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Reference Guide

Understanding the Short Story - Reference Guides

6 pages185 viewsFall 2015

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Computer Science
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2
Understanding The Short Story
Understanding The Short Story 3
Understanding The Short Story
Understanding The Short Story
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHORT STORY (cont.)
THE MODERN SHORT STORY
• What constitutes a modern short story? The most
obvious answers are:
mIt is a narrative work.
mIt is written in prose.
mIt must be short.
• There is no firmly set maximum length, but some
critics have argued that, to qualify as a short story,
it must be too short to be published by itself (as a
novel could be); others argue that this definition is
too restrictive, and would exclude famous novellas
such as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, (1898),
or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, (1899), works
that are not usually considered novels, yet are
longer than the “typical” short story.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), a master of short
fiction, was the first critic to discuss short stories
from a theoretical perspective. Poe believed the
short story should be brief enough to be read in
one sitting. While this point is open to debate
(few today could read Heart of Darkness in
one sitting), Poe went on to make a more incisive
observation, arguing that in a well-crafted short
story nothing is irrelevant; everything has been
included deliberately, contributing to the author's
pre-established design” or purpose.
• The Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) expanded
on this in his concept of the epiphany, a climactic
moment where the significance of the
story’s events is made clear to a
character in a moment of (often
tragic) self-discovery.
• While not all stories fall into this
pattern, all are very carefully
crafted,and virtually
everything—characters,
setting, images and
symbols, word choice—is
there for a reason.
• In this sense, responding to a
short story requires careful,
close, reading. These skills
are similar to those we bring
to the analysis of a poem.
STEPS TO ANALYSING SHORT FICTION
When encountering a short story for the first time:
• Ask yourself why its various features were included
as they appear, and the implications of those
features. What is the importance of:
mThe title.
mThe various characters and their names. If they
have names, why; if not, why not?
mThe plot. If there is a plot, why; if not, why not?
mThe images that seem conspicuous. Do they
have significance beyond their literal meaning?
mThe form of narration. First person or third?
mThe ending. Does there seem to be a resolution
of the major issues and conflicts in the story? if
not, why not?
mConsult a dictionary. See if there are meanings
embedded in the names of persons, places, or
things that might prove helpful.
mSpeculate. Why does some information
seem to have been left out? What was
the author’s reason for withholding
seemingly crucial facts?
THE TITLE
• Look at the title of the story for its
possible relevance. Henry James’ vaguely
unsettling title, The Turn of the Screw,
forces us to question its meaning. Does
it refer to simply turning a screw, or is
there a hint of the thumbscrew, the
instrument of torture?
• The title to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher,
(1839), with its implications of destruction, in the
word “fall” and the obvious double meaning in the
word “house” (the dwelling and the family),
cannot help but invite you to see the house as a
symbolic reflection of the Ushers.
• Some titles, however, are deliberately bland, such
as Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls, (1968).
• Others can be deceptively bland, like Shirley
Jackson’s The Lottery, (1948). Whether overtly
intriguing or disarmingly bland, the title is usually
important.
THE PLOT
• A plot simply consists of those causally related
series of events within the story that occur over a
period of time.
• Most, but not all, short stories
have a plot, but not all are told
chronologically (i.e., in strict
temporal sequence).
• Most stories employ flashbacks,
together with anticipations and
foreshadowing, where the
narrator will tell a story much as
we would, mentioning events in
order of their importance, for
example, rather than in the
order they occurred.
STEPS TO ANALYSING SHORT FICTION (cont.)
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc. © 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
This Permachart provides the reader with a framework to use when
reading short stories, which can then be used to approach all
other forms of literature critically. The examples of short fiction
used in this Permachart can be found on the internet.
www.permacharts.com
THE SHORT STORY
UNDERSTANDING
THE SHORT STORY
UNDERSTANDING • Some stories do not have much, if any, plot at all.
Some plots seem, at first
glance, to be trivial, as in
Joyce’s Araby, (1914),
about a young boy’s
seemingly inconsequential
trip to a bazaar to buy a
trinket for a girl he knows.
Others merely consist of a
single conversation
between a man and a
woman waiting for a train,
as in Hemingway’s Hills Like
White Elephants, (1927).
• In cases where there is little, if any, explicit plot
(or, if the story merely relates one incident, such
as a conversation), ask why the author chose not
to feature one.
mLack of plot is a clear indication that the
author believed that to detail a sequence of
events would get in the way of other, more
important issues; in such cases, the reader is
meant to look for significance in other areas.
mIf the story consists merely of a conversation
between two or three people, look for infor-
mation embedded in the story that explains
why the conversation is taking place.
THE CHARACTERS
• When examining the characters in a tale or a
short story ask:
mWho are they?
mWhat is their relationship with each other?
mWhat is their effect on the plot?
• Names of characters, or their titles, can be helpful.
mLook for puns, or plays on
words, in a character’s name. In
Joseph Conrad’s The Secret
Sharer, (1912), a ship’s captain
rescues a mysterious man from
the ocean named “Leggatt”; in
Henry James’ The Turn of the
Screw, one character is named
Mrs. Grose.” Both names invite
the reader to think about the
possible implications in these
names.
mSometimes, characters may be known only by
their official titles (“The Chief of Police”), or by
the first letter of their names (“G--“). Ask
yourself why the author has chosen not to
provide more information. Is a sense of mystery
established, and if so, to what purpose?
• If a major figure lacks any name or title, ask what
the implications of this anonymity are: what does
not having a name tell us about that person’s
self-esteem, his or her sense of identity, or moral
nature (if anything)?
IMAGERY
• As you read, look for images and image patterns.
mImages from the world of nature are often
important, and references to the amount of
light and/or darkness in a scene can be particu-
larly relevant.
mHouses and furniture can also have symbolic
significance, and even characters’ wardrobes
may provide clues to their personalities.
TALE VS. SHORT STORY
While it is often difficult to make a clear distinction
between a realistic short story and a fantastic tale,
stories do generally fall within one of these two types:
THE TALE
• The tale is clearly fanciful and makes no attempt
to present the reader with slices of everyday
reality, or employ logical or believable
sequences of events.
• Fairy tales are a good example of this
type of short fiction. The situations
described are of a purely fantastic nature,
and we would never expect such events or
characters to be encountered in the real world.
• Many 20th century authors, such
as Franz Kafka and Juan Luis Borges,
fall into this group.
THE SHORT STORY
• The short story tends to be grounded in everyday
reality, and depicts individuals interacting
realistically, in situations that the reader can easily
see could take place, given the story’s premises.
• The images and symbols will
tend to be easily recognizable
objects from the real world.
• In this kind of story we do not
normally expect to see
fantastic elements, although
ghost and horror stories, as
well as much science fiction,
can be placed in settings that
do not violate the conventions
of logical and psychological
realism.
WHY ARE SHORT STORIES IMPORTANT?
• The short story, a literary form that has its origins
in antiquity, is taught in English courses from
grade school through university. Learning how
short stories work can be a very enriching
experience, one that can help us respond to
information we receive from many sources,
throughout our lives.
• In addition to the knowledge we gain about the
world from our direct experience, we learn a
great deal from information told to us in
narrative form, by various types of narrators.
Often, the sources of these narratives—parents,
close friends, etc.—can be trusted. But how do
we determine the credibility of a narrator, such as
the author of an article in a newspaper or
magazine, or a person we don’t know very well,
if at all?
• Although short stories deal with fictional
material, the way they convey that material to
us—one person telling another a story—is
essentially the same process whereby we receive
information on a daily basis, most of it from
sources whose credibility is unknown to us.
• Authors of short stories often provide the reader
with clues—such as inconsistencies or contradictions
in a story, or evidence that suggests the
storyteller may not be entirely trustworthy—that
encourage us to question the information we are
receiving: in short, to respond critically.
• As you familiarize yourself with the techniques
used by these authors, the skills developed in
analyzing short fiction can be applied to all other
forms of information you encounter daily, be it a
television commentator, a newspaper or magazine
article, or a biographical or historical work.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHORT STORY
• Short stories are doubtless the oldest narrative
form. The earliest stories probably grew out of
attempts to explain the world around us. Why
the seasons changed, why thunder and lightning
occurred, why people grew old:
stories provided explanations that
usually involved beings such as gods
or animals, with supernatural
powers.
• Originally, these stories were
recited, often in verse form, to a
largely, if not entirely, illiterate
audience. Such stories eventually
became the basis of myths (from
mythos: the Greek word for
“story”).
• The passage of time saw the
development of different kinds of
short narrative, and included everything from
fables (short animal stories with morals) to the
parables of Jesus (sophisticated narratives
concerned with spiritual or moral issues).
• The 14th Century saw the
emergence of such masters of
short narratives as Giovanni
Boccaccio (The Decameron) and
Geoffrey Chaucer (The
Canterbury Tales). These works
consist of a number of short
tales set within a larger fictional
frame. The Canterbury Tales is a
story of a group of pilgrims
telling stories, as they travel, to
amuse themselves.
• It was not until the 19th Century
that recognizably modern
short stories appeared.
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2
Understanding The Short Story
Understanding The Short Story 3
Understanding The Short Story
Understanding The Short Story
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHORT STORY (cont.)
THE MODERN SHORT STORY
• What constitutes a modern short story? The most
obvious answers are:
mIt is a narrative work.
mIt is written in prose.
mIt must be short.
• There is no firmly set maximum length, but some
critics have argued that, to qualify as a short story,
it must be too short to be published by itself (as a
novel could be); others argue that this definition is
too restrictive, and would exclude famous novellas
such as Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, (1898),
or Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, (1899), works
that are not usually considered novels, yet are
longer than the “typical” short story.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), a master of short
fiction, was the first critic to discuss short stories
from a theoretical perspective. Poe believed the
short story should be brief enough to be read in
one sitting. While this point is open to debate
(few today could read Heart of Darkness in
one sitting), Poe went on to make a more incisive
observation, arguing that in a well-crafted short
story nothing is irrelevant; everything has been
included deliberately, contributing to the author's
pre-established design” or purpose.
• The Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) expanded
on this in his concept of the epiphany, a climactic
moment where the significance of the
story’s events is made clear to a
character in a moment of (often
tragic) self-discovery.
• While not all stories fall into this
pattern, all are very carefully
crafted,and virtually
everything—characters,
setting, images and
symbols, word choice—is
there for a reason.
• In this sense, responding to a
short story requires careful,
close, reading. These skills
are similar to those we bring
to the analysis of a poem.
STEPS TO ANALYSING SHORT FICTION
When encountering a short story for the first time:
• Ask yourself why its various features were included
as they appear, and the implications of those
features. What is the importance of:
mThe title.
mThe various characters and their names. If they
have names, why; if not, why not?
mThe plot. If there is a plot, why; if not, why not?
mThe images that seem conspicuous. Do they
have significance beyond their literal meaning?
mThe form of narration. First person or third?
mThe ending. Does there seem to be a resolution
of the major issues and conflicts in the story? if
not, why not?
mConsult a dictionary. See if there are meanings
embedded in the names of persons, places, or
things that might prove helpful.
mSpeculate. Why does some information
seem to have been left out? What was
the author’s reason for withholding
seemingly crucial facts?
THE TITLE
• Look at the title of the story for its
possible relevance. Henry James’ vaguely
unsettling title, The Turn of the Screw,
forces us to question its meaning. Does
it refer to simply turning a screw, or is
there a hint of the thumbscrew, the
instrument of torture?
• The title to Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher,
(1839), with its implications of destruction, in the
word “fall” and the obvious double meaning in the
word “house” (the dwelling and the family),
cannot help but invite you to see the house as a
symbolic reflection of the Ushers.
• Some titles, however, are deliberately bland, such
as Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls, (1968).
• Others can be deceptively bland, like Shirley
Jackson’s The Lottery, (1948). Whether overtly
intriguing or disarmingly bland, the title is usually
important.
THE PLOT
• A plot simply consists of those causally related
series of events within the story that occur over a
period of time.
• Most, but not all, short stories
have a plot, but not all are told
chronologically (i.e., in strict
temporal sequence).
• Most stories employ flashbacks,
together with anticipations and
foreshadowing, where the
narrator will tell a story much as
we would, mentioning events in
order of their importance, for
example, rather than in the
order they occurred.
STEPS TO ANALYSING SHORT FICTION (cont.)
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc. © 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
© 2007-2012 Mindsource Technologies Inc.
This Permachart provides the reader with a framework to use when
reading short stories, which can then be used to approach all
other forms of literature critically. The examples of short fiction
used in this Permachart can be found on the internet.
www.permacharts.com
THE SHORT STORY
UNDERSTANDING
THE SHORT STORY
UNDERSTANDING • Some stories do not have much, if any, plot at all.
Some plots seem, at first
glance, to be trivial, as in
Joyce’s Araby, (1914),
about a young boy’s
seemingly inconsequential
trip to a bazaar to buy a
trinket for a girl he knows.
Others merely consist of a
single conversation
between a man and a
woman waiting for a train,
as in Hemingway’s Hills Like
White Elephants, (1927).
• In cases where there is little, if any, explicit plot
(or, if the story merely relates one incident, such
as a conversation), ask why the author chose not
to feature one.
mLack of plot is a clear indication that the
author believed that to detail a sequence of
events would get in the way of other, more
important issues; in such cases, the reader is
meant to look for significance in other areas.
mIf the story consists merely of a conversation
between two or three people, look for infor-
mation embedded in the story that explains
why the conversation is taking place.
THE CHARACTERS
• When examining the characters in a tale or a
short story ask:
mWho are they?
mWhat is their relationship with each other?
mWhat is their effect on the plot?
• Names of characters, or their titles, can be helpful.
mLook for puns, or plays on
words, in a character’s name. In
Joseph Conrad’s The Secret
Sharer, (1912), a ship’s captain
rescues a mysterious man from
the ocean named “Leggatt”; in
Henry James’ The Turn of the
Screw, one character is named
Mrs. Grose.” Both names invite
the reader to think about the
possible implications in these
names.
mSometimes, characters may be known only by
their official titles (“The Chief of Police”), or by
the first letter of their names (“G--“). Ask
yourself why the author has chosen not to
provide more information. Is a sense of mystery
established, and if so, to what purpose?
• If a major figure lacks any name or title, ask what
the implications of this anonymity are: what does
not having a name tell us about that person’s
self-esteem, his or her sense of identity, or moral
nature (if anything)?
IMAGERY
• As you read, look for images and image patterns.
mImages from the world of nature are often
important, and references to the amount of
light and/or darkness in a scene can be particu-
larly relevant.
mHouses and furniture can also have symbolic
significance, and even characters’ wardrobes
may provide clues to their personalities.
TALE VS. SHORT STORY
While it is often difficult to make a clear distinction
between a realistic short story and a fantastic tale,
stories do generally fall within one of these two types:
THE TALE
• The tale is clearly fanciful and makes no attempt
to present the reader with slices of everyday
reality, or employ logical or believable
sequences of events.
• Fairy tales are a good example of this
type of short fiction. The situations
described are of a purely fantastic nature,
and we would never expect such events or
characters to be encountered in the real world.
• Many 20th century authors, such
as Franz Kafka and Juan Luis Borges,
fall into this group.
THE SHORT STORY
• The short story tends to be grounded in everyday
reality, and depicts individuals interacting
realistically, in situations that the reader can easily
see could take place, given the story’s premises.
• The images and symbols will
tend to be easily recognizable
objects from the real world.
• In this kind of story we do not
normally expect to see
fantastic elements, although
ghost and horror stories, as
well as much science fiction,
can be placed in settings that
do not violate the conventions
of logical and psychological
realism.
WHY ARE SHORT STORIES IMPORTANT?
• The short story, a literary form that has its origins
in antiquity, is taught in English courses from
grade school through university. Learning how
short stories work can be a very enriching
experience, one that can help us respond to
information we receive from many sources,
throughout our lives.
• In addition to the knowledge we gain about the
world from our direct experience, we learn a
great deal from information told to us in
narrative form, by various types of narrators.
Often, the sources of these narratives—parents,
close friends, etc.—can be trusted. But how do
we determine the credibility of a narrator, such as
the author of an article in a newspaper or
magazine, or a person we don’t know very well,
if at all?
• Although short stories deal with fictional
material, the way they convey that material to
us—one person telling another a story—is
essentially the same process whereby we receive
information on a daily basis, most of it from
sources whose credibility is unknown to us.
• Authors of short stories often provide the reader
with clues—such as inconsistencies or contradictions
in a story, or evidence that suggests the
storyteller may not be entirely trustworthy—that
encourage us to question the information we are
receiving: in short, to respond critically.
• As you familiarize yourself with the techniques
used by these authors, the skills developed in
analyzing short fiction can be applied to all other
forms of information you encounter daily, be it a
television commentator, a newspaper or magazine
article, or a biographical or historical work.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHORT STORY
• Short stories are doubtless the oldest narrative
form. The earliest stories probably grew out of
attempts to explain the world around us. Why
the seasons changed, why thunder and lightning
occurred, why people grew old:
stories provided explanations that
usually involved beings such as gods
or animals, with supernatural
powers.
• Originally, these stories were
recited, often in verse form, to a
largely, if not entirely, illiterate
audience. Such stories eventually
became the basis of myths (from
mythos: the Greek word for
“story”).
• The passage of time saw the
development of different kinds of
short narrative, and included everything from
fables (short animal stories with morals) to the
parables of Jesus (sophisticated narratives
concerned with spiritual or moral issues).
• The 14th Century saw the
emergence of such masters of
short narratives as Giovanni
Boccaccio (The Decameron) and
Geoffrey Chaucer (The
Canterbury Tales). These works
consist of a number of short
tales set within a larger fictional
frame. The Canterbury Tales is a
story of a group of pilgrims
telling stories, as they travel, to
amuse themselves.
• It was not until the 19th Century
that recognizably modern
short stories appeared.
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