These selections feature characters or families that are trying to better their lives, for themselves and their children.
They often pursue the American Dream of home ownership and upward mobility thru work and education. Some are seeking a life of wealth and glamour.
See also Poverty
These stories might interest an avid reader, or might be suitable short stories for middle school kids.
The Egg | Sherwood Anderson
A thirty-five year old farmhand gets married, has a child, and decides he should rise in the world. The family raises chickens and opens a restaurant to meet their goals.
An End to Dreams | Stephen Vincent Benet
James Rimington is under anesthetic for an operation. He dreams of his personal and professional history, including all the stepping stones in his path to success.
America and I | Anzia Yezierska
Despite wanting to live a life of creativity and self-expression, an immigrant encounters disappointments and injustice in America.
The First Seven Years | Bernard Malamud
Feld is a shoemaker who wants his daughter, Miriam, to marry Max, a young man pursuing his education. After Feld tries to set them up, his assistant, Sobel, quits.
Sophistication | Sherwood Anderson
The Winesburg County Fair is on, bringing many people into town. George doesn’t feel a connection to his fellow townspeople but he is interested in Helen, who wants to escape small-town life, as he does.
The Patented Gate and the Mean Hamburger | Robert Warren Penn
The Yorks own their own house and like to go into town on the weekends. On one visit, Mrs. York asks about the cost of buying her favorite hamburger place.
Read here (Page 120)
Falling Off the Empire State Building | Harry Mazer
Lenny’s father doesn’t seem to be proud of him and they have trouble bonding over stickball, a game Lenny likes to play. When he grows up, Lenny is going to leave his father behind and live the American Dream.
Two Kinds | Amy Tan
The mother of a young Chinese American girl believes that people in America can be anything they want. This mother has high hopes for her daughter. One night while watching the Ed Sullivan Show, she figures out what her daughter should do.
In the American Society | Gish Jen
Callie Chang’s parents are Chinese immigrants who started a successful pancake restaurant. Her family is adapting to American business standards and society.
King of the Bingo Game | Ralph Ellison
A black man sits through a movie, waiting for the bingo game to follow. He falls asleep and dreams about an incident from his past when he was almost killed and the white people laughed at it. The man could really use the jackpot for his family.
Snapshot, Harvey Cedars: 1948 | Paul Lisicky
A man and woman—young and attractive—are on a vacation at the beach. He is thinking about work, and making a name for himself.
Read “Snapshot, Harvey Cedars: 1948” (Page 6, halfway down)
Winter Dreams | F. Scott Fitzgerald
Dexter Green is a fourteen-year-old caddy, working for pocket money. He quits one day when Judy Jones, a beautiful eleven-year-old, treats him as an inferior. Years later he goes into business and becomes a success. He has another meeting with Judy Jones.
Shiloh | Bobbie Ann Mason
Leroy has been off work for four months since getting hurt. His wife, Norma Jean, supports them both by working at a drugstore. Leroy is glad to be home with his wife, but he’s worried that she’s drawing away from him – maybe his presence reminds her of their son who died as a baby.
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.
I will try to add more stories 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.