Short Stories About Work

Counterparts | James Joyce

Farrington is criticized at work and then leaves for a drink, causing further reproof when he returns.

Read “Counterparts”

The Tuxedos | Jerome Weidman

A young man works for a small formal wear rental store. His boss sends him out shortly before quitting time on a difficult delivery. It requires him to carry many boxes and take the subway.

Sleepy | Anton Chekhov

Varka, a servant girl of thirteen, is obligated to do numerous household chores during the day and tend to the baby at night.

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Small Fry | Anton Chekhov

Nevyrazimov is a lowly government clerk, working on Easter eve. He’s trying to write a note of congratulations to a higher ranking man, with the hope of getting a small promotion. He resents his lot in life.

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The Postcard | Heinrich Boll

An assistant manager at a textile firm recalls the day he received an important postcard that set his future path in motion.

Life in the Iron Mills | Rebecca Harding Davis

Hugh lives in poverty and works at a foundry. His cousin, Deborah, works long hours at a cotton mill. Despite doing physical, demanding, and uncreative work, Hugh has an artist’s sensibility, sculpting in his free time. One evening, an opportunity arises for Deborah to better their situation.

This story is a novella.

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Neighbour Rosicky | Willa Cather

Anton Rosicky is a sixty-five-year old Nebraska farmer. He is told by his doctor that he has to stop doing heavy farm labor. Anton reflects on his life of hard work and his family.

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The Underground Gardens | T. Coraghessan Boyle

Baldasare Forestiere is a thirty-two-year-old Italian American immigrant living on seventy acres of California land. He tries to grow his own vineyard, but the land isn’t fertile. He works for other people to make some money, and starts digging more rooms in his underground home. He eventually meets Ariadne, giving him a new goal – to get her to marry him.

Forty-Five a Month | R. K. Narayan

A little girl, Shanta, is concerned about the time and tries to leave school early. Her father, Venkat, promised to take her to a movie at 5 o’clock. Shanta rushes home, dresses up, and waits anxiously for her father’s return. Meanwhile, Venkat is at work, worrying that he won’t be allowed to leave on time. He resolves to quit if he is told to work late.

Read “Forty-Five a Month”

Action Will Be Taken | Heinrich Boll

The narrator recounts the time he was employed in Alfred Wunsiedel’s factory. Wunseidel was obsessed with taking action, and required his employees to be constantly busy. The narrator is a man of leisure, but manages to fit in to the company culture.

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An Old Maid’s Triumph | George Gissing

Miss Hurst has been working thirty years as a governess. She is being let go after the next quarter. She’s lived frugally and is carefully considering her retirement.

“An Old Maid’s Triumph”

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)

Mr. Stanfield’s Memo | Robert F. Hever

A company adopts the HRN 7000 Global Management System, an extensive documentation system that will allow new employees to take over a job with full productivity. It begins with much excitement and optimism, but concerns soon arise about the effort and cost involved.

The Long Sheet | William Sansom

Four groups of captives are being held in a long rectangular metal structure with skylights. Three feet off the ground, running thru all the cells, is a long white sheet soaked with water. The warders tell the captives that they will be released when their section of sheet has been wrung bone dry. Each group takes a different view of their work.

Read “The Long Sheet” (Pg 132)

A Simple Heart | Gustave Flaubert

After an early romantic disappointment, Felicite is hired as a housekeeper by Madame Aubain. Her work is exemplary and she loves the Aubain children very much. When the daughter takes catechism lessons and her first communion, Felicite becomes involved in religion.

This is a novella.

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A Wagner Matinee | Willa Cather

Clark gets a visit from his aunt, Georgiana, who’s in town on business. He thinks of how hard she has worked in her life. He takes her to a Wagner concert, and wonders if she’ll be able to appreciate it.

Read “A Wagner Matinee”

The Worker in Sandalwood | Marjorie Pickthall

An overworked boy, an expert woodcarver, has to make a cabinet from sandalwood on Christmas Eve. A stranger seeks refuge from the cold in his work shed.

Read “The Worker in Sandalwood”

The Saint Joseph’s Ass | Giovanni Verga

A little-valued donkey is sold several times, always working hard for its new owner.

Read “The Saint Joseph’s Ass”

Numbers in the Dark | Italo Calvino

A young boy, Paolino, accompanies his mother to work in the evening. They clean a large office building. Paolino likes seeing the equipment and supplies and is impressed by the machines.

Read “Numbers in the Dark”

The Beautiful Thing | Kit De Waal

The narrator’s father leaves Antigua to work in America and, later, to start again in England. He works hard and experiences some racism as he establishes himself.

Read “The Beautiful Thing”

A Field of Wheat | Sinclair Ross

A married couple in their late thirties, beaten down from years of hard work, lives in poverty on their farm. This year the husband’s wheat crop is the best it’s ever been, and there is hope of a large payout as wheat prices are high.

Read “A Field of Wheat” (PDF page 45)

My Uncle Fred | Heinrich Boll

The narrator relates a time from his boyhood when his uncle came home after WWII. The family was looking forward to some aid, as times were tough, but his uncle did nothing but eat, sleep and smoke.

Read “My Uncle Fred”