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?

Expert Answers
bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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"

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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!

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I recommend a collection of the short stories of Theodore Sturgeon. They are science-fiction, but of a different kind. Sturgeon wrote the novelMore Than Human, which has been rated in some quarters as the second-best science-fiction novel of all time. (Best isDune.)

I didn't notice that anybody mentioned the short stories of John Collier. eNotes contains coverage on his stories "The Chaser" and one or two others. Most of his stories are included in an anthology titled Fancies and Goodnights.

Poor old Henry James ought to be included because he was The Master. The stories that high school students would be most likely to enjoy would probably be "The Jolly Corner" and "The Beast in the Jungle." "The Turn of the Screw" is often assigned reading, but it is more like a novelette.

Among Nathaniel Hawthorne's best stories are "Wakefield" and "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment."

John Cheever was one of the best short story writers America ever produced. I can't think of too many titles, but "The Enormous Radio" is one students would enjoy because it is so unusual. "The Swimmer" is sometimes assigned reading.

James Thurber wrote a number of short stories that are amusing and very easy to read. Most are anthologized in The Thurber Carnival.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

booklearning eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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                                                                        

wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Cask of Amontillado" has a lot of great activities and lessons for more than just one grade level.

"The Yellow Wallpaper" is another great on that can be used in many ways.

"The Most Dangerous Game" is used by most English 9 teachers.

"Metamorphosis" is one I really enjoyed teaching and I don't think it is seen often enough is essential reading lists.

"The Lady or the Tiger" is a great story to teach because it doesn't have a traditional ending.  This story is excellent to work with English 10 writing students.

"A Rose for Emily" is helpful for teaching various writing techniques and inference.

"A Modest Proposal" is a fun one to use for teaching satire.

"The Gift of the Magi" and "The Necklace" are great for teaching irony and other literary terms.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

sarahc418 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am going to have to look into some of those above titles! I really enjoyed teaching a lot of the ones already stated, but one I tried out this year that worked well was "Happy Endings" by Margaret Atwood. I used it in older students and it was a good discussion about what makes a story worthwhile to tell and to read. We also talked about literature in general and used it as an introduction to the course.

I also enjoyed teaching some New Lit short stories including Raymond Carver's "The Bath" and "The Small Things"

I was a big fan of "Good Man is Hard to Find" as well as "A View of the Woods" by Flannery O'Connor.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that Edgar Allan Poe needs to make the list, as should ChekhovHemingway, Arthur Conan Doyle and Katherine Mansfield.

The stories I return to again and again would be -

'The Yellow Wallpaper' - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' by James Thurber

'An Arrest' - Ambrose Bierce

'A Jury of her Peers' - Susan Glaspell

I guess my list would be pretty long!



mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With so many great ones already mentioned, I'm sure I'll be repeating some, but here are a few that sprang to mind:

"The Dinner Party" by Mona Gardner

"The Lady or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton

"A Tiger in the House" by Ruskin Bond

(These latter two can be used together)

Kids really like the surprise ending of Gardner's work, and they like the decision-making necessary for Stockton's. The third just makes a nice tie-in and a good Venn diagram-maker for The Lady or the Tiger.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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!).

justaguide eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll vote for Leo Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" too. The former is an essential for the times we're going through. Another would be "The Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry.

a0542959 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Don't forget Rappaccini's Daughter.

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

iliveforlife | Student

All the stories mentioned above sound really good and I think our teachers should include all those in the curriculum (we do have 4 years of high school to get through them :D). I love reading short stories and some great short stories I have read in school are: 

The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl -by Ray Bradbury

The Leap -by Louise Erdrich

The Lottery -by Shirley Jackson

The Lottery Ticket -by Anton Chekhov

Tunnel -by Sarah Ellis

The First Day -by Edward P. Jones

and many more...

I am looking for a particular short story I read in highschool.  I cannot recall the author or the title, but I remember it having to do with a man finding a house in a forest that had the control panel to life, including a button with his name on it.  Any ideas?

coryengle | Student

I'm somewhat incredulous that nobody here as mentioned "The Dead," by James Joyce. I could be wrong, but I've heard that some scholars consider it one of the best (if not the single best) short stories of all time. Either way, it's brilliant.

resistance | Student

I'd love to give you a title but can't remember the title. It's by Ballard and is about people left stranded on an island in a sea resort as people want to get rid of unemployed peole. It's a super short story

lindzc | Student

Most Dangerous Game: Compelling, amazing imagery, great to teach suspense.

Any thing Poe...because he is Poe.

Harrison Bergeron: The theme is one that kids need to hear.  Great satire and climax

The Lady or the Tiger...It is a story they will never forget.  It evokes an emotion and opens huge doors for creative writing.

The Lottery...the irony and unexpected outcome stimulates discussion and makes students look at society in a new way.

The Coloumber (SP) French Author.  I have had a difficult time finding a copy of this story but deals with chasing dreams, self-discovery, and fear of the unknown.

giggles50 | Student

I would like to add Ransom of Red Chief by O'Henry, as well as the others mentioned. Any of the Sherlock Holmes were good, too.