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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

This anthology contains a unique cross-section of American short stories, written between 1835 and 1919. They span the entire genre, going from simple irony to an exploration of the nature of evil. Many of America's greatest writers are included, and the stylistic and thematic differences among them offer readers a large diversity of plot, theme, setting, and character development.

The sly wit of Mark Twain's country bumpkins in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is sure to provoke laughter and an appreciation for Twain's uncanny ear for dialect. O. Henry's poverty-stricken couple in The Gift of the Magi experience a twist of fate that only love can bring, and when it occurs on Christmas Eve, it is that much more rewarding. One of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous stories, The Cask of Amontillado, with the murderous insanity of its narrator, the primal fear it arouses, and its ironic humor has enthralled readers for many years. Naturalism and anthropomorphism are important elements in Jack London's To Build a Fire, as the story's foolish Yukon traveler pushes his dog toward their opposite fates after ignoring wiser men's advice.

Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener, filled with ambiguity and uncertainty over the main character's motivation, offers great relevance to modern society's desire for individuality and success in the business world. Stephen Crane's The Open Boat, another realistic tale of survival or death, captivates the imagination by placing readers inside a dingy struggling to survive against the might of the sea. Désirée's Baby, Kate Chopin's story about female independence and the breaking of racial stereotypes, shocked the America of the 1890s, and its characters seem even more relevant in today's more understanding society.

Sherwood Anderson's Hands, with both its directness and its hints at hidden issues, influenced future generations of writers, including Ernest Hemingway, who for a while considered Anderson a mentor. Nathaniel Hawthorne's allegory, Young Goodman Brown, provides a clear depiction of how temptation and wickedness have the potential to overcome basic human goodness. Bret Harte's The Outcasts of Poker Flat, a story of wonderfully diverse characters who simply do not fit into society's expectations and who exhibit both unexpected strengths and surprising weaknesses, rounds out the anthology.

These ten classics demonstrate the vast sweep of American short stories. They represent some of our greatest literary achievements.