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Historical Development of the Short Story Form. A Very Basic Introduction to Literary Movements and Fictional Forms. Fictional Forms. Fiction comes in many forms. These forms include the novel, the novella, the short story, and the short-short.

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Historical development of the short story form l.jpg

Historical Development of the Short Story Form

A Very Basic Introduction to Literary Movements and Fictional Forms

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Fictional Forms

  • Fiction comes in many forms. These forms include the novel, the novella, the short story, and the short-short.

  • The novel is the longest form of prose fiction (as a rule of thumb, 120 pages or more) that dates from the eighteenth century in England. The three writers who are credited with developing this form into what we know as the novel today are Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) , Samuel Richardson (Pamela), and Henry Fielding (Tom Jones).

  • The novella is a medium-length form of prose fiction (roughly 40-120 pages) that contains characteristics of both the novel and the short story. The history of this form is complex, with many critics disagreeing on its precise origins and lineage.

  • The short story is a short fictional form, usually comprised of between six and forty pages. The short story, as we know it today, is an American invention dating from the nineteenth century.

  • The short-short is a very short fictional form, that contains less than six pages. A relatively new form, it dates from the twentieth century.

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The Short Story

  • For the purposes of Web 1213, we will focus exclusively on the short story. This does not mean that the short story is in some way more important than other fictional forms. We simply do not have time to deal in any meaningful way with more than one fictional form.

  • We will focus on a series of literary movements that trace the historical development of the short story. However, because of the vast scope of the short story genre, this coverage of literary movements will be very broad and will emphasize American short stories and authors.

  • The short story has ancient roots. Its beginnings lie in the oral tradition that stretches back into prehistory. The first written examples of what would become the short story are in works like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which began in an oral form and were later written down.

  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Boccaccio’s Decameron are seminal examples of the development of the short story form across the centuries, as is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

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The Short Story, continued

  • However, many modern critics and scholars point to nineteenth century America as the birthplace of the modern short story genre.

  • American authors did not give birth to this new form in a vacuum. They drew on European literary traditions and forms.

  • Charles May, Susan Garland Mann, and James Nagel all credit Washington Irving, in his Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, with being the writer who first combined the constituent elements of what would become the modern short story—the sketch, basically a realistically-depicted word picture; and the tale, a story with many characteristics of the oral tradition that often involves the intrusion of the supernatural into daily life—into the form we call “short story” today.

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The Short Story, continued

  • So the historical arc of the American short story began with Irving’s Sketchbook and then moved to other American Romantics like Edgar Allan Poe.

  • The American Realists, particularly under the influence of William Dean Howells, carried the arc forward to the end of the 19th Century.

  • The American Naturalists, including Jack London, advanced the arc alongside the American Naturalists, and helped to push the short story form into the 20th Century.

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The Short Story, continued

  • American Modernists like Ernest Hemingway developed the short story into a high art form that reflected the post World War I reality of the Western world.

  • Post-Modernists like John Barth sought to use the “literature of exhaustion” to reflect the late 20th Century reality in an increasingly urban and mass-media dominated American society.

  • And over the course of the entire 20th Century and into the 21st, marginalized writers like Sandra Cisneros have used the short story to give voice to perspectives too long silenced.

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The Romantics (1790-1880)

  • Edgar Allan Poe was an American Romantic who, following in the wake of Washington Irving’s invention of the short story form, helped to develop that new form in significant ways.

  • Poe is a towering figure in American letters. He was a poet, a critic who helped codify the developing short story form, as well as a fiction writer who made significant contributions to the short story form with his own stories of the macabre.

  • With his review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Edgar Allan Poe deeply influenced the development of the short story genre. Poe’s call for a unity of effect in the short story fundamentally altered the fictional techniques of every short story writer who came after him.

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The Romantics, continued

  • Although we will focus on American Romanticism, it is important to remember that Romanticism was a worldwide literary movement that lasted from around 1790-1880. There were German Romantics, French Romantics, English Romantics, American Romantics, etc. Writers in each of these different countries drew on folktales and myths specific to their own places of origin in writing their works—so generalizing is difficult.

  • The Romantics tended to emphasize form over content, and saw the author as a godlike interpreter of the world who made sacred the profane by translating his individual vision into art. For example, in stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe introduces the mentally-disturbed narrator who carries the reader headlong into the world of art—an outlandish reflection of the Godlike writer’s inner vision.

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s work with point of view, and his eerie American Gothic stories would greatly affect the work of future writers.

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The Romantics, continued.

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction reflects the characteristics of American Romanticism.

  • However, as previously mentioned, Romanticism was worldwide movement and great variations exist among its many branches.

  • The general characteristics of Romanticism are as follows:

    • A godlike author (the author experienced the world directly, then recreated his experience later; in doing so, he/she recreates the world in his/her own image).

    • Inspiration valued over refined technique (the Romantics were, in some part, rebelling against the work of the authors who preceded them; the Romantics felt that these authors were “stale” and relied too much on technique).

    • A focus on myth and/or the supernatural (out-of-body experiences, demons, and other strange phenomena abound in Romantic works).

    • A local setting is emphasized (the Romantics tended to focus on details and places that were unique to their own countries and cultures).

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  • The Gothic novel dominated English literature from its conception in 1764 with the publication of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Gothic genre has been continually criticized by numerous critics for its sensationalism, its melodramatic qualities, and its play on the supernatural.

  • It is necessary to draw a distinction here between the Gothic literary movement, which lasted from 1764 to around 1850, and the Gothic genre, which still thrives today.

  • A genre is merely a literary form. The form created by Walpole and other writers of the Gothic movement has been incredibly popular and long-lasting. Edgar Allan Poe, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner all wrote Gothic stories. Today, writers like Stephen King and Anne Rice are still publishing Gothic novels that are read by vast audiences.

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Gothic, continued

  • The Gothic genre drew many of its intense images from the graveyard poets Gray and Thompson, intermingling a landscape of vast dark forest with vegetation that bordered on excessive, concealed ruins with horrific rooms, monasteries and a forlorn character who excels at the melancholy.

  • A fabled specter or perhaps a bleeding Nun were images often sought after by those who fell victim to the supernatural influences of these books. Vampires, the Frankenstein monster, gargoyles, and demons of all kinds are inhabitants of Gothic works.

  • However, as prolific and enduring as the Gothic genre has been, Gothic literature as a movement was a disappointment to the idealistic Romantic poets for the sentimental character idealized by Ann Radcliffe could not transcend into reality.

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Gothic, continued

  • The term “Gothic” comes from architecture—it connotes a rough and primitive grandeur.

  • In general, Gothic fiction is supposed to be dark, full of madness, superstition, and the spirit of revenge.

  • In Gothic stories (much like the horror movies of today which descended from them) pity and terror are emotions to be savored for their own sake, as entertainment.

  • For the purposes of Web 1213, we will focus primarily on two offshoots of the Gothic movement that are uniquely American: American Gothic fiction and Southern Gothic fiction. Each of these sub-genres has characteristics that are unique.

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American Gothic

  • The general characteristics of American Gothic fiction are as follows:

    • A dark, scary setting: an old house or the deep dark woods usually serves as the back-drop for a Gothic tale.

    • Meant to be frightening: Gothic stories are designed to scare the reader. In much the same way as horror movies today, people used to read American Gothic fiction to be scared for fun—and many still do (Stephen King and Anne Rice are doing okay).

    • Violence (esp. violent revenge): American Gothic fiction tends to be very violent. For example, in “The Cask of Amontillado,” the narrator not only kills, but tortures his victim while walling him up in the bottom of the catacombs.

    • Focus on the supernatural: Forces from beyond this world play a key part in Gothic tales.

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Southern Gothic

  • Southern Gothic fiction is an adaptation of American Gothic fiction in the same way that American Gothic fiction is a descendant of European Gothic fiction.

  • Writers in the American South, a region that lost the Civil War and endured Reconstruction, tend to put an even darker face on the Gothic tradition.

  • In addition to being more violent, Southern Gothic fiction tends to incorporate traditional Southern themes and to focus on religion, especially Christianity, as well as (or instead of) the supernatural focus of American Gothic.

  • Writers of Southern Gothic fiction include William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty.

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Southern Gothic, continued

  • The general characteristics of Southern Gothic fiction are as follows:

    • Dark, scary setting: an old plantation house is frequently the setting for Southern Gothic stories. The deep dark woods is another favorite “haunt.”

    • Meant to be frightening/disturbing: Southern Gothic writers tend to insert a darker, uglier edge to the scare most Gothic readers seek.

    • Extremely violent: Even more than American Gothic, Southern Gothic fiction relies on physical violence for its punch. For example, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the entire family is murdered by the Misfit and his pals, including a newborn baby and two small children.

    • Focus on Christian mythology: Parallels to the Bible and references to Biblical stories and characters are seen.

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Realism (1880-1910)

  • The American Realists sought to influence society through art.

  • Perhaps the most influential American Realist was William Dean Howells. In addition to his own fiction, Howells was an important critic who had much to say about the development of late 19th Century American literature. If not for Howells, we might never have known writers like Hamlin Garland and Stephen Crane.

  • Howells was a quintessential American Realist whose stories reflect all the characteristics of the movement. American Realists like William Dean Howells used their short stories to attempt to bring attention to social problems and to influence society for the better. These writers tended to focus on middle class characters. Their stories also emphasized the inner lives of their characters over external developments in plot. An example is Howells’s much-anthologized story “Editha.”

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Realism, continued

  • The general characteristics of Realism are as follows:

    • A focus on middle class characters

    • The author seeks to exert a positive social influence on his/her readers.

    • Mimetic: that is, the author makes the story seem “true to life” by using realistic details and settings.

    • Internal focus: that is, the author tends to focus more on the psychological development of his/her characters than on plot.

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Naturalism (1880-1910)

  • Like American Gothic fiction, Naturalism came to the U.S. from Europe (specifically from France).

  • The first true practitioner of Naturalism was French author Emile Zola, in such novels as Germinal, and Theresa Raquin. He codified the principles of Naturalism in The Experimental Novel in 1880.

  • The literary movement of Naturalism attempts to apply scientific principles of objectivity and detachment to the study of human beings. Naturalist writers sought to portray their characters empirically, through the interplay of heredity and environment.

  • Naturalist writers regarded human behavior as controlled by instinct, emotion, and/or social and economic conditions.

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Naturalism, continued

  • Naturalist writers rejected free will, adopting instead the biological determinism of Charles Darwin (Origin of Species, Descent of Man) and the economic determinism of Karl Marx (The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital).

  • Noted American Naturalist writers include Frank Norris (McTeague), Theodore Dreiser (Sister Carrie), and Jack London (The Call of the Wild).

  • Jack London quit school at 14 to escape the poverty of his early life in San Francisco, and gain adventure. He was a sailor, a hobo, and a protester against unemployment. He later took a brief stab at college, and then joined the Klondike gold rush.

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Naturalism, continued

  • London educated himself at public libraries on the works of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

  • A Naturalist and a Socialist, London became world famous through the publication of more than 50 books, including The Call of the Wild and Martin Eden.

  • Unlike Edgar Allan Poe, whose reputation as a writer and critic has risen over the course of the 20th Century, London’s literary stock has fallen since the 1920’s.

  • London is mostly known now for his Alaskan adventure novels.

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Naturalism, cont.

  • The general characteristics of Naturalism are as follows:

    • Objective, scientific presentation: Naturalist writers seek to portray their characters as products of heredity and environment.

    • Determinism: Free will is an illusion vainly sought after by humans in an indifferent, amoral universe.

    • Theme of “the beast within”: characters are lower class people whose lives are controlled by the animal passions of greed, lust, and desire for dominance over others.

    • Environment seen as hostile: in naturalistic stories, Nature (and also the city) is shown as being a kind of jungle, hostile to the insignificant human beings who venture into it (a common conflict in Naturalistic fiction is “Man vs. Nature”).

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Modernism (1910-1950)

  • The literary movement of Modernism is largely centered around a reaction to World War I. Modernist writers were profoundly affected by the mass carnage that was inflicted on the battlefields of Europe.

  • Perhaps more than any other literary movement, the development of Modernism is tied to place. Paris in the 1920’s is the birthplace of Modernism as a conscious literary endeavor.

  • Writers like Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ford Mattox Ford, Ezra Pound all knew each other, and were involved in the development and dissemination of each other’s work.

  • These writers believed they could change the world for the better through the practice of their literary art.

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Modernism, continued

  • To understand Modernism, you must first understand its roots.

  • At beginning of the 20th Century, Western Civilization was riding a wave of technological progress. Diseases were being cured and distances conquered. Mankind had learned to fly.

  • Science and technology were seen as the key building blocks of a new society where all the ills of humanity would eventually be cured.

  • Then along came World War I and that same technology was used to slaughter young men on a scale never before seen in human history.

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Modernism, continued

  • The war itself—billed by national governments trying to get young men to enlist and fight as “The War to End All Wars”—came to be seen for what it was: a war fought for economic gain and territorial expansion.

  • At the end of it all, a whole generation of combat-aged men had died on the battlefields of Europe—and nothing was solved. The Treaty of Versailles (which ended the war) was quickly seen for the short-sighted, revenge-oriented document it truly was.

  • The survivors of the war—the “Lost Generation”, as Hemingway calls them at the beginning of The Sun Also Rises—lost faith in everything but themselves and their art.

  • Since technology, national governments, and the church had all failed them, art was the only way left to go.

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Modernism, continued

  • The general characteristics of Modernism are as follows:

    • Make it new: the Modernists wanted to make a clean break with the past and start over. They developed experimental new techniques (especially in narration and for ending stories) that changed the way fiction is written.

    • Anti-authority: the church and the national governments let the carnage of World War I take place—even encouraged it—so the Modernists portrayed both in a negative way.

    • Carpe Diem (seize the day): the Modernists believed that the world should be experienced first hand. They felt that you should savor the physical pleasures of this world, since there was nothing at all in the next.

    • Focus on the common man: Modernism deals in large part with everyday people living ordinary lives.

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Post-Modernism (1950 to now)

  • American Post-Modernists sought to write about life in late 20th Century America.

  • Their writings were characterized by John Barth as “the literature of exhaustion.”

  • These writers tend to write metafiction—that is, fiction that is aware of itself as fiction. They emphasize play, and games. And mass media pervades their works.

  • An example of this is the short story “Autobiography,” by John Barth. In the story, it is the story itself that seeks to tell its own tale. The influence of mass media is evident in comments made by the story with reference to itself that reflect the common theme in American mass media culture that “it is not responsible” for its own birth or existence. And the entire short story evidences the theme of game-playing that is so evident in American Post-Modern fiction.

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Post-Modernism, continued

  • The general characteristics of Post-Modernism are as follows:

    • Metafiction: that is, the story is “aware of itself” as fiction.

    • Abandons verisimilitude: that is, the author is not trying to make the story seem “real.” Instead, Post-Modern authors often call attention to the fact that their creations are just that—made-up.

    • Focus on mass media and/or consumer culture: that is, the influence of television, radio, and movies is highlighted—often lampooned—and our throwaway culture is criticized.

    • Parody: that is, Post-Modern writers often take a work that has been previously published and change the form of the original so that the assumptions that underlay the original work are called into question.

    • Focus on play and/or games: that is, these works often feature games and different types of game-playing as themes.

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The Marginalized

  • Finally, the short stories of those who have been marginalized has risen to prominence over the course of the 20th Century.

  • Examples of the many groups who have been “pushed to the side” by mainstream American culture are African Americans, Latinas—that is, American women of Latin American descent—and Native Americans.

  • Native American writers like Sherman Alexie (The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Reservation Blues)are now speaking out though their fiction in ways that were impossible in times past. These writers tend to write fiction which emphasizes their Native American culture. The often tell stories about lower-class or oppressed characters. Many times, Native Americans use culture-based myths to help tell their tales. The oral tradition is often emphasized as an alternative to the written.

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The Marginalized, continued

  • The general characteristics of Marginalized Literature are as follows:

    • Oppressed and/or lower-class characters: the people in stories written by Marginalized writers are often Indians on reservations or African Americans living in rough inner city neighborhoods.

    • Emphasis on oral tradition and/or the spoken word: that is, Marginalized writers often use folktales or family stories told by elders to younger generations in their writing. Oftentimes, these folktales and/or stories reveal elements of the culture of the marginalized group.

    • Cultural tension: that is, the historical tension between Anglo-American cultural traditions and Latin American/Native American/African American cultural traditions is emphasized.

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An Example

  • An example of an analysis of a short story, including a sample Formal Outline for Paper 4 and Formal MLA Style Paper 4 essay, is provided in Section 5.

  • To view the example, please click on the sample5 hyperlink directly below the link for this presentation.

  • Pay special attention to the construction of the argument presented in the example.

  • You must have an argument—including a thesis statement and topic sentences—in your Paper 4.

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