These classic American short stories are still widely read and analyzed today. They contain intricate layers of literary elements and symbolism. They are dark and twisted and psychologically thrilling. Have you been scarred by a short story in your high school English class?
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This short story is told from the perspective of an unnamed woman who spends the summer in an old mansion with her husband, who is also her doctor. Believing she suffers from a “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency,” following the birth of their child, the man prescribes his wife a rest cure and forbids her from working. You will find yourself questioning the reliability of the narrator as she begins to describe the barred windows, the bed bolted to the floor, and the woman creeping on all fours within patterns on the wallpaper.
- A Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
In this story, a pregnant Mary Maloney appears to be a perfect housewife to her husband Patrick Maloney. She fetches his slippers, brings him cold drinks, and cheerfully asks him what he would like for dinner. This vision of a perfect marriage takes a turn when visibly distant Patrick delivers some shocking news to Mary. Mary, not taking the news well, strikes Patrick over the back of the head with a frozen leg of lamb she was planning on preparing for dinner.
- The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
In this science fiction story, George and Lydia Hadley live in a smart house called the Happylife Home with their two children, Wendy and Peter. The house does all the housework for the family, from sewing their socks to giving them baths. Inside the house is a room called the nursery, which is capable of producing simulations of different places and landscapes, complete with smells and sounds. When George and Lydia enter the African veldt, everything goes wrong. This is a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology.
- The Landlady by Roald Dahl
In this short story, a man named Billy Weaver checks into a boarding house. There are no other guests. In fact, the owner explains, there have only ever been two other guests. After she provides the names of the guests, Weaver recognizes them to be the names of two boys who have gone missing. Things become increasingly ominous when the owner – the landlady – reveals that the missing boys are still in the house.
- The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is the original lord of horror. In this eighteenth century short story, a man called Montresor seeks revenge against another man called Fortunato who insulted him. Montresor approaches Fortunato at a carnival with the intention of luring the man to his home and burying him alive. This seems to be a rather extreme reaction to an insult, making us question the reliability of Montresor as a narrator.
Short stories are compelling and thought-provoking. These classic short stories contain universal questions and themes which are still relevant in the world today, which is why we continue to read them and to teach them. Short stories are also more compact and approachable if you are not in the mood to take on a full length novel. Collections of short stories are especially nice because you can pick them up and put them down whenever you like. If you enjoyed this list of stories, you should also check out books of contemporary short stories: I recommend the Tenth of December and Pastoralia by George Saunders, Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, and Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
Jacqui Donaldson is an American writer. Her work has been published in The Vehicle, Loud Coffee Press, Across the Margin and others. Connect with Jacqui on Instagram and Twitter @Jacquiverse.