Essential Short StoriesWe are compiling a list of the best short stories ever for high school students. What titles do you think should make the cut and why?

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susan3smith's profile pic

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pohnpei397's profile pic

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The first one off the top of my head is "Lamb to the Slaughter," by Roald Dahl.  I think that it is a really good one for engaging students of that age and encouraging to think about some important issues.

For example, the story brings up issues of:

  • Feminism.  What is the proper role of wife/woman.  Was Mary a good woman when she was subservient to Patrick?  Was she better or worse when she killed him?
  • Marriage and relationships.  What makes a good relationship.  Why did Patrick leave?  Was he justified?
  • Morality and revenge.  Is what Mary did in any way acceptable?

I really liked this story when I read it in high school because it seemed like a situation that my friends and I could relate to.  We could relate to issues of blind rage and a desire for revenge and, most importantly, we could relate to feeling that way over a broken relationship.

So I like this one because it brings up a lot of meaty questions in a context that is more interesting and compelling to teens than some other stories.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

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I also love "Lamb to the Slaughter," though the other teachers in my department have decided to use it on the final.

"The Sniper" is always well-received...

"The Most Dangerous Game."

I like Shirley Jackson's "The Possibility of Evil:" this really has an unexpected ending that the kids enjoy. Students love to be surprised.

I have also fallen in love with "Brothers Are the Same," by Beryl Markham, which is a story of a native people known as the Masai, that live (and have done so for hundreds of years) on the Serengeti Plain, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. The young men, as a rite-of-passage, must venture into the bush to face and kill a lion; accompanied by their peers who have passed this "test," they must succeed without help. And, of course, there is a girl involved. It has beautiful imagery, and is very exciting.

"Marigolds" by Eugenia Collier, is very good, taking place in the Depression and the South.

I enjoy almos all of Poe's stories, though we usually only have time for one—which is in our text, "The Cask of Amontillado."

I really like "A Rose for Emily"...

"The Story of an Hour"...

...and most of all (for honors) Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel." (He also wrote "The Natural.")

Sometimes on St. Patrick's Day, we'll read "The Quiet Man" or I'll read it to them (they love to hear a story read aloud—sometimes even with an Irish accent, though my mouth hurts by the end of the day). Great story.

bullgatortail's profile pic

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I have to second (and third) many of the previous choices; some are more suitable for middle schoolers, but if they haven't read them...

POE:  "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado
FAULKNER:  "A Rose for Emily"  (still taught in college classrooms, too)
HEMINGWAY:  "A Day's Wait" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
CRANE:  "The Open Boat"
BIERCE:  "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
STEINBECK:  "Flight"
JACKSON:  "The Lottery"
HARTE:  "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"
CONNELL:  "The Most Dangerous Game"
LONDON:  "To Build a Fire"
BRADBURY:  "The Delicate Sound of Thunder"

I would also include several not mentioned:

GUY DE MAUPASSANT:  "The Necklace"
JESSE STUART:  "Split Cherry Tree"
MARK TWAIN:  "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"

mwestwood's profile pic

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Two stories that shake the students from their complacent and jaded attitudes toward the short story genre are "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula LeGuin, a story of some moral ambiguity which forces students into a new avenue of thinking about life, and "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by the Columbian novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" is a story that employs Marquez's signature "magical realism," this story combines realistic details with fantasy.  This story is intriguing because it complicates (and sometimes frustrates) the students' efforts to assign a definitive meaning to the story.  It is also worthy because it introduces students to the originator of the technique which Toni Morrison often imitates, as in her Song of Solomon.

And, since students, teen and young adults both, love the surprise ending, O. Henry's stories are wonderful, especially "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi," which has already been mentioned--both very poignant stories with uplifting themes.

auntlori's profile pic

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Wow. Excellent choices so far! I chose mine based on how much and how well I can use them in class and how much students like the stories. Here are five, in no particular order:

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson - shocking, so students like to read it; it's an opportunity to talk about the mindless rituals and rites we adhere to all the time, among other things. Excellent use of irony, in particular.

"The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell - a great intro to literary devices at the freashman level as well as a review of them in later grades. It's an intriguing story with lots of possible ancillary activities, literary and otherwise.

"The Interlopers" by Saki (H.H. Munro) - very short work but some great examples of irony and conflict; especially good to teach plot since it defies the traditional "mountain" plot line.

"Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton - another great work to teach irony with an interesting twist at the end.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Bret Harte - classic examination of the best and worst and hypocrisy of human nature.

lmetcalf's profile pic

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I would add:

"A Clean Well-Lighted Place" -- Hemingway

"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" -- Hemingway

"Young Goodman Brown" -- Hawthorne

"Good Country People" -- O'Connor

"A Rose for Emily" -- Faulkner

"Barn Burning" -- Faulkner

"Flight"  -- Steinbeck

"The Rocking Horse Winner" -- Lawrence

"The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" --

"Sound of Thunder" -- Bradbury

"Cathedral" -- Carver

"Story of an Hour" -- Chopin

"Desiree's Baby" -- Chopin

I guess my list would go on and on if I let it, and I would also endorse all of the titles listed on the previous posts.  I think it is interesting that the lists are dominated by American authors -- but hey, Americans invented the genre!

booklearning's profile pic

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1. A Passion in the Desert  Honore de Balzac

2. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County  Mark Twain

3. A Child's Christmas in Wales  Dylan Thomas

4. The Ship that Found Herself   Rudyard Kipling

5. Rip Van Winkle (A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker)   Washington Irving

6. The Purloined Letter Edgr Allan Poe                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           7. Working with Little People   Harlan Ellison                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   8.Fondly Farenheit  Alfred Bester                                                                        

mizzwillie's profile pic

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I have one I disagree with as The Ransom of Red Chief has so many stereotypes which no longer belong in a textbook.  Native people in my extended family are so offended by that story.

I also would like to add one but cannot remember the title.  Two boys from different gangs have to settle a disagreement by playing Russian Roulette.  As they talk, they realize how much they have in common.  As they continue to talk, they become sort of friends and agree that they don't need to play the Roulette game with the live bullet in the gun.  Of course they do it one last time, and that is when the gun fires, killing one of the two.  One of the characters is named Dave, I think.  Students could talk about the craziness of guns etc.   Interesting lists.

a0542959's profile pic

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I would recommend the following:

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor is always great. Students are often amused at the language and understand the plot well.

Tell Tale Heart (Poe) is great for students with a flair for the dramatic. 

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is also great! 

janetlong's profile pic

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Don't forget Rappaccini's Daughter.

How about TC Boyle's The Hector Quesadilla Story or Guy de Maupassant's Ball-of-Fat?

lorrainecaplan's profile pic

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These are wonderful choices, and I wish we all had time to include all of these stories in a term or school year.

Another I think is a classic worth reading is "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, for so many reasons.  This portrayal gives provides a mirror for some students and a window for others.  The responsibility for one's family and the struggles of genius and addiction are powerful themes.  And for good discussion of literary elements, this story is superb.  The contrast of light and darkness alone, I find, engages the students.

While old-fashioned, "The Country of the Blind," by H.G. Wells, has an exciting plot and great themes to explore.  My guess is that many younger teachers are not acquainted with this story, which plunges a traveler into a valley in which everyone has "evolved" into blindness over many years.  Is our hero superior because he is sighted?  Or is his sight actually a disability?  The story offers many questions about otherness, power, and empathy.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

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In addition to many of the ones already mentioned, I would add Stephen King's "Last Rung of the Ladder." Rather than falling into his normal horror genre, the story is similar to the style of Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. It provides for an excellent discussion of sibling relationships, flashback, and personal responsibility. When my students see that King is the author, they become excited about reading the story and they love the surprise ending (although I always have to explain what a "call girl" is!).

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