Theory of Short Fiction Characters

Character in the Short Story

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Since its beginning, the short story has been criticized for its failure to present character in a full and convincing way. Pattee said in 1923 that short-story characters are strangers flashed only momentarily; their tragedy affects readers as if they had seen an unknown man run over in an accident, a moment’s thrill of horror. “If it had been our brother or our son we should feel it.” Pattee unknowingly hits an important point here about the form, a point that O’Connor has made his own in The Lonely Voice (1963). It is precisely the point of the short story that it presents readers with characters they do not have time to get to know intimately; however, this alone no more relieves the readers of responsibility for them than a brief acquaintance relieves them in real life. Many critics and writers have noted that what readers remember about the short story is not the person but the predicament of the story. Howells says readers can scarcely even remember by name any of the people in the short story.

Frank O’Connor claims that in the novel the reader is bound to be involved in a process of identification with the character. One character must represent the reader in some “aspect of his own conception of himself and this process of identification invariably leads to some concept of normality and to some relationship—hostile or friendly—with society as a whole.” However, in the short story, says O’Connor, there is no one the...

(The entire section is 501 words.)