This page contains stories where a character becomes fixated on a particular thing or outcome.
Gooseberries | Anton Chekhov
Nicolai wants his own farm with gooseberry bushes where he can live out his life. He makes it his entire focus; he becomes stingy and marries an old, wealthy widow whom he has no feelings for.
The Birthmark | Nathaniel Hawthorne
Aylmer is an accomplished scientist and philosopher. He marries a beautiful woman, Georgiana, who has one physical flaw, a small birthmark on her cheek. He becomes obsessed with removing it.
A Slander | Anton Chekhov
A schoolmaster is at the wedding reception he has arranged for his daughter. He is outraged when a false rumor about him spreads.
The New Dress | Virginia Woolf
Mabel Waring goes to a party wearing her new dress. She couldn’t afford the latest style so she had one made from a cheaper pattern. She becomes consumed with how she looks and how she is viewed by the other attendees.
A Double Buggy at Lahey Creek | Henry Lawson
Ever since Mary got married she’s wanted a double buggy. Her husband, Joe, has always worked hard, and they had planned on buying one several times but it never worked out. Mary suggests that Joe plant a potato crop to make some extra money, even though others in the area haven’t had success with potatoes.
Moon-Face | Jack London
The narrator hates John Claverhouse especially his optimistic view of life, his laugh, and his name. He knows that it’s an irrational hatred, but instead of ignoring the man, he obsesses over him, making it his aim to destroy Claverhouse’s life.
Night | Bret Lott
A man wakes up in the night, thinking he can hear his child’s breathing in the next room. He gets up to check.
Please Hold Me the Forgotten Way | H. J. Shepard
A woman goes to cut a man’s long hair because he dislikes things that make him attractive. She thinks of him often.
A Piece of String | Guy de Maupassant
A man is walking to the market one day when he stops to pick up a piece of string. Soon after, it is reported that a wallet with 500 francs was lost. His act of picking up something makes him a suspect. He vehemently denies any guilt.
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.
The Death of a Government Clerk | Anton Chekhov
A government clerk sneezes while at the opera, accidentally spraying the man in front of him. Although he apologizes several times, he’s worried that the matter isn’t closed.
Harpist on Horseback | Hilda Cole Espy
When Cassie is eight she wants to play the harp, as well as ride horses. Because she is young and a daydreamer, her mother isn’t sure if she should take Cassie seriously. Her desire persists and eventually her mother tries to find a harp.
A Curtain of Green | Eudora Welty
Mrs. Larkin is an elderly widow. She spends her days from morning until dark working in her garden. She is focused on planting whatever she can, and isolates herself from her community.
Strayed | Charles G. D. Roberts
A young domesticated ox has a wild nature – he longs to escape his yoke and flee into the forest. He remembers good times there and wants to live free in an endless summer.
Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers | Aldous Huxley
Emberlin is an academic, an encyclopedia of irrelevant information. While researching an obscure quotation, he becomes fixated on numbers and counting to the exclusion of everything else.
Read here (Pg 192)
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams | Sylvia Plath
The narrator is an assistant to the secretary in the out-patient ward of a hospital. She is responsible for typing up people’s dreams and complaints about life. She becomes obsessed with transferring the hospital records to her own bible of dreams, with Johnny Panic as the god. One day the director catches her with the official records.
Antaeus | Borden Deal
T. J. is a young boy whose family has moved North for work. He is introduced by the narrator to the local group of boys who hang out together. T. J. Is surprised to learn there is nowhere to grow anything like he is used to in the South. When he suggests turning their hangout into a garden, everyone is interested and gets to work.
Janus | Anne Beattie
Andrea, a successful real estate agent, has a favorite bowl that she displays in homes she is selling. She feels the bowl is responsible for her success, and it seems to be on her mind frequently.
The Hungarian Professor | Jeffrey Archer
The narrator sees the obituary of a distinguished Hungarian professor of English and translator. He recounts the time he met this man ten years after the Hungarian Revolution when he was in Budapest for a student athletic event. Although the professor lived in Budapest, he was immersed in English literature and England.
The Iliad of Sandy Bar | Bret Harte
Scott and York are seen walking in opposite directions after the sound of an altercation and two gunshots. The townspeople try to get the details of the dispute but it remains hazy. Each man remains firmly entrenched in the feud.
Mrs. Bathurst | Rudyard Kipling
The narrator gets the story of Mr. Vickery, a reticent man who deserted the navy. He became infatuated with Mrs. Bathurst, a hotel proprietor known for her generosity.
The Man in a Case | Anton Chekhov
Byelikov is a teacher, strict, narrow-minded and obsessed with propriety and following the rules. When a new teacher, Kovalenko, moves into the area, some people think his sister, Varinka, would make a good match for Byelikov.
Great in the Hay | Norman Mailer
Al and Bert are both movie producers and are very similar. Al has an important distinction—he is known for being good in bed. Bert becomes obsessed with this thought.
The Tarn | Hugh Walpole
Foster has visited Fenwick to “put things right”—he heard Fenwick had some kind of grudge against him. Fenwick hates Foster but assures him everything is fine. Making conversation with him increases his irritation until he has to act.
The Lover of Horses | Tess Gallagher
The narrator’s great-grandfather loved horses, drinking and gambling. He accumulated twenty-nine horses and was likely a “whisperer”. At fifty-two he left his family for a circus.
The Seventh Trunk | Heinrich Boll
The narrator has been trying to finish a story for thirty-two years. Part one appeared in a small periodical which ceased publication before part two. It was a perfect story that has been on his mind ever since. He relates his search for the story and author.
Foxes | Timothy Findley
Morris Glendenning, a reclusive communications expert, is going to visit the Royal Ontario Museum for some research. He had chanced upon a picture of a Japanese theatre mask called Fox, which was being held by the museum. He became fascinated with it.
The Thrower-Away | Heinrich Boll
The narrator is reluctant to tell people what he does for a living. He works in the basement of a large insurance firm. He sorts the incoming mail into what is useful and what must be thrown away. He has been preoccupied with sorting mail since he was a boy.