Short Stories About Authority

Most of the stories in this section show the individual in conflict with the authorities, coping with their rules or rebelling against them.

See also Dystopias

One of These Days | Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A corrupt mayor needs treatment for an abscessed tooth. He goes to an unlicensed dentist. The dentist doesn’t want to help, and they exchange some words.

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The Use of Force | William Carlos Williams

A doctor makes a house call to examine a young girl. He finds that she has hidden the severity of her illness and she resists the examination, leading to a battle of wills.

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Saboteur | Ha Jin

Mr. Chiu and his new wife are having lunch at a train station when a police officer throws some tea on the ground, getting some on their feet. A disagreement ensues and Mr. Chiu is arrested. He’s held in prison without his medication even though he tells his captors that his hepatitis could flare up again.

Almost Home | Barry McKinley

Slattery and Tarrant have Ali in custody and are escorting him out of Ireland. He entered the country at seventeen. He posed as a student and did various odd jobs.

Read “Almost Home” (Page 22; trial sign-up needed for full story)

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 the machine.

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Barn Burning | William Faulkner

Abner Snopes is being tried in a small-town court for allegedly burning down his landlord’s barn. He’s kicked out of town, and finds a new job working as a sharecropper.

Read “Barn Burning”

A Conversation from the Third Floor | Mohamed El-Bisatie

A woman goes to the prison where her husband is being held. She tries to talk to him through his third floor window.

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What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence | John Edgar Wideman

A man becomes obsessed with visiting the son of a deceased acquaintance who is in prison. The acquaintance doesn’t leave any contact information for his incarcerated son, so the man tries to track him down and make it through the system’s bureaucracy.

Hermann the Irascible | Saki

Hermann the Irascible rises to the British throne and makes many changes. His Prime Minister complains that the Suffragette movement is interfering with many government meetings. Hermann devises a plan to solve the problem.

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A Chameleon | Anton Chekhov

A police superintendent comes across a commotion in the street. A man has chased down a dog that had bitten his finger. He wants justice so the superintendent tries to identify the dog’s owner.

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Immortality | Yiyun Li

In communist China, a baby boy is born to a widow whose husband was killed for making negative remarks about the dictator. The boy grows to look like the dictator. He receives a government appointment, and, in his late twenties, auditions for the role of the dictator’s impersonator.

A Circle in the Fire | Flannery O’Connor

Mrs. Cope owns a large farm. She is protective of her property and feels she is good at handling whatever comes up. One day, three boys visit her; the father of one of the boys used to work for Mrs. Cope. That boy, Powell, remembers the farm and has been telling his friends about it. They want to enjoy farm life for a while.

Read “A Circle in the Fire” (Page 167)

Small Change | Yehudit Hendel

Rutchen had a troubled relationship with her father, Shlezi. He collected stamps and small change. Rutchen discovers that some of her father’s valueless change can be converted into new currency in a vending machine. She does this for a while but is eventually caught.

The Censors | Luisa Valenzuela

Juan writes a letter to Mariana, a woman he has feelings for. He immediately starts to worry because the censorship offices scrutinize all letters. He fears for his and Mariana’s safety. He decides to try to get a job in the censorship division, so he can intercept his own letter.

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The Statue of Liberty Factory | Jennifer Armstrong

Monica’s mother makes a lot of money selling Statue of Liberty souvenirs. Monica is given a trust to use as she wants when she is sixteen. She wants to go to Paris but her mother is against the idea, so Monica comes up with a way to protest.

The Jockey | Carson McCullers

A horse trainer, a bookie, and a rich man are eating at a restaurant when they see a jockey enter – the jockey who rides a horse owned by the rich man. They think he’s crazy or that he won’t last in the business due to an incident that happened six months before. The jockey confronts them about it.

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The Garden of Forking Paths | Jorge Luis Borges

A German spy knows that his cover has been blown and he’s being pursued by English authorities. He has vital information to communicate to his government, so he comes up with a plan: he finds a man named Stephen Albert in the phonebook and heads for his home.

Read “The Garden of Forking Paths”

Lather and Nothing Else | Hernando Tellez

An armed man enters a barbershop for a shave. The barber recognizes him; they are on opposite sides of some kind of political conflict that has turned violent. He has to decide what he will do with this opportunity.

“Lather and Nothing Else”

Hop-Frog | Edgar Allan Poe

The king loves jokes, especially practical jokes. His court jester, or “fool”, is a dwarf and a cripple named Hop-Frog. The king treats him badly, but Hop-Frog does his best to get by. A great state party is approaching, so the king turns to his “fool” for some costume advice.


My Brother at the Canadian Border | Sholeh Wolpé

The narrator relates how his brother was stopped at the Canadian border after claiming he was heading to Mexico. He becomes concerned when they question him about his race.

Read “My Brother at the Canadian Border”

The Guest | Albert Camus

An Arab prisoner is brought to the home of a teacher, Daru, who’s supposed to deliver the man to police headquarters. He doesn’t want to do it, but the Arab’s soldier escort leaves him there anyway.

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The Aged Mother | Matsuo Basho

A local despot proclaims that all aged people are to be put to death. A poor farmer prepares to let his mother die in a humane way – by bringing her to a mountain and leaving her there.

Read “The Aged Mother”

Montreal 1962 | Shauna Singh Baldwin

A Sikh couple moves to Canada, hopeful about starting their new lives. The husband is told he has to get rid of his turban and cut his hair if he wants employment.

Read “Montreal 1962”

Miss Awful | Arthur Cavanaugh

Robert is a third grade student who finds out his teacher, Miss Wilson, is going to be away for a while. He likes Miss Wilson because she is fun and lenient. The substitute teacher, Miss Orville, is strict about completing schoolwork and maintaining order in the classroom.

Read “Miss Awful”

The Secret Miracle | Jorge Luis Borges

Jaromir Hladik, an author, is in his apartment when he is arrested by the Nazis. He is sentenced to die by firing squad; he is terrified, but his biggest concern is that he won’t be able to finish his latest drama.

Read “The Secret Miracle”

The Fat Man in History | Peter Carey

Six fat men live together in post-revolutionary Australia. Fatness has come to be regarded as a symbol of the old regime – as greedy, evil and American. They support themselves by stealing. They are planning counter-revolutionary activities.

Read “The Fat Man in History”

My Father, the Englishman, and I | Nuruddin Farah

The narrator remembers when he was a young boy and his father was an interpreter for the Administrator of the Ogaden. His father is subservient to the white man. His mother disapproves of her husband’s behavior.

Read “My Father, the Englishman, and I”

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.

Read “The Wall”

See also: The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses (Racism), The Night the Ghost Got in (Humorous)