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Short Stories

"After Twenty Years" (full text) by O. Henry

Plot/Themes:

Two friends agree to meet in 20 years to compare their fortunes. One is a jewel thief, the other a cop who knows what his old friend has become. He sends a fellow policeman to the reunion, not being able to make the arrest himself. Themes of choices we make and friendship.

Tips:

Because of dated slang, can be difficult for the novice reader. Story moves quickly and its sentimental nature, though dated, usually affects the readers.

"Everyday Use" by Alice Walker

Plot/Themes:

A story that contrasts the values of home and tradition with education; a daughter returns to her Southern roots and a mother stands up to her for the first time. Themes of sibling rivalry, education as improvement or hindrance, rural family values, and heritage and how it should be used.

Tips:

Asking students which daughter they identify with leads to interesting conversations.

"Greasy Lake" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Plot/Themes:

Three young men looking for fun end up at their old hangout but discover more than expected. Good discussion of (1) unleashing of violent passions; (2) confrontation with morality; (3) the need for exploration of self, but also recognition of limits of human self; (4) movement from innocence to experience

Tips:

A wonderful short story; a good ice-breaker for a series of discussions about novels, etc.

"A Retrieved Retribution" by O. Henry

Plot/Themes:

A reformed jewel thief exposes his nefarious past when he uses his old safe cracking tools to rescue a little girl from a bank vault.

Tips:

Kind of corny but effective, this story can generate discussion on what it takes to make people change for the better.

"How Much Land Does a Man Need?" by Leo Tolstoy

Plot/Themes:

For a small amount of money, people can get as much land as they can walk between sunrise and sunset. Theme of greed.

Tips:

The story may be difficulty for some, so you may want to study difficult vocabulary beforehand and prepare an introduction about serfdom and why having one's own land meant so much.

"I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen

Plot/Themes:

A wonderful mother-daughter story about a parent's struggle in the Depression. Themes of mother-daughter relationships, single parent hardships, hard love.

Tips:

Easily accessible; a great read-aloud and even better while ironing.

"The Lottery" (full text) by Shirley Jackson

Plot/Themes:

Townspeople gather for the annual lottery in which the winner is stoned to death by the others. Themes of conformity, the need for rituals, the tendency toward a pecking order.

Tips:

Talk about lotteries and rituals beforehand. Since the reader doesn't know what the drawing is for until the end, it is good to prepare follow-up questions and hints for anticipating where the story is headed.

"The Monkey's Paw" (full text) by W. W. Jacobs

Plot/Themes:

A happy family is destroyed when they succumb to the temptation to make three wishes on the monkey's paw. Themes of tampering with fate, not being happy with what you have until you lost it, "if it looks too good to be true, it is."

Tips:

Talk about the "three" theme prevalent in fairy tales; how humans often act impulsively, etc. Have students write three wishes before reading the story and talk about them afterwards.

"The Most Dangerous Game" (full text) by Richard Connell

Plot/Themes:

A famous hunter becomes the hunted when he swims to shore on a remote island owned by an eccentric hunter who has become bored with tracking mere animals. Themes of living by your wits, of being frightened and hunted.

Tips:

Good for getting people interested in reading; works well with incarcerated students, many of whom have been hunted in one form or another.

"The Sniper" (full text) by Liam O'Flaherty

Plot/Themes:

A sniper in Northern Ireland shoots at an enemy soldier, discovering later that he has killed his own brother. Theme of romanticizing war.

Tips:

A fairly quick read and good if time is short or the class is distracted because it quickly gets into the action. Could relate it to gang wars, the Civil War, or families who split up.

"The Veldt" (full text) by Ray Bradbury

Plot/Themes:

Science fiction tale of a "Happy Life Home" where everything is done for the family, with the result of children who are hostile and arrogant. Themes of what happens when physical needs are taken care of but emotional needs are not; the effect of role models, lack of responsibilities, feeling of uselessness.

Tips:

Good story for talking about mentors, good and bad influences.

"Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" from the novel The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Plot/Themes:

A young women flies to Vietnam loving the place, the combat, the aura of the jungle, and changes from the innocent Mid-westerner her boyfriend still is. Themes of changing, moving on, and how war affects people.

Tips:

Some background on the Vietnam War. This is a lengthy story, but its spooky and fantastical nature keeps readers absorbed.



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