We hope you enjoy reading these stories (there are actually thirty). They represent the first collection published at American Literature. You may also enjoy Favorite Short Story Collections or search The Short Story Library
- The Gift of the Magi (1905) by O. Henry
This tender story -- one of the most famous titles in the short story genre -- is a must-read. The story is about a young couple and how they meet the challenge of buying each other a Christmas gifts when they don't have enough money. This sentimental tale has a moral lesson and is widely enjoyed during Christmastime and the holiday season.
- The Little Match Girl (1905) by Hans Christian Andersen
This is a special seasonal selection for The Holiday Season. It's a story to read for perspective, and is also featured in our collection of Christmas Stories
- To Build a Fire (1908) by Jack London
A classic Man versus Nature story set in the Yukon Territory in Northwestern Canada. "The dog did not know anything about thermometers" but it had the sense to know "that it was no time for travelling." A brilliant story to read in the depth of winter when a freezing spell is in the forecast or gripping your region.
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890, 1891) by Ambrose Bierce
A short story masterpiece: This a suspenseful story about a Civil War soldier, Petyon Farquhar, who has been captured by enemy troops. The story opens in a dangerous predicament, with the soldier about to be hanged, "A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama ... A rope closely encircled his neck." Will Farquhar succeed in his effort to make a daring escape?
- A Dark Brown Dog (written ~1893, published 1901) by Stephen Crane
This a powerful and well written tale of sorrow. The story -- depending on the reader -- can operate on at least two levels; as a simple story about a dog, a child and crushing cruelty. It may also be interpreted as an allegorical social criticism after the American Civil War. Either way, it's a powerful sad story.
- The Monkey's Paw (1902) by W.W. Jacobs
Three wishes and a Monkey's paw. What could go wrong? A horror story in the short story form. And I quote: "The first man had his three wishes. Yes," was the reply, "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."
- The Cask of Amontillado (1846) by Edgar Allan Poe
A classic revenge story in the horror genre. The story is set in an unspecified Italian city, the protagonist, Motressor believes he has suffered a thousand slights and injuries at the hand of his friend. Montressor invites -- rather tricks --his friend, Fortunato, into tasting some wine stored back at his pallazo in the wine cellar.
- Eve's Diary (1906) by Mark Twain take on the battle of the sexes is funny and witty and brilliant as he writes once from Eve's perspective and then follows-up from Adam's. A sample observation from Eve, "He talks very little. Perhaps it is because he is not bright..." I recommend starting with Eve first, then move over to the companion piece,
- The Story of an Hour (1894, 1895) by Kate Chopin
This dramatic short story -- an early entrant in feminist literature -- was very controversial when published in 1894. It suggests a possibility that people of that era were more comfortable rejecting rather than considering. The story still has the power to make modern readers uncomfortable. But please note that it is possible and sometimes even desirable to criticize an aspect of something to point out a nuanced feature; a quick mind can illuminate part of an arrangement without condemning the entire arrangement. I believe that is what did here. This suspenseful and climactic story will take you on an emotional journey.
- The Luck of Roaring Camp (1868) by Bret Harte
The hard-luck life of hard-hearted miners changes with the birth of Thomas Luck who draws on the heart strings of the rough and tumble miners of Roaring Camp.
- Regret (1897) by Kate Chopin
A beautiful story hinting at the depths of a woman's emotional complexity. A great short story, one that could easily be misunderstood by modern feminists.
- The Skylight Room (1906) by O. Henry
This one was selected for its simple poignancy.
- A Horseman in the Sky (1889) by Ambrose Bierce
Another interesting story from Ambrose Bierce. This one is also set during the American Civil War. I classify this one under man versus himself.
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) by Washington Irving
One of the early American classics, and don't forget its famous companion Rip Van Winkle
- My Kinsman, Major Molineux (1832), Young Goodman Brown (1835), and The Minister's Black Veil (1836) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
All three of these stories are important and should be read, the first one is my favorite of the three. If you are having trouble understanding the stories, it might be helpful to visit Hawthorne's Home Page
for some background.
- The Cactus (1882) by O. Henry
A classic dose of O. Henry coming straight at you. Short and direct. Communication is important.
- The Tell-Tale Heart (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe
Me crazy? Not at all. Let me prove my sanity by describing how carefully and ingeniously I murdered my victim!
- The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865) by Mark Twain
The famous story of Dan'l Webster the frog, and his anticipated performance in the jumping contest.
- Scarlet Stockings (~1869) by Louisa May Alcott
"[Belle Morgan] does and says what she likes, is very blunt and honest, has ideas and principles of her own, goes to parties in high dresses, won't dance round dances, and wears red stockings, though Mrs. Plantagenet says it's fast." Independent, assertive, and clad in scarlet stockings. Lennox is helpless to resist.
- An Angel in Disguise by T.S. Arthur
A sentimental story about love and kindness, "A bond had already corded itself around them both, and love was springing into life."
- Bartleby the Scrivner - by Herman Melville
A widely read story with widely debated interpretations. If you figure it out what it means, please let me know!
- The Purloined Letter (1844) by Edgar Allan Poe
- A Jury of Her Peers (1917) by Susan Glaspell
This short story is based on a murder story that Glaspell covered as a young reporter. It's adapted from her play Trifles
which is a selection on the High School
list. Read the story and please share it if you like it, Glaspell deserves to be more widely known.
- On the Gull's Road (1908) by Willa Cather
A love story complicated by circumstance and protocol.
- The Lottery (1948) by Shirley Jackson
A comprehensive summary of The Lottery, Jackson's dramatic and suspenseful short story. This story was probably intended as an allegorical lesson but it sparked controversy and even outrage across the United States, particularly in rural communities like the one where the story takes place.
- Thank You, M'am (1958) by Langston Hughes
A comprehensive summary of Thank You, M'am. A compassionate story about what happens when a young boy tries to rob the wrong woman! Forgiving, yet firm: we should all be like Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones.
- The Split Cherry Tree (1939) by Jesse Stuart
A comprehensive summary of The Split Cherry Tree. TIn this widely read story, set in the rural hills of Kentucky in the 1930s, young Dave Sexton finds himself trapped between the modern world that demands an education and his father's past where hard work may have held more value than "book learning." A conflict arises when he is punished by his teacher, and Dave's father Luster has to make a determination about the value of education.
- The Cat (1901) by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Freeman's cunning in crafting this tale is well matched to the cat's marvelous waiting powers, hunting for its prey and anticipating the return of its master.
- The Lady, or the Tiger? (1992) by Frank Stockton
The princess has a difficult choice to make. This iconic story has become a catchphrase to describe a problem that has no solution.
- The Night Came Slowly (1895) by Kate Chopin
"The night came slowly, softly, as I lay out there under the maple tree."