Absurdist Short Stories

These stories, which can be classed as absurdism or existential, feature characters who can’t find meaning in life.

They often have characters going thru purposeless actions, and have non-traditional structures. Others have narrators who relate seemingly meaningless things.

In The Penal Colony | Franz Kafka

A visiting dignitary is given a tour of a penal colony, particularly its justice/torture machine. The machine is falling out of favor, and an officer wants the visitor to speak to the commandant against it.

Read “In the Penal Colony”

The Wall | Jean-Paul Sartre

Pablo is accused of being a war criminal. He is held in a cell with two other men. They are all informed they will be executed. They each deal with the news differently.

This story illustrates Sartre’s existentialism.

Read “The Wall”

Ex Oblivione | H. P. Lovecraft

A dying man dreams he is in a valley and finds a concealed bronze gate. He wants to know what’s on the other side, but future dreams give him contradictory answers.

This story has the philosophical message that nothingness is better than life, possibly based on some of the work of Schopenhauer.

Read “Ex Oblivione”

A Country Doctor | Franz Kafka

A doctor experiences several surreal events when he’s called out during a winter’s night to treat a sick man.

This surreal tale of a doctor’s effort to reach a sick boy can be read as an argument for existentialism.

Read “A Country Doctor”

Dante and the Lobster | Samuel Beckett

Before visiting his aunt for supper, a man goes about his daily errands. He brings lobster with him, but is surprised that it’s still alive.

This story introduces some recurring Beckett themes such as living passively, aimlessness, and the meaninglessness of life.

Read “Dante and the Lobster”

Symphony No. 2 | Daniil Kharms

A fickle narrator begins telling the story of Anton Mikhailovich but doesn’t get far.

This story is very short and funny.

Read “Symphony No. 2”

Blue Notebook No. 2 | Daniil Kharms

The narrator talks about a redheaded man who is missing some important things.

Another short, funny one.

Read “Blue Notebook No. 2”

A Distant Episode | Paul Bowles

A linguistics Professor visits Ain Tadouirt, in the warm country. He goes to the cafe of Hassan Ramani, a man he had met ten years earlier. After finding out his old acquaintance is dead, he gets a local to show him where to buy some goods he is looking for. They set off on a walk.

In an introduction to this story, John L’Heureux said “Not Kafka, not Sartre, not Beckett, not one of them has explored the horrors…of meaninglessness, of man at the mercy of a universe without purpose or design or justification, in quite the way Bowles explores it here.”

Read “A Distant Episode”