The concise format of a short story often turns out to be an ideal way of creating sharp and concentrated narratives rich with meaning. The charm and fascination of short stories consist in their focusing intensely on one incident with a limited range of characters developing within a short period of time. Each writer possesses an individual approach to and vision of the short story genre; however, there exist some universals that are characteristic of successful short stories, and the typical efficiency factors are unexpected and ironic endings, deep psychology, and a range of literary techniques that include, inter alia, foreshadowing and symbolism. It is the task of the present paper to reveal and analyze the abovementioned factors in a series of selected short stories by writers of various nations and periods.
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It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!
The biggest disappointment turned out to be “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. In spite of the traditional perception of a lottery as a festive event, the reader’s expectations are crushed by the tragic and cruel ending of the story. There is a lack of insufficient development of the victim’s character so that the reader is left at a loss, feeling both sympathy and pain for Mrs. Hutchinson and at the same time wondering who that woman from the crowd is and why one should feel sorry for her.
Women have no caste or class.
Guy de Maupassant
The story that strikes as the most impressive is “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. The writer succeeds in creating convincing characters of Madame Loisel and her husband by motivating their actions on the basis of their background, social standing and psychology. The situations de Maupassant guides his characters through, and the way the characters respond to those situations appear to be vivid and realistic, as the way for them is well-paved by artfully managing the reader’s expectations and providing logical reasoning in the characters’ actions and ideas.
One of the success factors of “The Necklace” is its ironic ending. After the period of Loisels’ misery and poverty which they experienced in order to pay off the debts for the diamond necklace, after all the hardship they went through, Madame Forestier’s revelation that her original necklace was an imitation sound like a bolt from the blue. It makes all the Loisels’ effort and toils so senseless and absurd; but at the same time, the final shock serves as an ultimate punishment to Madame Loisel for her arrogance, vanity and aspirations that exceeded her husband’s means.
She carried her head high enough.
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Another example of a story ending ironically is William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”. Miss Grierson, so pitied and not taken seriously by the citizens who prefer rather ignore her and her foul-smelling house than to confront her reluctance to pay taxes and maintain hygiene appears to have laughed at all of them, as she actually had things her own way. Her taxes had been remitted, but her own little personal victory over the traditional society who viewed her as a sad old spinster consisted in her triumphant cohabitation with the object of her love, though dead yet fully belonging to her.
I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The ending of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is characterized by the irony of the nameless female narrator who celebrates her victory over the prison that her life has been. Despite all the scientific wisdom of her husband, he turns out to have failed in his treatment of her, and she finally has things her own way, creeping over him. John no longer is an authoritative family leader, but just a ridiculous nuisance on the way to freedom, which his wife easily overcomes.
The story is also characterized by foreshadowing. In the beginning, the narrator mentions that there is something strange about the house she lives in — and at the end, this strange aspect, the yellow wallpaper, leads to the woman’s liberation from the traditional views on family hierarchy and female obedience. Foreshadowing in “The Lottery” is represented by the scene where boys are gathering stones on the square (which will be later used for hitting the ‘winner’).
Once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.
In Updike’s “A&P” the unlucky development of events is foreshadowed by the phrases “here comes the sad part of the story” and “then everybody’s luck begins to run out”. But if those predictions are further explained in the story, the narrator’s phrase “I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter” leaves the reader only guessing about the possible consequences.
Symbolism greatly contributes to the short stories deep impression. In “A&P” Updike created a sharp contrast between the crowd of average customers who are compared to sheep in their behavior and the well-off girls whose bikinis symbolize their openness and vulnerability in face of the ordinary world. In “The Necklace” the prosperous world is embodied in such symbols as precious gems, exotic foreign decorations, diamonds as a token of highest success; the poor world is reflected in Madame Loisel’s rough hands, hard toil and absence of servant she had to experience when paying off the debt. The yellow wallpaper in the same-titled story is the representation of the woman’s confinement in a suffocating world of social discrimination.
The writers make use of deep psychology for the purpose of imparting a more convincing character to their stories. In “A&P” the narrator makes insightful remarks on the psychology of the crown and that of girls; in “The Necklace” de Maupassant provides observations of unique female psychology that does not recognize social and financial limitations and always strives for prosperity and poshness; in “The Yellow Wallpaper” Gilman traces the state of psychosis her female character goes through, and remarks on the importance of self-expression for psychological comfort.
However different the stories are, they possess a range of common features: unexpected ironic endings, deep psychological insight, and wide application of foreshadowing and symbolism grasp the attention of readers and provide for the short stories’ success.
McAleer Balkun, Mary, ed. Literature: A Prentice Hall Pocket Reader. 3rd ed. Longman, 2006.