Introduction (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although it may be viewed as a modern genre, short fiction subsides into the mists of history in the form of fairy tales, anecdotes, myths, and historical legend. The form was known to the ancient Greeks. Actually, tales of Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s tales are classified as short stories. Besides the obvious difference in length, short fiction differs from longer fiction by focusing upon a single event occurring in one or two scenes and by including fewer characters. In addition, the compactness and unified effect of the literary form forces an economy of words, and setting is oftentimes simple. Edgar Allan Poe, who receives much credit for the development of the short story as a literary genre, remarked that the short story’s primary distinguishing factor is the sense of aesthetic unity that can be read in one sitting. While the nineteenth century saw the development of the short story as it is understood today, the original form, passed down through oral tradition, predates recorded history and includes most cultures.
Oral tradition is especially important in African American literature. Many Africans, sold as slaves and forced into such places as Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, originated from cultures rich in oral traditions and oral literature. In an effort to preserve their group history, much of this spoken literature was later...
(The entire section is 435 words.)
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