Discuss the distinctiveness of the literary art form of short story and the objectives of the students as readers of
What is a short story?
Since what time we do not
know, stories have been giving delight to mankind. Tales of man’s experience have been told and retold to very keenly
interested audiences throughout human history, and he was always inclined to derive suitable morals from them. In the prehistoric
times, these were circulated by words of mouth through generations, and such had been the charm of them, that they were never
forgotten or lost from man’s cultural heritage. One of the oldest examples of such story telling is said to be the Egyptian
tale of “The Two Brothers” (3200 B.C.). The Jataka tales describing
Buddha’s earlier births
and the Sanskrit fables about animals are also very well known in the story telling scene.
Man, being a social animal,
had to tell and listen to anecdotes as his impulses forced him to do so, and this naturally began before he had learnt to
write. In due course of time, in a natural evolution of this trend, there came a time, when the material of the story was
worked upon and turned into much more entertaining and instructive form, which would, over a period o0f time, became more
sophisticated and artistic so as to be called literature. Occasionally, mighty names like Solomon, Ulysses, Varuna and the
likes were linked to the story line to arouse awe in the minds of the listeners, and to add historical and mythical importance
to them. Great religious or historical events also inspired much story telling, and slowly but surely, the art bloomed into
such finesse and lent such wonderful shape and form to the materials that numerous such narratives became timeless, and mankind
preserved them as a precious inheritance.
Innumerable fairy tales,
stories of gods and supermen of bygone millennia still gives us pleasure, including the tens of thousands of myths, folktales
and legends of almost all countries. Our prophets and seers also told us parables which we have listened to avidly
over the ages to satisfy
both our love of tales as well as to satisfy our spiritual quests.
Almost every country’s
literary history is replete with such traditions of story telling and they have easily transgressed time and space, sometimes
because of their ability to solve man’s spiritual crisis, and more frequently because of their wonderful capacity to
impart pure joy. The glories of the Greek legends and their heroes were sung in the Iliad and the Odyssey. The extravagant
tales of the Arabian Nights found a ready audience in all the corners of the globe, and the Bible, one of the most widely
read books by man presented its fine repository of moral stories
to the world. Medieval singers of England
and Scotland wandered from place to place as they sung heroic
lays on the exploits of king Arthur and his mighty knights. Finally it was the Decameron, that gave the suitable character
to the short story in Italy, and the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer
followed its footsteps in England.
The stories of the later
times now began to change their course from the supernatural and the timeless, space less domains of the gods. Man’s
own life and his immediate circumstances affecting and shaping his struggles for existence became the subject matter of these
accounts. The early story tellers were proficient in the art of holding the interest of their listeners, yet they were practical
enough to mould their narratives to the mood of the audience gathered round them. But it was only after the invention of the
printing, that the medieval stories changed their form and style, and became more or less fixed in manner. The short story
became more close-knit, when some short story writers made them more realistic with life like characterizations in settings
that appeared to be familiar. It is only then that the short story first announced its claim to be termed as literature.
This particular literary
art form, in English, began its journey in the New World, and in the hands of master story tellers
like O’ Henry, assumed its specific character as a different and definite form of literature for the first time in the
The popularity of short stories
is demonstrated in our times by the plethora of magazines and periodicals, which publish them on a regular basis, and by the
large numbers of the readers, who immensely enjoy them. The moderate length of the short story is definitely an advantage
to modern man as he has so little time in hand to pursue anything else than his livelihood in these days of stress and competition.
The short story, along with the development of magazine literature, seems to be a custom-built solution to contemporary man’s
need for intellectual enjoyment, and this must be the reason why this literary art is
so widely practiced today.
During the last two centuries, this factor has largely been responsible in giving a tremendous fillip to the development of
the short story. It is true that the success of the Novel, prior to this, in a sense, paved the way for the short story, but
once it conclusively formed its characteristic qualities, it inevitably began commanding attention.
How short a short
story should be?
The last hundred and fifty
years have witnessed certain well marked features to be associated with short stories. This art form, has nevertheless retained
its vital characteristics very well, which are unmistakably its own. Critics and scholars are now of the opinion that a short
story is supposed to be in length between about two to seven thousand words. Shorter than this, would be inadequate even to
be called a anecdote, and longer than this, would tend to make it a novelette.
The idea of unity
The paramount quality, which
is invariably associated with the short story, is the all pervading sense of unity it tries to encompass and project throughout
the length and breadth of its body. However, they are not the same as the three unities linked with the concept of the classical
drama. The unifying property of a fine technical execution is not that important here, as compared to the concept, convincing
delivery of a single message or the proper presence and manifestations of the aesthetic objectives, the short story is so
famous for. The implication is that it is not an expansive thing which would accept any extraneous element or component that
comes its way.
The short story must present
a single idea, a unified situation or impression, rendering it with an uncanny precision in the most creative manner. These
factors distinguish it from a novel. The novel is expansive whereas the short story is compressive, concise and pithy. The
short story must be cohesive from the very beginning to its end, and so must avoid all, that is unnecessary or irrelevant
to the unique purpose it sets out to achieve. The conditions, without doubts, are rigid, but as the artist has to work under
these stringent requirements, he is made to give his best while adopting this particular fictional art medium. And that is
why a good short story writer chooses an action or a character or an atmosphere or simply an emotional tone as the subject
matter of his art. He has to be unusually focused to employ the best of his art in selection of his materials, as well as
in giving it the desired shape to create an unforgettable effect on the readers’ mind.
The final twist or the element
The element of
surprise is another landmark aspect of a short story. There is no hard and fast rule that every single short story must have
this feature, but there must be some secret hidden up its sleeve till the very end. This serves the purpose of sustaining
the interest of the reader during the progression of the story, and on its revelations at the end, transports the reader to
a higher level of understanding. Hence, the completion of the reader’s gradually deepening interest is the most important
element of a short story.
surprise is achieved by inverting the order of events, as is frequently done in detective stories. Te mystery or the murder
is not allowed to be resolved till the very last, while every possibility is examined from all angles. As a rule, even in
narratives where there is no murder or mystery, and the surprise is not so obvious, the direction, the aim or the essential
significance of the whole situation is kept in reserve to enliven the general atmosphere and the final impact of the story.
There should preferably be a twist at the end so that it can incorporate both surprise and an imaginative appeal. Such touches
of surprises are in fact essential as they go a long way to drive home the message that the short story tries to impart. A
short story has its sting in its tail, as the saying goes, in the sense, that the sense of wonder or shock is meted out to
the reader towards its completion, not at any point of time before.
The challenges of a short
The writer should straightaway
take us to the heart of a situation without going into lengthy paraphernalia about things having no bearing on the central
theme. He should also take are that the ending aptly presents itself in a perfect synthesis of time and something of depth
or to look into perceptions or emotions which are normally beyond our comprehensions. In a word, our imagination should be
stirred instead of being forced to boredom or tiredness.
The plot, not a must any
For quite some time now,
the short story is often written without any discernible plot as well, as is also the case with the novel to some extent.
But while a novel should necessarily has to have at least a thinned-out plot, the short story writer, with his constraints
of space and time, can do away with it to his advantage if he so desires. A modern short story may just portray a character
or characters, an ambiance, a feeling or a piece of psychological analysis. Such treatments have been in vogue in recent times.
Personal moods, intentions or some strange motives, not necessarily universal or familiar all the time, have been highlighted
in these stories to make us realize the complex working of the human mind. Today the short story has infinite variety in contents
as well as in treatments and rendering of the same. Hundreds of such excellent short stories are being enjoyed by the sensitive
readers at the moment all over the world.
The objectives of the readers
of short stories
Although reading a good short
story is a pleasure in its own right, the reader should consciously try to absorb the very many aspects of this beautiful
and complex art form as best as he can. First of all, getting even with the characters and the situations, and delving into
the motives of the characters, help the readers to understand why and how the fictional characters behave in a picky fashion under the given circumstances in the story. And as he reaches the climax
(the turning point) of the storyline, he must make sure that he has got the message (moral or simply a revelation) right.
Has the reader really perceived the significance of what the writer wants to convey to him through the surprise element he
presents at the end of the story? Repeated and animated reading of a short story, principally those of classical moulds, is
a must to discover their real worth and more often than not, their hidden charms and mysteries.
Secondly, the student reader
should be able to critically examine the story to discover its theme once he has read the same.
Closely following and comprehending
the development of the storyline, the delineation of the plot and getting closely familiar with the setting and background
will enable you to appreciate the story like a connoisseur does.