Short Stories for High School Students

Michele Meleen
Student Reading Book

While most people think of classic novels as par for a typical high school students' reading list, there are many short stories that the average high school student should read. From classic authors like Edgar Allen Poe to more modern authors like Orson Scott Carol, make sure these short stories are on your high schooler's 'must read' list.

The Fly by Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield delivers a compelling story about grief and fate with just over 2,100 words in The Fly. First published in 1922, this story is one of many from the prominent New Zealand short story writer.

Summary

The story begins with a quick look into the woman-controlled life of Mr. Woodfield who has recently suffered a stroke. On his one free day, he heads to his former employer to chat. Woodfield struggles to remember that he came to share news of his daughter's recent visit to the graves of both men's sons lost in WWI. When Mr. Woodfield leaves, the boss struggles to feel grief for his son who died six years ago. The boss gets distracted by a fly drowning in ink, and after rescuing the fly proceeds to drip ink on it until it dies.

Why Students Should Read It

This seemingly simple story contains two major themes when carefully read. The first is the battle between time and grief, with time sadly winning out. The second theme centers on the symbolism of the fly regarding how helpless people are against fate. Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) Standards state that high school students should be capable of finding at least two themes in a literary work and discussing how those themes interact. The themes in this story are definitely interwoven in a way students can grasp.

Desiree's Baby by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin is a classic American author, most noted for her novel The Awakening - which readily appears on high school reading lists. Desiree's Baby is around 2,100 words and you can find a free version at KateChopin.org.

Summary

The story opens with Madame Valmonde visiting her 'adopted' daughter, Desiree, and her new baby in pre-Civil War Louisiana. Desiree was found as a child on the street and despite her lack of biological family history, was married to Armand Aubigny. Armand was a strict man who did not treat his slaves well. As the baby grew, Desiree notices strange things happening in her life as her marriage becomes strained. One day she notices the resemblance between a slave child and her son. Desiree discusses this with her husband, who accuses Desiree of being of mixed blood.

Madame Valmonde invites Desiree to come home since she is unhappy with her new life. Armand tells Desiree to go. Desiree leaves, but walks into the bayou and disappears forever. After Desiree leaves, Armand discovers a secret letter in which his mother reveals that she is of mixed blood.

Why Students Should Read It

This story examines the prejudiced attitudes of people in the South regarding social class and race as well as the treatment of women. With common themes of racial tensions and mistreatment of women, Chopin's works help students examine prejudices in the world, making her work especially relevant in the 21st century.

Araby by James Joyce

James Joyce is considered one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. His collection of short stories entitled Dubliners includes the 2,300-word story, Araby.

Summary

A young boy, whose name and age are not given, speaks of his obsession with a friend's sister living across the street. When the boy meets this girl, she talks of being disappointed that she cannot attend the bazaar on Saturday. The boy says he will go to the bazaar and bring her a gift. He then becomes obsessed with the gift itself. On the day of the bazaar, the boy's uncle comes home late, forgetting that the boy asked for money to attend the bazaar. The boy makes it to the bazaar as it is closing and doesn't find a suitable gift in the stands left open.

Why Students Should Read It

This story is great for teens because it captures the spirit of a troubled youthful romance. It examines the difficulty of growing toward adulthood with little guidance. There is also an underlying theme of the quintessential journey.

The Father by Bjornstjerne Bjornson

Bjornstjerne Bjornson is the 1903 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. His fable-like story, The Father, expresses a tale of man versus himself in around 1,000 words.

Summary

Thord Overaas is the wealthiest man in his parish. He visits his priest on three happy occasions to see his son baptized, confirmed, and wed. Then Thord's son dies in an unfortunate boating accident. Thord returns to the priest to offer money from selling his farm as a gift to the poor. Thord's arrogant nature is humbled after the death of his son.

Why Students Should Read It

This story looks at the meaning of life and how we are gifted by the presence of others by use of a simple story. This easy-to-read piece by a decorated author is easily relatable to high school students who are able to see their parents in this more human light.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is an acclaimed 20th-century writer also famous for her classic haunted house novel, The Haunting of Hill House. The Lottery is about seven pages long and begs readers to examine societal norms.

Summary

A lottery is taking place in a small town just as it has for as long as anyone can remember. Each family must participate by selecting a slip of paper from the box. Some folks talk about how other towns are doing away with the lottery, but this is dismissed as crazy talk. Bill Hutchinson's family 'wins' the lottery and so each member must then select a slip of paper from the box. Bill's wife Tessie gets the paper with the black dot and is quickly stoned by all members of the village.

Why Students Should Read It

Teenagers will be moved to consider the traditions and rituals modern people blindly follow, especially during this time in life when they are searching for identity and independence.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is a beloved American writer best known for his mystery and horror stories. The Tell-Tale Heart is a classic suspense story at 2,100 words that examines the sensitive line between good and evil.

Summary

The narrator starts off by talking of his heightened senses and the obsession he has with an old man's eye. He walks readers through his carefully thought out plans to murder the old man. After killing and dismembering the old man, the narrator buries him beneath the floor. When the police show up to investigate sounds heard in the middle of the night, the narrator invites them in. The loud sound of a beating heart drives the narrator mad, thinking it is that of the old man, so he turns himself in.

Why Students Should Read It

Poe's work can be readily found on approved reading lists for high school students, making the author a must-read during the high school years.

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is a 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation recipient best known for his science fiction works. A Sound of Thunder examines how altering the past in time travel can affect the future.

Summary

In the year 2055, time travel is possible and accessible. Avid hunter Eckels pays for the chance to go back in time and kill a T. Rex. Tour guide, Travis, shares the simple rules: stay on the path and only shoot the marked dinosaurs. He warns that one wrong move can change the future. When the time comes to kill a T. Rex, Eckels can't do it and accidentally steps off the path. When they arrive home, Eckels discovers he unintentionally killed a butterfly which changed the time he now lives in. Furious with Eckels, Travis shoots him.

Why Students Should Read It

Readers will be compelled to look at the importance of all events and actions. ELA Common Core Standards dictate that high school students should be knowledgeable of foundational literary works by 20th-century authors and Ray Bradbury fits that description.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

O. Henry was a popular American writer famous for his wit and surprise endings. The Gift of the Magi is a six-page story examining the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

Summary

A young man and his wife do not have enough money to buy each other wonderful Christmas gifts. Each secretly sells their most prized possession to buy a gift for the other. Upon receiving the gifts, both realize they cannot use the gifts because they sold the possessions those gifts would be used with. Seeing the error in their thinking, each realizes the love the other has shown.

Why Students Should Read It

The central theme speaks on the value of love over material gifts. During this time of adolescence, many teens will begin forming their identity as a romantic partner. This story contributes a positive message toward relationship building in young adults.

Body Ritual Among the Nacirema by Horace Miner

Horace Miner was an anthropologist. Written as an educational paper, Body Ritual Among the Nacirema shares the practices of a culture from an outsider's point of view.

Summary

His goal with this five-page satirical essay was to show how ethnocentrism can change thinking. Nacirema is American spelled backward, thus the story aims to show how easy it is to judge a culture when you do not share its way of thinking.

Why Students Should Read It

During the teenage years, peer pressure and self-esteem issues are common. Stories like this help adolescents examine their attitudes about beauty as well as the attitudes of others.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Carol

Ender's Game was first a short story, then a novel, and finally a popular movie. The story is considerably longer than most short stories at a little over 15,000 words.

Summary

A boy named Ender becomes commander of an army in his school where children are trained in mock battles to defeat a generic enemy. After winning all battles and destroying the enemy planet, Ender is told all the battles and the war were real. The two major themes of this story are the concept of individual needs versus the greater good and the prevalence of lies.

Why Students Should Read It

The pop culture tie-in makes this story relatable to teens, which can encourage them to read it.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J. D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger is a renowned American writer famous for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye. This story is part of his collection in Nine Stories. The story relates the struggles of veterans returning from war and touches on the difficulty adults have with communicating effectively.

Summary

A Perfect Day for Bananafish begins with young Muriel Glass discussing life and the strange behavior of her husband, who is a WW II veteran, with her mother. Muriel and her husband, Seymour, are at the beach when a little girl sparks up a conversation with Seymour. He tells the little girl a humorous story of the bananafish, then heads home and commits suicide.

Why Students Should Read It

Nine Stories, the book in which A Perfect Day for Bananafish appears, is on OnlineClasses.org's list of 50 best short stories of all time.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, originally published in The New Yorker, was one of his most popular works. With 2,000 words, the story takes you on the adventures of a man who constantly gets lost in his daydreams as a way to escape his boring real life.

Summary

Walter Mitty is a man with a very average life. While he's accompanying his wife on some errands, he imagines himself in fantastical, almost impossible situations. Whether he's an ace fighter pilot or performing miraculous surgery, each scenario is inspired by some part of his surroundings.

Why Students Should Read It

Teens will be encouraged to look at what success and failure mean to them and how to create the life they want. The story itself is an easy read and offers teens a glimpse into adulthood as they plan for their years ahead. This story can also be tied into pop culture using the movie of the same name released in 2013.

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula LeGuin is best known for her science fiction and fantasy stories. In this piece, she describes a near utopian society in the four-page short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

Summary

The narrator describes a town that is full of unbelievably happy people. The dark side of this happiness is that it comes at the cost of one child forced to live in misery under the town. All townspeople know of this child and most accept its fate in exchange for their happiness. Some people choose to leave the town and never return upon learning of the child's mistreatment.

Why Students Should Read It

This story encourages young readers to examine what the cost of happiness is and whether they are willing to pay that price. During this stage of life, young adults are often self-centered in their thinking, and this story forces them to see that nothing is perfect.

Skin by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a celebrated author of books for children as well as short stories for adults. Roald Dahl is considered one of the most successful writers in the world. Skin is a nearly 3,000-word story exploring the nature of greed as deadly and the idea that every man must watch his back.

Summary

A beggar named Drioli comes across a painting in a gallery created by an old acquaintance, Soutine. Drioli is let into the gallery only after showing the tattooed painting Soutine made on his back years ago. Men offer to buy the skin off Drioli's back. Drioli chooses to go with a man who invites him to live in his home as living art. The story ends with Drioli's back tattoo hanging in an art gallery and no sign of Drioli himself.

Why Students Should Read It

While Roald Dahl is a more unusual choice for a high school reading list, teens will likely be familiar with his work, which can be motivational in getting them to read. In addition, Good Reads notes this as one of his very best short stories.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce captures the essence of the fine line between reality and fantasy in the 3,700-word story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

Summary

This is the story of a confederate sympathizer who is sentenced to death by hanging. The man is caught trying to tamper with a bridge and subsequently hung on that very bridge. He first imagines his escape, convincing the reader of that fate. In the end, the reader learns the man's escape was only in his imagination.

Why Students Should Read It

Common Core ELA Standards ask that high school students have the ability to examine how different structures of a text, including the order of events and time sequencing, create effects in literature. This story offers a look into these structural choices.

Message in Minutes

Short stories offer relatable messages about the real world and require little time to read, making them ideal for reluctant readers. However, they also can help spark discussion on deep and meaningful topics, as well as expose high school students to classic and well-known authors.

Short Stories for High School Students