Whoever coined the term, “Brevity is the the soul of wit” must have had short stories in mind. I love teaching and reading short stories in class because talented authors can create truly powerful messages and themes in just a few scant pages, all of which can be read and discussed within a single class period. Here are three short stories which I believe every high schooler should read.
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’ Connor
This short story revolves around a recent college graduate, Julian, who is escorting his mother to her exercise classes because she is too afraid to take the bus alone after integration of African Americans into white society. O’Connor masterfully portrays the perspectives of the two generations: the mother’s blatant racism and how her views are stuck in the past and Julian’s more progressive, yet still superficial rationalization of reality. What makes this story so compelling is how it reveals to the reader how liking or “respecting” someone simply for their appearance is not much better than hating them for it and how prejudice is not always blatantly recognizable.
It is difficult to pick one gem out of the treasure trove that is the collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, but I found this story especially powerful as well as haunting. The story involves a fully-automated house which goes about its daily duties despite having no inhabitants to tend to. It is slowly revealed through post-apocalyptic imagery that the house, and in fact, the whole neighborhood, was decimated by nuclear war leaving nothing behind but charred remains and a radioactive glow. Come evening time, the house performs a reading of one of its former inhabitants favorite poems, There Will Come Soft Rains, which describes how nature will continue on even after mankind has killed itself off. The story is a vivid reminder of how mankind’s legacy is sure to outlive us all, which might not necessarily be a good thing.
I use this There Will Come Soft Rains Short Story Activities resource in my classroom when I teach the story. I also use these Ray Bradbury Bell Ringers to get my students thinking about the themes and motifs he includes in his writing.
The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
Much like the previously mentioned Flannery O’Connor story, The Necklace expounds on the theme of judging by appearances as well as warning against the pitfalls of seeking happiness in material wealth. The story revolves around Mathilde Loisel, a woman who constantly bemoans her lowly economic status as she believes her charm and beauty are more deserving of the upper echelons of high society. When her overly-accommodating husband manages to gain an invitation to a formal ball, Mathilde splurges on a dress and borrows a piece of jewelry from one of her wealthy friends: a beautiful diamond necklace. The necklace proves to be the central symbol surrounding the story’s theme as well as Mathilde’s downfall.
Here is my Activities Bundle for The Necklace.