This page contains a wide selection of short fiction appropriate for college / university students. Every story is part of the literary canon and is suitable for deep reading and studying the usual story elements: plot, point of view, character, setting, tone and style, theme, and symbol.
The stories on this page are well known, so you should be able to find a lot of explanatory notes on most of them to supplement your understanding.
Sonny’s Blues | James Baldwin
The narrator is a teacher in Harlem; he has managed to keep away from the bad influences around him. His brother, Sonny, is a jazz musician with a heroin problem. They haven’t stayed close over the years.
A Hunger Artist | Franz Kafka
A hunger artist – a professional faster – puts on public fasting exhibitions. The public responds enthusiastically at first, but eventually loses interest.
This allegory (or myth) could represent the misunderstood artist who isn’t appreciated by the public.
Counterparts | James Joyce
Farrington is criticized at work and then leaves for a drink, causing further reproof when he returns.
The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin
A woman receives the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. She processes the news over the next hour, experiencing a range of emotions.
Cathedral | Raymond Carver
A woman and a blind man have kept in contact for ten years, mailing tapes to each other. His wife has recently died, so he’s going to visit her family. On the way, he’s going to spend a night at the woman’s place with her new husband. Her husband isn’t looking forward to the visit.
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.
The Yellow Wallpaper | Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A woman is confined to the upstairs bedroom of a summer home by her doctor husband. She has “nervous depression” and a “hysterical tendency”. The confinement has an added negative effect on her mental health, which she documents in her journal.
A Rose for Emily | William Faulkner
A Southern spinster, Emily Grierson, has died. She had been a recluse, so the townspeople are curious about her and her house. The narrator recounts episodes from her life.
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.
The Necklace | Guy De Maupassant
Mathilde borrows a necklace from a rich friend to wear to a party, but she loses it.
Everyday Use | Alice Walker
Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South. Her daughter, Dee, an educated woman who’s drawn to a traditional African identity, is coming for a visit.
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.
A Worn Path | Eudora Welty
An elderly African-American woman, Phoenix Jackson, walks through the Mississippi forest to get into town. She encounters many obstacles along the way.
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings | Gabriel Garcia Marquez
In a small town, an old man with wings washes up on shore. There are many ideas about what he is and where he’s from. A couple takes him and locks him up on their property.
A Good Man is Hard to Find | Flannery O’Connor
An extended family is headed to Florida for a vacation. The grandmother wants to go to Tennessee instead, so she talks about an escaped murderer – The Misfit – who is suspected to be on his way to Florida.
Silence | Tadeusz Borowski
A man is seized in a German barracks and dragged into an alley. The mob is broken up when they are warned of an approaching company of American soldiers.
The Rocking-Horse Winner | D. H. Lawrence
A middle-class woman, successful but perpetually short of money, lives with her two children. She is unlucky, but her son isn’t: when he rides his rocking-horse, he’s able to work himself into a state where he can pick the winner of a horse race.
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.
Babylon Revisited | F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charlie, a businessman living in Prague, returns to Paris to get custody of his daughter, now living with his sister-in-law. Charlie wasted a lot of money and used to drink heavily. He believes he’s able to care for his daughter now, and hopes he can convince his sister-in-law of it.
Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? | Joyce Carol Oates
A rebellious fifteen-year-old girl encounters an older man in a parking lot. He later shows up at her place when she’s home alone to ask her to go for a ride with him.
The Swimmer | John Cheever
While relaxing at a friend’s pool, an affluent man decides to make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.
There are many other excellent short stories for college students. This page is just a sampling of appropriate stories, offered as a starting point.