Best Short Stories of All Time

This page is a collection of the greatest short stories of all time that could serve as an introduction to short stories, or to help avid readers find well known stories to enjoy.

These aren’t official selections. They are frequently anthologized stories and are generally considered to be excellent examples of the form.

Best Short Stories Ever to Read Online

Harrison Bergeron | Kurt Vonnegut

All Americans are equal – no one is allowed to be better than anyone else in any way. An exceptional fourteen-year-old, Harrison, is taken away from his parents by the government.

Read “Harrison Bergeron”

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings | Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In a small town, an old man with wings washes up on shore. There are many ideas about what he is and where he’s from. A couple takes him and locks him up on their property.

Read “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

The Landlady | Roald Dahl

A young salesman stays at an eerily quiet but seemingly perfect bed and breakfast.

Read “The Landlady”

The Lady, or the Tiger? | Frank Stockton

A king has a peculiar method of putting criminals on trial. They’re placed in an arena and allowed to pick between two doors.  Behind one is a beautiful woman; behind the other, a hungry tiger.

Read “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

A Hunger Artist | Franz Kafka

A hunger artist – a professional faster – puts on public fasting exhibitions. The public responds enthusiastically at first, but eventually loses interest.

Read “A Hunger Artist”

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Joyce Carol Oates

A rebellious fifteen-year-old girl encounters an older man in a parking lot. He later shows up at her place when she’s home alone to ask her to go for a ride with him.

Read “Where Are You Going”

Hills Like White Elephants | Ernest Hemingway

At a train station, a man and woman have a casual conversation which transitions into something serious. It’s not explicitly stated what they’re talking about.

Read “Hills Like White Elephants”

The Cask of Amontillado | Edgar Allan Poe

The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man who insulted him. Montresor lures the man into his cellar with the promise of tasting a rare vintage of Amontillado.

Read “The Cask of Amontillado”

A Worn Path | Eudora Welty

An elderly African-American woman, Phoenix Jackson, walks through the Mississippi forest to get into town. She encounters many obstacles along the way that test her resolve.

Read “A Worn Path”

Thorough collection of highly regarded American short stories

The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin

A woman receives the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. She processes the news over the next hour, experiencing a range of emotions.

Read “The Story of an Hour”

A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner

A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life.

Read “A Rose for Emily”

The Snows of Kilimanjaro | Ernest Hemingway

On the African savanna, a man’s leg is rotting with gangrene. His wife tries to comfort and encourage him. As he waits for death, he thinks about his life.

Read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

The Open Window | Saki

A man is visiting the country for some relaxation. While waiting to be introduced to all the members of the household, a young girl tells him the story of their tragic family history.

Read “The Open Window”

Symbols and Signs | Vladimir Nabokov

An elderly couple intend to visit their son in a mental institution, but because of a recent suicide attempt, they are not allowed to see him. The husband decides to remove the son from the facility.

Read “Symbols and Signs”

Flowers for Algernon | Daniel Keyes

A mentally retarded man undergoes a procedure to vastly increase his intelligence. He keeps a diary of his progress and personal interactions.

Read “Flowers for Algernon”

The Garden-Party | Katherine Mansfield

The Sheridans, an upper-class family, are making preparations for a garden party. Before it starts, they hear that a working-class neighbor has just died.

Read “The Garden-Party”

The Tell-Tale Heart | Edgar Allan Poe

An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believes his boarder, an old man, watches him with an “Evil Eye.”

Read “The Tell-Tale Heart”

The Bet | Anton Chekhov

At a dinner party, a banker argues that capital punishment is preferable to life imprisonment. A young lawyer disagrees, saying that he would rather life in prison than death. They bet two million rubles that the lawyer can’t stay isolated for fifteen years.

Read “The Bet”

The Yellow Wallpaper | Charlotte Perkins Gilman

A woman is confined to the upstairs bedroom of a summer home by her doctor husband. She has “nervous depression” and a “hysterical tendency”. The confinement has an added negative effect on her mental health, which she documents in her journal.

Read “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Araby | James Joyce

A boy wants to go to a bazaar to get something for his crush, the older sister of a neighbor friend.

Read “Araby”

Cathedral | Raymond Carver

A woman and a blind man have kept in contact for ten years, mailing tapes to each other. His wife has recently died, so he’s going to visit her family. On the way, he’s going to spend a night at the woman’s place with her new husband. Her husband isn’t looking forward to the visit.

Read “Cathedral”

Babylon Revisited | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Charlie Wales returns to Paris to get back his daughter, Honoria. She has been living with his sister, Marion. Charlie is financially secure and has abandoned the partying and drinking that contributed to the death of his wife and loss of his daughter.

Read “Babylon Revisited”

Revelation | Flannery O’Connor

Mrs. Turpin and her husband are in a doctor’s waiting room.  Mrs. Turpin is racist and judgmental, and she attracts the attention of a young woman, who looks at her intently.

Read “Revelation”

The Lottery | Shirley Jackson

Citizens of a small town are anticipating the annual “lottery”, a local tradition that is believed to bring a good harvest.

Read “The Lottery”

The Dead | James Joyce

Gabriel Conroy attends his aunt’s annual dinner and dance along with other family and friends.

Read “The Dead”

A Jury of Her Peers | Susan Glaspell

A farmer in Dixon County is found murdered in his home. His wife is the primary suspect and she is held on suspicion of the murder. While the authorities investigate the scene, two of the men’s wives collect a few items for the accused.

Read “A Jury of Her Peers”

The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry

A poor husband and wife try to figure out how to get each other a nice Christmas present.

Read “The Gift of the Magi”

The Necklace | Guy De Maupassant

Mathilde borrows a necklace from a rich friend to wear to a party, but she loses it.

Read “The Necklace”

The Door | E. B. White

A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors in the house, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.

Read “The Door”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | James Thurber

A mild and ineffectual man has a series of daydreams while accompanying his wife on her weekly errands.

Read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

Paul’s Case | Willa Cather

Paul gets suspended from his Pittsburgh High School. His father wants him to be a responsible wage-earning family man when he grows up, but Paul is drawn to a life of wealth and glamour, so he decides to go to New York.

Read “Paul’s Case”

The Swimmer | John Cheever

While relaxing at a friend’s pool, an affluent man decides to make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.

Read “The Swimmer”

Miss Brill | Katherine Mansfield

A middle-aged woman takes a weekly Sunday walk. She likes to observe and listen to people, but she overhears something that upsets her.

Read “Miss Brill”

Everyday Use | Alice Walker

Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South. Her daughter, Dee, an educated woman who’s drawn to a traditional African identity, is coming for a visit.

Read “Everyday Use”

The Steadfast Tin Soldier | Hans Christian Andersen

A boy gets a set of toy soldiers as a gift. One of the soldiers falls in love with a paper ballerina, but they’re kept apart when he falls from the windowsill and lands outside.

Read “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”

The Rocking-Horse Winner | D. H. Lawrence

A middle-class woman, successful but perpetually short of money, lives with her two children. She is unlucky, but her son isn’t: when he rides his rocking-horse, he’s able to work himself into a state where he can pick the winner of a horse race.

Read “The Rocking-Horse Winner”

Lamb to the Slaughter | Roald Dahl

Mrs. Maloney’s husband tells her that he’s leaving her. She is dazed by the news; she gets a frozen leg of lamb and strikes her husband with it, killing him. She comes up with a plan to conceal her guilt.

Read “Lamb to the Slaughter”

A Good Man is Hard to Find | Flannery O’Connor

An extended family is headed to Florida for a vacation. The grandmother wants to go to Tennessee instead, so she talks about an escaped murderer – The Misfit – who is suspected to be on his way to Florida.

Read “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

The Last Leaf | O. Henry

A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.

Read “The Last Leaf”

The Semplica-Girl Diaries | George Saunders

A forty-year-old father of three girls starts a diary to inform future readers how life is in the present. He chronicles the events leading up to the thirteenth birthday party of his oldest daughter, Lilly. The family is middle-class, but they live beyond their means. The father wants to buy his daughter an expensive present, and also wants a status symbol to show off to the neighbors.

Read “The Semplica-Girl Diaries”

To Build a Fire | Jack London

In the Yukon, a man is traveling on foot with a husky in the wilderness to meet some acquaintances. It’s – 75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots, necessitating a fire.

Read “To Build a Fire”

The Most Dangerous Game | Richard Connell

The owner of an island hunts people; if they can elude him for three days they are allowed to go free.

Read “The Most Dangerous Game”

The Little Match Girl | Hans Christian Andersen

A young girl seeks shelter from the cold in a nook. She can’t go home because she was unable to sell any matches; her father would beat her. She wants to light one of her matches to warm herself.

Read “The Little Match Girl”

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | Ambrose Bierce

A confederate sympathizer is sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.

Read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

I hope you enjoyed this list of the best short stories ever and found something new to read.