals and within the same individual from one time to another, as does the degree of control that the individual has over his or her other selves. The illness can become dangerous to society when one of the selves indulges in destructive or criminal actions that are not under the control of a self with moral awareness. These individuals may be unable to accept responsibility or to feel remorse for such actions because as far as they are concerned, they did not do them. Alternatively, they may be controlled by a self that feels detached from the laws and morals that govern most of society.

Is Laurie's behavior in "Charles," then, simply innocent childhood fantasy or a precursor to something darker? Readers may find something unsettling about Laurie's creation of Charles seemingly for the sole purpose of enabling himself to escape responsibility for his antisocial behavior. Jackson seems implicitly to ask what kind of adult such a child will grow up to be. This question is underlined by the visual image of Laurie setting off for his first day at kindergarten in the unaccustomed adult-style clothing of jeans and a belt. The fact that he forgets to say goodbye to his mother suggests that he is no longer under her benevolent control. He is becoming his own person, and the events that follow show how little anyone can know about the workings of another person's mind.

Laurie goes on to display insolence to his parents amid his stories of the wicked Charles. After his first day at kindergarten, he speaks rudely to his father and spills his baby sister's milk. Later, he calls his father "dumb" and an "old dust mop." Only once does he elicit the mildest of corrections from his parents, and they confine it to his grammar, replacing his use of the double negative, "I didn't learn nothing," with the grammatically correct "anything." On this occasion, in retrospect, the parents would have done better to pay attention to the new coldness with which he is addressing his father. But so focused are they on locating any disturbing behavior outside their own family, in the shape of Charles, that they utterly overlook the growing anarchy within their own household.

This is a compelling, psychologically nuanced situation presented by Jackson. The misplaced attention of the parents is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Germany during World War II, just a few years before Jackson wrote "Charles." While patriotic Germans focused on defeating their external enemies, the Allies, the evil of the Holocaust proceeded largely unnoticed and unopposed, as perpetrated by apparently civilized people like themselves.

It is true, as Stanley Edgar Hyman writes in his preface to The Magic of Shirley Jackson, that the tone of Life among the Savages in general and "Charles" in particular is "light-hearted." In spite of this, however, Hyman's comments on Jackson's last two gothic novels, The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, could also apply to the short story "Charles." Hyman calls these novels "a sensitive and faithful anatomy of our times, fitting symbols for our distressing world of the concentration camp and the Bomb." "Charles," too, contains the "dissociation" and "alienation" that Hyman identifies in the novels, though these themes are incongruously set against an outwardly normal and conventional family setting and are expressed in a comic tone.

Such is the dark subtext of this apparently innocent story. However, in an ironic and self-mocking twist through which she emphasizes the story's message that evil is not located externally but within, Jackson is effectively shining the spotlight on herself. The author, like Laurie, is a creator of fictions; and just as Laurie's parents have colluded in his fiction of Charles, so the author relies upon her readers colluding in the fictions she creates, including this story. Perhaps Laurie will grow up to suffer from dissociative identity disorder, or to be a cold-blooded murderer, or at the very least to be a trouble-maker. But he could just as likely be a writer, like his real-life counterpart's mother. In fact, literature abounds with works that suggest that the line between destructive mental pathology and the writer's stance of detachment from the rest of society for the purposes of observation is a fine one. In her story, Jackson implicitly accepts that any diagnostic label that can apply to Laurie could also apply to her as a creator of fiction.

This graceful comic flourish is a fitting end to a story that, despite its dark aspects, is above all designed to entertain. It is also a gesture of humility from an author whose message in "Charles" is that evil is not "somewhere out there" but within every one of us.

Source: Claire Robinson, Critical Essay on "Charles," in Short Stories for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.

Bernice M. Murphy

In the following excerpt, Murphy argues that although Jackson was "one of the most prominent female writers of the 1950s," her work has not received the critical attention it deserves.

During an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Dog of Death," Springfield's frequently fad-crazed citizenry succumb to a particularly virulent bout of gambling fever when the state lottery jackpot reaches an all-time high. The town's resident anchorman, Kent Brockman, begins the local news bulletin by announcing that people hoping to pick up tips on how to win the big prize have checked every copy of Shirley Jackson's The Lottery out of the local library. However, as Kent helpfully points out, "Of course, the book does not contain any hints on how to win the lottery. It is, rather, a chilling tale of conformity gone mad"—at which point a disgusted Homer Simpson tosses his copy into the fire.

I begin by referring to this witty scene not only because it is very funny, but also because I believe that it illustrates, in suitably ironic form, some of the most contradictory things about Jackson. It says a lot about the visibility of Jackson's most notorious tale that more than 50 years after its initial publication it is still famous enough to warrant mention in the world's most famous sitcom. The fact that Springfield's citizenry also miss the point of Jackson's story completely (after all, no one in their right mind would ever want to win her lottery) can perhaps be seen as an indication of a more general misrepresentation of Jackson and her work—a process that as we shall see, was well underway even before her death in August 1965.

A great early success, of the type that Jackson had with first "The Lottery" and later with the short-story collection of the same name, can be both a blessing and a curse for a writer. A blessing because of course every fledgling writer dreams of achieving the type of visibility that Jackson attained in the months following the story's publication in June 1948. However troubled Jackson was by the many disapproving letters she received following the tale's publication in The New Yorker, a part of her must have delighted in the fact that something she had written had provoked such strength of feeling—what writer of any real ambition would not … to some extent have relished this kind of attention? The downside to this type of early success is the danger that this early effort will overshadow the writer's every subsequent effort in the popular and critical mindset. It's a problem that Jackson was all too aware of: as she noted in her essay "Biography of a Story," her witty account of the genesis and aftermath of "The Lottery,"

It was not my first published story, nor would it be my last, but I have been assured over and over that if it had been the only story I ever wrote or published, there would be people who would not forget my name.

There have long been those who have acted as though "The Lottery" was the only story Jackson ever wrote. Along with her classic novel of supernatural horror, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), it did in fact make her name and seal her reputation as a writer of elegant, allusive, literary horror fiction. But Jackson was much more, as this collection will illustrate. Long revered by enlightened readers of horror and the gothic, and fêted for her masterful contribution to the ranks of the classic ghost story, readers can be forgiven for not realizing that Hill House was actually among the very few supernatural stories that Jackson ever wrote. Even then, much of the allegedly "supernatural" incident in the novel is as likely to have a psychological as a ghostly cause: neurotic outsider Eleanor Vance is the focus of the novel and the likely catalyst for the many of the incidents that take place within its pages. Similarly, those expecting the rest of Jackson's many short stories to resemble "The Lottery" will be disappointed. While unmistakably Jackson both thematically and stylistically, the story is by no means typical of her oeuvre.

So who was Shirley Jackson? A conventional biographical summing-up would, as in the case of most writers, appear fairly unremarkable, save for her obvious literary talent, and, because of Jackson's sudden death in early middle age, poignantly brief. Born in San Francisco in 1916 (although some accounts erroneously state 1919) to comfortably middle-class parents, Jackson moved with her family to Rochester, New York, when she was in her teens. She attended college there for a while, but was unhappy and dropped out for a year, during which she worked on her writing and took on a number of temporary jobs. Jackson then enrolled in Syracuse University, with better results: she helped edit The Spectre, the college literary magazine, with her future husband, the academic and critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, graduated, got married, had four children in fairly rapid succession, and eventually settled in rural New England.

Like so many women of her class and generation, Jackson seemed absorbed in a life of apparently conventional domesticity: she raised her children, tolerated life as a faculty wife in a small, insular campus town, kept the family home running smoothly, and died at the age of 49 from heart failure. But of course, there was a great deal more going on in Jackson's life than the bare biographical facts would seem to suggest. Whatever she may have claimed in her family stories, Shirley Jackson was never just an "ordinary" housewife and mother: the importance of so much of her writing lies in the fact that she suggested so strongly that it was doubtful whether such a creature ever really existed at all.

It is no overstatement to say that Shirley Jackson was one of the most prominent female writers of the 1950s, so much so that one literary critic has even gone so far as to say that the "1950s became the decade of Jackson" (Wagner-Martin 107). Between 1948 and 1965 she published one best-selling short story collection, six novels, two popular volumes of her family chronicles, and many stories, which ranged from fairly conventional tales written for the women's magazine market to the ambiguous, allusive, delicately sinister and more obviously literary stories that were closest to Jackson's heart and were destined to end up in the more high brow end of the market. It is an impressive body of work for anyone to have produced in just over a decade and a half; when one considers that Jackson was also raising a family of four young children at the time it seems all the more notable.

Jackson was not alone in being able to find an audience for her work in both serious and popular outlets. As Joan Wylie Hall has observed, several of Jackson's contemporaries also published not only in The New Yorker, but also in mass market magazines—John Cheever featured in Mademoiselle and Ray Bradbury in Charm, while fellow writer of domestic humor Jean Kerr was a successful playwright whose work had been produced on Broadway. However, Jackson was "unusual for publishing so regularly in many of the magazines directed exclusively at a female readership … her name is the only one that is now at all familiar in issue after issue of Good Housekeeping and Ladies' Home Journal" (Hall xiii). Jackson's ability to prosper in both highbrow and popular markets was admired by none other than Sylvia Plath, who, as biographer Linda Wagner-Martin has noted, hoped to meet Jackson in June 1953 during her summer internship at Mademoiselle, and aspired towards a similar career.

By anyone's standards, Jackson's career was a successful one. After making her first national publication in 1941 with the semi-autobiographical story "My Life with R. H. Macy," Jackson's work began to appear regularly, with the first of her many appearances in The New Yorker occurring in 1943. She came to public prominence with the publication of "The Lottery" in 1948, and published The Road Through the Wall in the same year (it was generally liked by critics but not a great commercial success) and her first collection The Lottery and Other Stories, or The Adventures of James Harris in 1949. Her second novel, the unconventional Bildungsroman Hangsaman was published in 1951; like her follow-up, 1954's The Bird's Nest, it features a troubled young woman who suffers from a severe mental illness (schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder, respectively). The first (and most successful) of her so-called family chronicles, Life Amongst the Savages also appeared in 1954; the first of her "house" novels, The Sundial, appeared in 1956. The sequel to Savages, Raising Demons, was published in 1957, and Jackson's most famous novel, The Haunting of Hill House, appeared in 1959. Jackson's final completed novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, was published in 1962, though she was working on a new novel, Come Along with Me, at the time of her death three years later.

It is important to note that a surprising lack of critical work has been done on Jackson. I say surprising because at first glance, one would assume that she represents an obvious case for scholarship. In a revisionist academic climate in which some scholars have devoted entire careers to the rediscovery of marginalized writers—and from which a wealth of valuable feminist criticism has emerged—Jackson, a talented writer who focused on female anxieties and the contradictory pressures of domesticity and whose work has latterly been ignored, seems like a perfect choice for further study. And yet, an anecdotal biography, two book-length studies, around 40 or 50 critical papers and roughly the same number of dissertations represent the sum total of Jackson scholarship to date. Obviously, Jackson had not been entirely forgotten, but she has not been treated with the respect that her undeniable talent deserves….

Given Jackson's obvious talents, one might well ask why such a writer has until recently been denied the critical attention her writing would seem to warrant. Jackson's neglect can be attributed to a number of factors. Foremost among these is the fact that critics have not quite known what to make of her, a problem caused by the fact that she operated in two popular and yet frequently marginalized genres: those of horror and the gothic and the so-called domestic humor that appeared in women's magazines during the 1950s. As Lynette Carpenter has suggested in an important essay, Jackson's popularity, commercial success, and ability to simultaneously operate in two faintly disreputable genres has resulted in critical marginalization:

Traditional male critics could not, in the end, reconcile genre with gender in Jackson's case: unable to understand how a serious writer of gothic fiction could also be, to all outward appearances, a typical housewife, much less how she could publish housewife humour in Good Housekeeping, they dismissed her [Carpenter 29].

Jackson's refusal to conform to conventional mores was complicated by the manner in which she was popularly depicted during her lifetime. Publicists and reviewers tended to focus upon two rather disparate but revealing representations of Jackson—either as "New England's only practicing amateur witch" or as matronly housewife. There was a grain of truth in each depiction, but ultimately neither revealed the true Jackson, and each would diminish the writer and her work. The polarization of Jackson's public personae began in 1948 with the publication of her first novel, the modestly successful The Road Through the Wall. The blurb on the dust jacket irreverently described Jackson as being "perhaps the only contemporary author who is a practicing amateur witch, specializing in small scale black magic and fortune telling with a tarot deck." As biographer Judy Oppenheimer notes, they were Jackson's husband Stanley's words and presumably it was also his idea to use this description—and, at "the time, since the book sold only moderately, it did no harm" (Oppenheimer 126). Stanley Hyman and Jackson had no way of knowing that in just over a year's time, this tongue-in-cheek publicity squib would come back to haunt them.

Jackson's relative anonymity ended on June 26, 1948, when The New Yorker published "The Lottery." Amidst the ensuing controversy, Jackson herself naturally became the object of much curiosity and speculation. Her stories were much in demand as a result of her newfound infamy, and now readers wanted to know more about the author of this all too memorable tale. With the hurried publication of the short-story collection of the same name in April of the following year, the publicity machine surrounding Jackson moved into high gear. It did not take long for publishing house Farrar Straus to rediscover Hyman's blurb for Road; and "Jackson herself had contributed biographical notes that could hardly have failed to pique interest" (Oppenheimer 139). The notes, which were perhaps just a little naive and revealing, outlined Jackson's unorthodox attitudes towards convention and the supernatural:

My children and I believe wholeheartedly in magic. We do not any of us subscribe to the pat cause-and-effect rules which so many other people seem to use…. I have a fine library of magic and witchcraft and when I have nothing else to do I practice incantations [Oppenheimer 139].

There was an element of truth in Jackson's claims. As Oppenheimer notes, she did consider herself an expert on magic; she did have an extensive library of books on the subject; and she did make charms and mutter incantations to herself, as both family and friends testified (Oppenheimer 140); but it is also likely that Jackson was poking fun at the whole business of publicity and promotion, and most of all those who would be so gullible as to believe such a statement was said with an entirely straight face—no doubt the same rather impressionable section of the reading public who, a year earlier, had sent her angry letters demanding to know the name and location of the New England village whose arcane rites she had chronicled in "The Lottery."

However, there was something else there as well: deep-seated frustration towards the role she felt that a woman writer was supposed to adopt, and a genuine desire to evade conventional categorization. It was a desire that emerges strongly in the unpublished notes she made for that fateful biography:

I am tired of writing dainty little biographical things that pretend I am a trim little housewife in a Mother Hubbard stirring up appetising messes over a wood stove…. I live in a dank old place with a ghost that storms around in the attic…. The first thing I did when we moved in was to make charms in black crayon on all the door sills and window ledges to keep out the demons [Oppenheimer 139].

This piece highlights the essential duality of Jackson's life and work—her consistent conflation of the domestic with the uncanny, the natural with the unnatural. What comes through most powerfully of all is Jackson's desire to resist imprisonment within the ideological norm, and a willful eccentricity and defiance that characterizes many of her finest fictional creations. The extract suggests that along with her faith in charms and incantations, Jackson had much in common with Merricat Blackwood, her most deeply felt character, of whom it could also be said, as it has been of Jackson, that "she would not be cubby holed, no matter how much easier it would make things for others" (Oppenheimer 139).

It did not take Jackson long, however, to realize that her mention of "witchlike" powers had badly backfired, for "rare was the interviewer who could resist asking her about black magic." At first, Jackson tended to respond to such questions truthfully. The result, as Oppenheimer puts it, "was the elbow nudging that surrounded her answers in print." Typical of such reports was one filed by Associated Press interviewer W.G. Rogers: "She says she can break a man's leg and throw a girl down an elevator shaft. Such things happen, she says! Miss Jackson tells you all this with a smile but she is not joking: she owns a library of two hundred books" (Oppenheimer 139)….

Source: Bernice M. Murphy, "Introduction: ‘Do You Know Who I Am?’: Reconsidering Shirley Jackson," in Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy, edited by Bernice M. Murphy, McFarland and Company, 2005, pp. 1-21.


Cobb, Jane, "Chaos Can Be Beautiful," Review of Life among the Savages, in the New York Times, June 21, 1953.

Egan, James, "Comic-Satiric-Fantastic-Gothic: Interactive Modes in Shirley Jackson's Narratives," in Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy, edited by Bernice M. Murphy, McFarland, 2005, pp. 34-51.

Friedman, Lenemaja, Shirley Jackson, Twayne Publishers, 1975, pp. 45, 147, 170.

Hrebik, Dale, "Shirley Jackson," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 234: American Short-Story Writers since World War II, Third Series, edited by Patrick Meanor and Richard E. Lee, The Gale Group, 2001, pp. 161-71.

Hyman, Stanley Edgar, Preface to The Magic of Shirley Jackson, edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966, pp. vii-ix.

Jackson, Shirley, "Charles," in The Lottery, and Other Stories, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982, pp. 91-6.

LeCroy, Anne, "The Different Humor of Shirley Jackson: Life among the Savages and Raising Demons," in Studies in American Humor, Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Summer 1985, pp. 62-73.

Newman, Judie, "Shirley Jackson and the Reproduction of Mothering: The Haunting of Hill House," in American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King, edited by Brian Docherty, Macmillan, 1990, pp. 120-34.

Rubenstein, Roberta, "House Mothers and Haunted Daughters: Shirley Jackson and Female Gothic," in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Vol. 15, No. 2, Fall 1996, pp. 309-31.

Stoer, Marion West, "Parental Recollections," Review of Life among the Savages, in Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1953, p. 11.


Frazer, James, The Golden Bough: A Study in Religion and Magic, abridged edition, Dover Publications, 2002.

Frazer originally published his exploration of the origins of magical and religious thought in 1890. While some aspects of his work have been challenged in light of later scholarship, it has exercised a great influence on anthropology. Jackson studied the work during a course on folklore that she attended, and she used Frazer's findings on ancient scapegoat rituals in her story "The Lottery." The concept of the scapegoat is also explored in "Charles."

Haddock, Deborah Bray, The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook, McGraw-Hill, 2001.

This is a scholarly but easily readable introduction to dissociative identity disorder, written by a psychologist who specializes in the field. It is aimed at the general reader and offers helpful information for sufferers and their friends and relatives.

Hall, Joan Wylie, Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1993.

This is a useful book for students that gives an overview of Jackson's short fiction and detailed analyses of her best-known stories, including "Charles." The book also contains interviews, essays, memoirs, biographical information, and critical responses.

Sewell, Mike, The Cold War, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Sewell examines many aspects of the cold war, including its origins, its spread across the world through events in Europe and Asia, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and its conclusion in the 1980s. This accessible book offers an ideal overview for students.

De Boville (or Bovillus or Bovelles), Charles (ca. 1470-ca. 1553)

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De Boville (or Bovillus or Bovelles), Charles (ca. 1470-ca. 1553)

A French mathematician and philologist who also wrote on occult philosophy. He was born in Saucourt, Picardy, France, around 1470, the son of an aristocrat. He was educated in Paris, traveled across Europe, and became a priest. De Boville promulgated in his work De sensu the opinion held in ancient times that the world is alive, an idea also imagined by Felix Nogaret. (Twentieth-century books on this theme include The Living Universe, by Sir Francis Younghusband (1933), and The Earth is Alive, by François Derrey (1968).) Other works by De Boville include his Lettres, the Life of Raymond Lully, Traite des douze nombres, and Trois Dialogues sur l'Immortalitè de l'Ame, le Rèsurrection, et la Fin du Monde. He died in Noyon, France, about 1553.

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