The short story (fiction)
Origin and history
Devices and elements
Part One: Origin
• Folktales, ballads, fables, myths and legends of all nations and all cultures
• Oral tradition
• Printed in the 15th cent.
• as a literary genre all its own ,in the early decades of the 19th cent.
• the short fiction (simple, straightforward narratives in prose or verse) and short
story (consciously organized, highly unified piece of literary craftsmanship) Part Two: Elements of fiction
• Point of view
II The virtue of the elements
• Working tools of authors, critics and intelligent readers.
• The common ground for discussing, describing, studying, and ultimately
appreciating a literary work
• For the readers to organize their responses to a work and to share them with
• Definition: the deliberately arranged sequence of interrelated events that
makes up its basic narrative structure.
Beginning, middle and end
Five distinct sections or stages:
• Exposition: background information, the scene, the situation, action, the
character and the conflict.: Face to Face with Hurricane Camille
• Complication: the rising action that develops and intensifies the conflict
• Crisis: the climax where the plot reaches its point of greatest emotional
intensity; the turning point of the plot which precipitating its resolution.
• Falling action: once the crisis being reached, the tension subsides and the plot moves toward the conclusion
Resolution: the final section of the plot; it is also referred to as the •
conclusion or the denouement (unknotting or untying)
• Exceptions: Epiphany: the crisis in the form of a sudden illumination: Everyday Use by Alice Walker; Araby by James Joyce, the falling action and the
resolution are dispensed with almost entirely.
• Exposition and complication can also be omitted in favor of a plot that begins in medias re (in the midst of things)
The tendency of modern fiction
• Plotless: the author ‘s emphasis is shifted to characters or ideas
• The plot consists of a “slice of life.” e.g. Hills Like White Elephants by
Earnest Hemingway; Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf
• The author eliminates the traditional beginning, but also the ending in order to
focus our attention on a more limited moment of time; limited description and
almost no action; conflict and complication are only revealed, the situation and
the story are to be understood and completed through the active participation
of the reader.
• Chronological plotting: ordering the episodes or events in the order of their
occurrence in time
• Flashback: device that interrupts the flow of a chronologically ordered plot
A Rose for Emily: the shift of the chronology backward and forward in time to •
establish an atmosphere of unreality, build mystery and suspense. Evaluating plot
• Effectiveness: the unity: how does each episode related logically ? • Plausibility: are the events and their resolution guilty of violating our sense of
the probable or plausible? (Chance and coincidence)
• Chance: events that occur without apparent cause or sufficient preparation) • Coincidence: the accidental occurrence of two events that have a certain
1. What is the conflict or conflicts on which the plot turns? Is it external, internal,
or some combination of the two?
2. What are the chief episodes or incidents that make up the plot? 3. Is it development strictly chorological, or is the chronology rearranged in
4. Compare the plot’s beginning and end. What essential changes have taken
5. Describe the plot in terms of its exposition, complication, crisis, falling
action, and resolution.
6. Is the plot unified? Do the individual episodes logically related to one
7. Is the ending appropriate to and consistent with the rest of the plot 8. Is the plot plausible? What role, if any, do chance and coincidence play?
IV. Conflict: (oppositions) the catalyst to generate a sequence of events ; The basic opposition or tension that sets the plot of a short story in motion; it
engages the reader, builds the suspense or the mystery of the work, and
arouses expectation for the events that are to follow
; External conflict :oppositions between the protagonist (Or hero or the focal
character) and some object or force outside him
; Man and nature: The Old Man and the Sea; Man and society: Daisy Miller;
man and man: (protagonist and antagonist): detective stories. ; Internal conflict: (the issue to be resolved within the protagonist himself)
Focusing on two or more elements within the protagonist’s own character:
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darknes
V. Point of View
• Narrative voice, a storyteller
• The method of narration that determines the position, or angle of vision, from
which the story is told.
• Importance: shaping the way in which everything is presented and perceived • The change of the point of view means te change of the story
4 basic types
• Omniscient point of view:
limited omniscient (third-person) •
• first-person point of view
• Dramatic point of view:
Omniscient point of view
• An “all-knowing” narrator, not a character in the story and is not involved in
• Retaining full control over the narrative;
• Enjoys the freedom and flexibility to dramatize or summarizes, to interpret,
speculate, philosophize, moralize, or judge
• Identification with the author’s voice, revealing the author’s values and
Limited omniscient point of view
• A single focal character acting as the center of revelation ( Henry James) • The reader can either have direct access to this focal character’s own “voice”
and thoughts, insofar as these are reproduced through dialogue or presented
dramatically through monologue or stream of consciousness.
• The narrator’s voice is somewhere on the sidelines, the reader become more
directly involved in the task of interpretation
• A minor character who functions in the role of an on-looker, watching,
• Henry James refers to the narrator as “the reflector”, or “mirroring
consciousness.” through whose conscious mind, the story is filtered and
reflected: Young Goodman Brown: “Evil is the nature of mankind”. Things
appear to be-rather than the way that things actually are.
First-person point of view
• Limited information
• Subjective, always subject to hidden bias and prejudices • The sense of immediacy, credibility, and psychological realism,
• Involved into events of the plot: Sammy’s growth and maturation, John
• In retrospective views: James Joyce’s Araby: looking backward at his own
• Telling some one else’s story : Bartelby the Scrivener
Dramatic point of view
• Objective, impersonal
the disappearance of the narrator. •
• The story is allowed to present itself dramatically through action and dialogue • Telling is replaced by showing
The reader is a direct and immediate witness to an unfolding drama without a •
narrator to serve as a guide or mentor
• Appeals to many modern and contemporary writers
• Descriptive details at the beginning og the work
• The reader’s responsibility for analysis and interpretation
• Hemingway’s short story: the psychological and emotional detachment and
self-control to cope with the reality of experience
Analyzing Point of View
1. What is the point of view: who talks to the reader? Is the point of view
consistent throughout the work or does it shift in some way? 2. Where does the narrator stand in relation to the work? Where does the reader
3. To what source of information does the point of view give the reader access?
What does it serve to conceal
4. If the work is told from the point of view of one of the characters, is the
narrator reliable? Does his or her personality, character, or intellect affect an
ability to interpret the events or the other characters correctly? 5. Given the author’s purposes, is the chosen point of view an appropriate and
6. How would the work be different if told from another point of view VI Setting:
1. Encompasses both the physical locale that frames the action and time of day or
year, the climatic conditions, and the historical period during which the action
To provide verisimilitude;
To create an atmosphere;
To add credibility and an air of authenticity to the characters;
To create and sustain the illusion of life;
To help the reader to visualize the action of the work.
As a background for action (in traditional story, such a setting has a tangential and slight relationship to action or characters; in modern fictions, setting is so slight that it can be dispensed with in a single sentence or must be inferred altogether from dialogue and action.)
• as antagonist: the Yukon wilderness in “To Build a Fire” by Jack London
• As a means of creating appropriate atmosphere: Edgar Allan Poe
• As a means of revealing character: The Fall of the House of Usher: both
Roderick and his house are in an advanced state of internal disintegration.
• As a means of reinforcing theme: “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane. The
Palace Hotel standing, alone on the prairie, with its light blue color, is pictured
as “always screaming and howling in a way that made the dazzling winter
landscape of Nebraska seem only a grey swampish hush.”
• Theme: an individual’s survival depends on a capacity for self-assertion just
as the blue hotel that asserts its lonely presence against the stark, inhospitable
3. Analyzing setting
; What is the work’s setting in space and time?
; How does the author go about establishing setting? Does the author
want the reader to see or to feel the setting; or does the author want the
reader to both see and feel it? What details of setting does the author
isolate and describe?
; Is the setting important? If so, what is its function? Is it used to reveal,
reinforce, or influence character, plot, or theme?
; Is the setting an appropriate one?
VII. Symbol and Allegory
• Symbol: something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of
relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance„a visible
sign of something invisible.
• E.g. Home: warmth, security and personal association of family, friends, and
Chinese flag: country, patriotism •
• A metaphor one half of which remains unstated an indefinite” „William
• Literary symbols calls to mind a range of invisible and abstract associations,
both intellectual and emotional, that transcend the literal and concrete and
extend their meaning
Tips on the identification and understanding of literary symbols • Awareness and intelligence
• Emphasis placed on certain elements within the work
• Avoidance of the temptation of indiscriminate “symbol hunting”
• Not imposing our own personal and idiosyncratic meaning
• Limitation by the total context of the work
Types of symbols
• Traditional: the common property of a culture; widely accepted; universal. The
moon and the sun, the black and the white and the red, etc.
• Archetype: a term that derives from anthropologist James G. Frazer’s The
Golden Bough (1890-1915) and the depth psychology of Carl Jung. Jung holds
that certain symbols are so deeply rooted in the repeated shared experience of
our common ancestors (collective consciousness of the human race) as to
evoke an immediate and strong, if unconscious, response in any reader. e.g.
Blackness in Heart of Darkness; initiation of the young in Young Goodman
Brown and Araby
• Original symbols: the meaning of the symbols are neither immediate nor
traditional, but derived largely if not exclusively from the context of the work: • e.g. Moby Dick: in the novel, is imagined as brute strength and cunning
whereas outside the novel, it is just a whale
The use of symbols
• Setting: the forest in Young Goodman Brown and the house in the Fall of the
House of Usher
• Plot: the archetypal pattern is the journey or quest, in which young men and
women undergo a series of trials and ordeals that finally confirms their coming
age and new found maturity
• Character: suggesting underlying moral, intellectual or emotional qualities; the
revelation of personalities
; A work of fiction containing symbolism is not inherently or
necessarily better than one that does not
• Symbolism itself doesn’t make a work successful
• Symbolism must be an integral and organic part.