These short stories deal with the various feelings people experience when they’re forced to be on their own more than they want.
They also feature characters who are seeking connection or those who have company but are disconnected from those around them.
It’s a common literary theme, closely related to Community | Connection
See also Depression | Mental Illness
Here are some stories that might interest an avid reader, or that might be suitable short stories for middle school kids.
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.
Hands | Sherwood Anderson
Wing Biddlebaum lives in isolation in a small town. Over twenty years ago he was a teacher, but a boy made an accusation against him which caused the citizens to run Wing out of town.
Soldier’s Home | Ernest Hemingway
Krebs comes home after the First World War and keeps to himself. His mother wants him to do something with his life and meet people.
The Elephant Vanishes | Haruki Murakami
An elephant, a ward of a Japanese town, disappears along with its caregiver. The narrator follows the story of the elephant closely, clipping all the news articles and thinking about what happened.
The Naked Lady | Madison Smartt Bell
A sculptor’s friend throws a drinking party for him to get his mind off an unrequited love. They are roommates who live roughly and in poverty.
Two Little Soldiers | Guy De Maupassant
Two soldiers take a weekly Sunday rest and meal at a little spot in the country. They become acquainted with a milk maid who passes by.
A Painful Case | James Joyce
Mr. Duffy begins an innocent relationship with a married woman, Mrs. Sinico. After spending a lot of time together, Mrs. Sinico takes Mr. Duffy’s hand, causing him to end their relationship.
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.
No Door (Part 1) | Thomas Wolfe
A man talks about how he has spent much of his life alone. He describes how other people – people with comfortable lives and lots of warm contact – react to his situation.
This story has four parts, but part one can be read as a story in its own right.
Vanka | Anton Chekhov
An orphan apprenticed to a shoemaker surreptitiously writes a letter to his grandfather, asking to be taken to live with him, so he can escape his life of deprivation and mistreatment.
A Clean Well-Lighted Place | Ernest Hemingway
An old man sits alone in a café and drinks, as is his custom. Two waiters talk about the man’s life and wish he would go home.
The Omnibus | Arthur Quiller-Couch
On a sweltering day in London, eleven people ride an omnibus. A young boy boards the bus, headed for the docks. He’s alone and setting out into the world for the first time.
The Eskimo Connection | Hisaye Yamamoto
Emiko Toyama, a Japanese poet and widow, gets a letter from Alden Walunga, a young Eskimo man in a federal penitentiary. Despite their differences, she begins a correspondence with him and learns a lot about his life.
The Painted Door | Sinclair Ross
John walks five miles from his farm to his father’s to help him with chores. His wife Ann doesn’t want him to go because they’re expecting a storm and she wants the company. He says he’ll ask their neighbor Steven to drop in to play cards while he’s gone. Ann decides to do some painting to pass the time. After a while the weather turns bad.
In Another Country | Ernest Hemingway
The narrator, a young man, is getting physical rehabilitation for a leg wound received at the front in WW I. Four other young men are also getting therapy. They hang out together after their sessions at the Café Cova.
Through the Tunnel | Doris Lessing
An eleven-year-old boy, Jerry, is vacationing with his mother at the beach. Jerry joins a group of older boys who are swimming, but because he is young and foreign they ignore him. They are swimming through a rocky tunnel and Jerry is also determined to do it.
Swimming Lessons | Rohinton Mistry
Kersi lives in an apartment complex in Toronto and compares it to a housing complex he remembers from India. He writes letters to his parents back home. Kersi fantasizes about women but doesn’t have any real contact with them. He signs up for swimming lessons.
You’re Ugly, Too | Lorrie Moore
Zoe Hendricks is an unmarried history professor. She lives alone and has trouble connecting with men. She likes using humor, often at the expense of whoever is nearby. Her sister invites her to a Halloween party.
Souvenir | Jayne Anne Phillips
Every year, Kate sends her mother a Valentine’s Day card, timed to arrive exactly on February 14th. This year she has forgotten. She calls her mother that evening instead. The next day she finds out that her mother is in the hospital.
The Door in the Wall | H. G. Wells
Lionel Wallace is a successful politician who has become preoccupied with a memory from his childhood. While wandering around he had come across a green door on a white wall and, although he thought he might get in trouble for it, he entered. He found a perfect garden with tame animals and friendly people. Eventually, it vanished and he was alone again.
Kew Gardens | Virginia Woolf
In a garden during July, the narrator focuses on a few conversations taking place between people who are walking. The narrator intersperses this with descriptions of the garden and an accounting of the slow progression of a snail.
The Man Who Lived Underground | Richard Wright
An unnamed man is hiding from the police. In his desperate state he lifts a manhole cover and, despite the rushing water below, jumps in. He explores the tunnels and thinks about his options.
This story is a novella.
The Tenant | Bharati Mukherjee
Maya Sanyal has just found an apartment in Iowa with the help of her friend, Fran. Maya is an Indian immigrant who broke with tradition, having married an American man and lived in the country for ten years. Her husband left her, leaving her on her own in America and still isolated from her Indian family.
Community Life | Lorrie Moore
Olena, a librarian, meets Nick, a political campaigner, and they start a relationship. She misses her parents who were killed in a car crash. Olena keeps to herself a lot, while Nick interacts with many people.
Day of the Butterfly | Alice Munro
Helen remembers Myra, a girl from her Grade Six class. Myra is the target of ridicule and bullying, and doesn’t play with the other girls. One day Helen catches up with Myra as they’re walking to school. They have a friendly talk. Helen is worried that this small bond with Myra will hurt her social standing.
Poor Visitor | Jamaica Kincaid
It’s a woman’s first day working as a live-in nanny who goes to school at night. She adjusts to her new routine and misses her own home.
Adventure | Sherwood Anderson
When Alice Hindman was sixteen, she had an affair with a young man, Ned Currie. Ned plans on going to the city for work and then returning for Alice. While she waits, she becomes employed as a clerk and saves her money.
1933 | Mavis Gallant
When Mr. Carette dies, his wife and two daughters move to a smaller apartment. The move is unsettling for the children. Mme. Carette speaks little English and one of the landlords, Mme. Grosjeans, speaks no French, making connection difficult.
Do Stay, Giraffe | Wolfgang Borchert
A man stands alone during a windy night in a train station. The darkness is oppressive. He is approached by a young woman who asks him to come with her.
The Man without a Country | Edward Everett Hale
Lieutenant Philip Nolan is accused of conspiracy. When found guilty, he proclaims that he never wants to hear of the United States again. He is sentenced to live out his life at sea, and the crew is ordered not to tell him anything about the United States.
The Third and Final Continent | Jhumpa Lahiri
A man leaves India in 1964 to live in London. After five years, he is offered a job in America, at the library of MIT. At the same time, his marriage is arranged back in Calcutta. He gets married and moves to Boston to start his new life.
Theft | Katherine Anne Porter
A woman loses her purse. She thinks back on the events of the evening to figure out what happened to it. She had several shallow interactions; she sifts thru the details.
Like a Family | Meg Pokrass
A secretary for an architectural firm lives in the city in a small room. She waits for an important phone call.
The Japanese Quince | John Galsworthy
Mr. Nilson perceives a peculiar sensation in his throat, leading him to take a morning walk in the nearby gardens to shake this uncomfortable feeling. During his trip, he sees Mr. Tandram which makes him feel awkward because they have never spoken even though they’re neighbors.
The Spinoza of Market Street | Isaac Bashevis Singer
Dr. Fichelson, a philosopher, lives by the rationalist teachings of Spinoza. He lives on a small income after being fired from his post as librarian at a synagogue, due to his views, which contradict Jewish doctrine.
Wunderkind | Carson McCullers
Frances, fifteen, arrives at the home of her piano instructor, Mr. Bilderbach. She is nervous; her playing has deteriorated lately. She has her lesson, and thinks about her history with her instructor, recent events that worry her, and her hopes and concerns.
The Field of Mustard | A. E. Coppard
Dinah, Amy, and Rose are gathering kindling in the woods. They talk about their relationships with each other and men, and their lives.
The Overcoat | Nikolai Gogol
A poor government clerk, Akaky, gets teased at work over his ragged overcoat. He tries to get it repaired, but the tailor declares it a lost cause. Akaky lives on a strict budget to save up for a new one.
See also: Rosa (Holocaust), Leaving the Yellow House (Poverty), In the Kindergarten (Revenge), Regret (Love), The Geranium / The Homecoming Stranger / The Gay Old Dog (Family), The Minister’s Black Veil (Allegories)
I will try to add more stories about loneliness, isolation, or alienation that could be helpful for teaching reading and reading comprehension to middle and high school students. Eventually, I hope these pages will become a teaching resource.