FORMS OF LITERATURE: THE SHORT STORY
Forms of Literature: The Short Story is a four-part program that provides an analytical overview of the modern short story as a literary genre. In Parts I and II, structural terminology is defined and immediately exemplified by brief excerpts from various short stories. The in Part II, an entire short story, “After Twenty Years,” is analyzed, using the terminology and criteria established earlier.
Parts III and IV are dramatizations of two short stories, “Bad Characters” by Jean Stafford and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor, with explanatory comments about the genesis and nature of each by the author.
Because this program is primarily concerned with the examination of the short story as a written art form, the visuals in Parts I and I, used to clarify the concepts being presented, are of three types:
a) photographic dramatizations of the excerpted passages
b) outlines and charts to synthesize the concepts
c) projections of the excerpted passages themselves.
The main emphasis is on the analysis of the projected passages. By closely examining an author’s words, the student is led to notice and classify both the kinds and the qualities of information that these words were meant to convey.
Parts III and IV deal with a different aspect of the short story—the author’s purpose and story content. The visuals in Parts III and IV reflect this difference. They present in an uninterrupted flow photographs of the authors and their environment, followed by a condensed but faithful rendering of their short stories.
The sound track of Parts I and II combines the voice of the narrator with music and sound effects which complement the situations of the various excerpts. In Parts III and IV, the narrator gives biographical information about the authors and serves to advance the narration of the stories. His voice is joined by those of actresses who assume the roles of Jean Stafford, Emily Vanderpool, and Lotti Jump in Part III and Flannery O’Connor in Part IV.
Together the four parts of Forms of Literature: The Short Story are meant to provide a basis for analysis and classification of the structural elements generally found in short stories.
Having established the criteria for analysis, the program goes on to provide students with the opportunity to test and reinforce their understanding of these criteria by analyzing for themselves the short stories dramatized in Parts III and IV. Each of these stories contains many readily identifiable structural elements. Each also contains some unique qualities—interesting departures from the structural generalizations establish in Parts I and II. These more sophisticated variations should serve to challenge the students’ powers of observation.
In summation, the program exposes students to terminology, definitions, examples, exercises, and variations and reinforces their understanding of the short story as a form of literature.
• Using the Video
Forms of Literature: The Short Story may be presented in a number of different ways, a depending on the needs and skills of your students.
Taken in their numerical sequence, Parts I through IV are arranged to provide a deductive overview. This sequencing is especially useful for presentation to students who have not been previously exposed to some or all of the structural elements explained in the program. For these students, Parts I and II establish the fundamental concepts of short story analysis point by point. After these concepts have been introduced and understood, students will more readily note and comprehend the employment of the concepts in the stories dramatized in Parts III and IV.
Numerical sequencing may also be used in presenting the program to students who do have a previous knowledge of most of the structural elements discussed in the program. For these students, the program will serve as a comprehensive review and reinforcement of their understanding.
As an alternative to presenting the program in sequence as numbered, an inductive approach may be taken. By presenting either Part III or Part IV first, students can be induced to make observations about a story. Such elements as plot, theme, characterization, and setting might be noted and discussed. In this discussion, students might formulate their own generalizations about the story. Then, when they view Parts I and II, they will have a more personal interest in comparing their conclusions with the contents of those parts. Some of the students’ generalizations may hold and others may need reconsideration. When they view the remaining part of the program (III or IV) they can apply to their analysis their first generalizations plus the more specific criteria presented in Parts I and II.
Whichever sequence is selected, it is important to show Parts I and II consecutively, because the concepts established in Part I are referred to an enlarged upon in Part II.
Another feature of Parts I and II is that each is broken into two segments. Part I, Segment 1 covers compression and plot; Part I, Segment 2 deals with characterization, narrative point of view, and setting. Part II, Segment 1 discusses conflict and theme; Part II, Segment 2 is a review of the concepts developed in the three previous.
For some students, the concepts presented in each segment will comprise a great deal of new information. For these students, the viewing of one segment per class period or module might be best, followed by reinforcement of the concepts through examples. After viewing Part I, Segment 1, for instance, the class might read and discuss a short story in which compression and plot can be readily discerned. This method of highlighting and strengthening the students’ comprehension would be useful in conjunction with all of the segments in Parts I and II.
Discussion questions and activities have been prepared for each part of the program. These questions and activities should serve as a device for evaluating the students’ understanding of the content of each part. There is also a glossary of terms used in the program.
Appreciation of the written short story is the primary purpose of this program. Therefore, it is important that students have ample opportunity to read, analyze, and discuss complete short stories. Any of the stories excerpted in this program, as well as others chosen on the basis of the students’ special interests, might be suitable for such a study.
Part I: Segment 1
CLIMAX: the point of highest interest in a narrative. The climax is the turning point in the plot structure, the peak at which the rising action reverses and becomes falling action. In a short story, the climax is the point at which the outcome of the story becomes inevitable.
COMPLICATION: the problem that confronts one or more of the characters during the course of the plot exposition. The remainder of the story is concerned with the resolution of the complication.
COMPRESSION: an element of style characterized by economy of language, an essential in good short story writing. Compression does not necessarily mean that a good short story writer uses only details that move the action forward and contribute to the total effect of the story.
DENOUEMENT: the resolution of the plot in any dramatic narrative; the events that follow the climax of the plot.
EXPOSITION: the introductory part of a narrative, in which characters and conflicts are identified and the setting and tone established.
LITERARY FORM: genre; one of the classifications into which literary works are grouped, such as novel, short story, drama, essay. Also, the specific organization (structure, style, and technique) that distinguishes one genre from another.
PLOT: the story line, or action, of a narrative. The classical divisions of plot are the exposition (or introduction), complication (or problem), the climax (or point of greatest intensity), the denouement (or resolution of the story), and the conclusion (or end of the story).
In the short story, the complication is usually introduced in the exposition, and the denouement and conclusion are combined. In the “surprise ending” short story, the climax is also the conclusion.
SHORT STORY: a relatively brief prose tale characterized by compression and unity of effect.
• Part I: Segment 2
CHARACTERISTICS: features or traits that the author combines to create the personality and appearance of his characters. There are two types of characteristics:
• Behavioral—information that discloses how a character behaves (happy, sad, kind, mean)
• Physical—information that discloses a character’s appearance (sloppy, neat, tall, short).
CHARACTERIZATION: the presentation of fictional beings as credible persons; also the particular methods—description, detail, action, dialogue—that the author uses to make his characters believable.
NARRATOR: the person in whose voice the author has chosen to tell the story.
OBJECTIVE REPORTER: the narrator who relates events factually and with an attitude of detachment. An objective narrative is usually told in the third, rather than in the first, person. The narrator remains uninvolved in the story and refrains from making judgments about its characters.
POINT OF VIEW: the limits and tone of a story resulting from the author’s choice of narrator. There are four choices:
Narrator—objective reporter, third person
Narrator—subjective reporter, third person
Narrator—main character in the story; first person; objective or subjective.
SETTING: the time, place, and mood in which the action in a narrative occurs.
SUBJECTIVE REPORTER: the narrator who relates events as they affect his own feelings and beliefs. A subjective narrative is usually told in the first, rather than in the third, person. The subjective reporter may be either a major or minor character in the story.
UNITY OF IMPRESSION: the single effect, usually emotional, that a short story attempts to achieve; an outgrowth of the concepts of the classical dramatic unities of action, time, and place. Earlier short stories did attempt to apply these classical unities, but modern writers no longer feel that the action must take place in one setting in one day’s time. Modern writers do feel, however, that all details in a short story must further the action and contribute to the final, overall effect.
• Part II: Segment 1
CONFLICT: the struggle between two opposing forces in a narrative. Conflict is the source of action in a story, the reason the plot moves forward. For action to be convincing, some motivation for the conflict must be given in the story. Most critics recognize two basic kinds of conflict, external and internal. In most stories, conflict is not simple. The main character is involved in a complex struggle:
• Internal—within himself
• External—against other characters; against outside forces.
EXTERNAL CONFLICT: the struggle between one character in a work of fiction and another character or force outside himself. The struggle between characters may be a physical combat or a battle of wits. The conflict with a force outside a character may be, for example, with society, nature, or fate.
INTERNAL CONFLICT: the conflict within the mind of a character in a story. For example, a character may struggle with his conscience, his passions, or his pride.
SYMBOLIC CONFLICT: an internal or external conflict in a work of fiction that may represent some broader or larger struggle. For instance, one man’s struggle to build a fire may symbolize mankind’s struggle against ignorance.
THEME: the central idea or main point of a literary work; it usually deals with universal truths or human experience such as maturation, love, revenge, death.
• Part III
FRAUDULENT: dishonest or deceitful.
IDIOSYNCRASY: a habit or mode of behavior peculiar to an individual.
ROMANTIC: idealistic; of a storybook, fairy-tale quality. (Romantic also has a precise literary meaning, but the word is not used in the literary sense here or in the program.)
• Part IV
GROTESQUE: fantastically ugly, monstrous, unnatural, bizarre.
REALISTIC: accurately reflecting life as it is, not as one might wish it to be.
• Discussing the Program
• Part I: Segment 1
1. Explain the popularity of the short story as a form of literature from the viewpoint of an author; from the viewpoint of a reader.
2. How is Poe’s “unity of impression” related to the element of compression?
3. What types of information are usually conveyed in the first lines of a good short story?
4. Name and explain the key elements that are found in a typical short story plot. Are each of the elements present in every short story? If so, why are they all essential? If not, which tend to be omitted and why?
5. Why is compression so vital to the structure of the short story? Is it more, or lest vital to the structures of other forms of literature? Explain your answer.
• Part I: Segment 2
1. What methods can an author employ to characterize the people in his story?
2. Explain the difference between physical and behavioral characterization. Give examples to support your explanation.
3. Identify and explain each of the four points of view that an author can assume in telling a story. What are the strengths and the limitations of each point of view in terms of the type of information each can convey?
4. What types of information are classified as “setting”? What is the function of setting in a short story?
• Part II: Segment 1
1. Explain internal conflict. Explain the two variations of external conflict. Give examples of each.
2. What symbolic meaning can be derived from the conflict in William Carlos Williams’s story “The Use of Force”?
3. What type of conflict exists in Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”? What is the story’s theme?
• Part II: Segment 2
1. Relate O. Henry’s story “After Twenty Years” to Poe’s statement that “…there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.” Are there any extra or unnecessary words in the story? Can the story be edited or shortened without losing its final impact? If so, how? Where?
2. In “After Twenty Years” O. Henry uses a device called foreshadowing (the dropping of hints and clues during the story’s exposition that become clear only at the story’s conclusion). What were some of the clues O. Henry used to foreshadow the outcome of his story?
• Part III
1. In what way does Jean Stafford’s own a life experience relate to the subject matter of her story “Bad Characters”?
2. Short stories usually deal with a single incident in a single time period. How does the story line of “Bad Characters” differ from the usual practice?
3. What are some of the physical characteristics described in the story? The behavioral characteristics? Which of Emily’s behavioral characteristics is crucial to this story?
4. From what narrative point of view is the story written?
5. What specifics of setting are given?
6. This story has an extended denouement. What information is given during the denouement?
7. To whom or what does the title “Bad Characters” refer?
8. In “Bad Characters” the narrator speaks in a particular narrative voice. What is it? Moreover, the narrator speaks from a specific point in time. What is it?
• Part IV
1. How does Flannery O’Connor’s “regionalism” contribute to or detract from her story?
2. What are the main structural elements present in “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”? Support your opinion with specific examples.
3. To what gesture of the grandmother’s does the Misfit react?
4. From what narrative point of view is the story written? Could the story have succeeded using a different point of view? Explain your answer.
5. What important pieces of foreshadowing information are present and important to later developments in the story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”?
• Parts III and IV
Both of these stories have cats in them. What other comparisons and contrasts, large and small, can be made in analyzing the two stories? Use the analysis criteria elaborated in Parts I and II as a basis for your answer.
• General Questions
1. The short story has been called the “genre of the twentieth century.” What elements do short story structure and modern life have in common that make them particularly compatible?
2. Write a few sentences describing the physical and/or behavioral characteristics of a character in a short story that you might write. Next, write a dialogue between this character and another character. Try to include most of the same characteristics, physical and behavioral, that you used in the first characterization.
Then, write about this same character stressing his behavior in a given situation and including as many of the same characteristics as possible. Which of the three characterizations is most effective? Why? Why do most authors use some combination of these three methods in order to present character?
3. Think of a conflict that would suggest the following themes: love conquers all; technology has become immoral; the truth will out. Next, think of a theme, then a conflict to go with it. Finally, think of a different conflict and then a theme to go with it.