I suggest the following short stories for High School students. These stories have been chosen to deepen a student's appreciation for the short story genre as well as acquaint them with significant literary works. Many of these short stories are iconic works that are often anthologized and serve as common cultural reference points in literature, films, music, and general conversation. These are stories that should be known to and easily referenced by well-read students preparing for college. And life!
Please use them in the classroom. Enjoy!
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
This famous story, set during the American Civil War, is widely regarded as a short story masterpiece. It tells the tale of Peyton Farquhar, a man whose love of wife and children launch him into a daring "escape."
- The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
This short story takes the reader on an emotional journey and was quite controversial when it was published in 1894 as The Dream of an Hour before being republished under this title in 1895. Most readers experience varying degrees of discomfort while reading this story, a testament to its power. This selection is an excellent entry point for a discussion about why feminist literature began to appear at this time and how people reacted to it.
- Araby by James Joyce
Araby is a compelling short story with valuable lessons and revelations for the adolescent reader. It deals with the hazards of romance and follows a young man that has developed a crush on his friend's sister; "I had never spoken to her, except for a few casual words, and yet her name was like a summons to all my foolish blood." Many readers consider Araby to be their favorite James Joyce short story.
- Trifles by Susan Glaspell
Before Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll's House,
he noted -- in 1878 -- that, “A woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day which is an exclusively masculine society with laws framed by men and with the judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view.” Glaspell drives the point home brilliantly in this short play, which she later adapted into a short story, A Jury of Her Peers
- A Dark Brown Dog by Stephen Crane
This is a story that works at several levels and is easily read as a sad and tragic morality tale about animal cruelty. For advanced readers, this story merits classroom discussion as a symbolic tale. Probably written in 1893, it's an interesting cross-section of literature and history that might be commenting on Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. What if the dog, still dragging a rope, is representative of recently freed slaves? If we accept that symbolic starting point, who is the little boy? The mother, the father? And what does the story mean in that context?
- Home Burial by Robert Frost
This is a poem. Not a short story. Don't let that stop you. Frost uses about 1,010 words to teach you something about the complexity of life, death, marriage, longing, loss, and parenthood. Take note of the emotional and physical position of the characters in relationship to one another over the course of the poem. And please take the time to consider the historical context: Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, McKinley, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush. An incomplete list of presidents? No. That is an incomplete list of presidential couples that lost at least one child. This poem was not addressing a remote emotional experience when written in 1914. It was addressing a tragedy and emotional trauma that was all too common in the United States then and is still too common in many parts of the world today.
- The Interlopers by H.H. Munro
In this man versus man versus nature story, two feuding neighbors venture into the woods carrying guns; one to hunt, the other to put down a trespasser. The two are fated to meet and reap the rewards of their bitter quarrel over a piece of land.
- The Fly by Katherine Mansfield
We now turn to New Zealander Katherine Mansfield for a short story that is multi-themed and laden with symbolism. What are the messages the author delivers in this story? What does the fly represent? Are there any ideas that reappear in the story? The Fly is a great candidate story for an essay or classroom discussion. The story provides the literary experience of looking at a mountain field; the longer you look, the more you see. Every student's perspective is different and so is their view of this story's field.
- Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
A delightful mosaic of independent but related stories describing the development of a young man, George Willard, as he comes of age. The stories mark the significant episodes and relationships that have shaped his life and formed his character. The stories build toward the moment when he will leave Winesburg and his youth behind.
- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
This is a fantastically funny short story collection from the Canadian author Stephen Leacock. Though largely lost to modern readers, it was once commonly said that "more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than Canada." If this one is not on your reading list, I advise you to negotiate with your teacher for some extra credit and read this one independently.
- The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
This sublime story is based on the true-life ordeal that Crane endured in 1897 when a ship he boarded for Cuba ran aground and sank off the Florida coast. A ten-foot long dinghy is a small boat for four men in calm water, it must have been rather harrowing in rough seas. While this is another man versus nature story, it focuses more on nature's indiscriminate carelessness, and I admire this narrative's understated style.
- Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin
It is hard to comment on this story's content without spoiling its powerful effect on the reader, so I will refrain other than to recommend it for classrooms that are ready for mature discussions of sensitive topics. I think this story is best when previewed by the teacher, then assigned to the whole class for reading and a follow-up discussion.
- Eve's Diary by Mark Twain
In this playful and funny short story, Mark Twain
makes a humorous accounting of the differences between the sexes, writing first from Eve's point of view and then following up with Adam's
point of view. This story is a gentle reminder that it's okay to lighten up and laugh at our differences.
- The Boarded Window by Ambrose Bierce
"There is a point at which terror may turn to madness . . ." Physically, this story is set on the American frontier -- hint coming -- but that may not be where all the action takes place! The Boarded Window is a great story for in-class reading and discussion.
- More titles are available in Volume 2