Short Stories About Discovery and Epiphanies

In these stories people discover something about themselves or about life, or find out something important that they didn’t know.

Epiphanies are most associated with James Joyce, who coined the term. An epiphany is the sudden revelation of the essential nature of something; it’s a moment of discovery or recognition, when a character realizes something important about life or what it means to be a person.

Stories with a directly stated epiphany are marked with an *.

See also Identity

These stories might interest an avid reader, or might be suitable short stories for middle school kids.

Appointment with Love | Sulamith Ish Kishor

A returning lieutenant arrives at Grand Central Station to meet up with a woman he has never seen. They have been corresponding for 13 months during his tour of duty, and her letters have been a source of strength and encouragement. He feels he is in love with her, but he is also anxious to find out what she looks like.

Read here

*The Bridge | Nicolai Chukovski

Kostya is seventeen, awkward and shy, and his family has little confidence in him. He is going to Siberia to work for his uncle, but his grandmother and aunt don’t think he is rugged enough for the change. He takes his bicycle out for his last ride before leaving.

Astronomer’s Wife | Kay Boyle

A plumber comes to the Ames’s home to do some work. Mr. Ames is still sleeping, so Mrs. Ames deals with the plumber and compares him to her husband.

Read here

Araby | James Joyce

A boy wants to go to a bazaar to get something for his crush, the older sister of a neighbor friend.

Read here

*The Dead | James Joyce

The main character attends his aunt’s annual dinner and dance along with other family and friends.

This one is on the long side for a short story; I think its 15,000+ words, but it feels like it’s about half that.

Read “The Dead”

Regret | Kate Chopin

An unmarried, fifty year-old country woman is called on to look after a neighbor’s children for a while. She gradually adjusts to their presence and needs.

Read here

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.

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A Little Cloud | James Joyce

Thomas Chandler visits his friend, Ignatius Gallaher, a celebrated writer, well traveled, and free. Chandler feels inferior to his friend, and constricted by his family.

Read here

*A&P | John Updike

Three young women wearing bathing suits enter a grocery store. The manager warns them to be appropriately dressed next time. Sammy, a teenaged clerk, doesn’t mind, and imagines who the girls are based on their appearance.

Read here

The Necessary Grace to Fall | Gina Ochsner

Howard works for an insurance company, investigating claims made on behalf of the deceased. He becomes fascinated by his cases, especially the possible suicide of a woman he thinks he may have known in high school.

*The Father | Hugh Garner

Johnny’s father goes with him to a Boy Scout banquet, but his behavior at the event causes some embarrassment.

Read “The Father”

*All the Years of Her Life | Morley Callaghan

Alfred, an adult, is caught stealing from his place of work, a drugstore. His boss calls his mother in to talk before calling the police, but she persuades him not to take the matter further. Alfred is fired.

Read here

Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket | Jack Finney

Tom is working at home in an apartment on a project for work, which he believes could lead to a raise. His wife is going out for the evening, but Tom is too focused on his task to go with her. After she leaves, a breeze from the hallway blows a piece of paper full of Tom’s vital notes out the window. It rests outside on a ledge.

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*Ha’penny | Alan Paton

The narrator works at a youth reformatory in South Africa. He likes making small connections with the boys in his care – a nod, or a look – which he believes helps them to break away from their misbehavior. One of the boys, Ha’penny, talks a lot about his family, inciting the narrator to look into the boy’s background.

Read here

*Jacklighting | Anne Beattie

A group of family, friends, and acquaintances gather at Spence’s Virginia home on the birthday of his deceased brother, Nicholas. Spence is depressed. The narrator remembers Nicholas and hears about the lives of the others. She also deals with turmoil in her own life.

Read here (Scroll down)

Marigolds | Eugenia W. Collier

Lizabeth recalls a time when she was fourteen, in Maryland, during the Depression. A woman in her neighborhood, Miss Lottie, lives in a dilapidated home, but has a colorful marigold garden. She’s an outcast, and the children make her a target of taunts.

Read here

*Blackberries | Leslie Norris

A mother takes her son to get his first real haircut, and then takes him cap shopping.

*An Hour with Abuelo | Judith Ortiz Cofer

Arturo doesn’t want to visit his grandfather in a nursing home during his summer vacation, but he gives in to his mother’s urging. His grandfather’s body is giving out but his mind is sharp. He tells Abuelo the story of his life, which included teaching, the army, farming, and a love of books and learning.

Read here

Great Moves | Sandy Asher

Annie has been asked to the Valentine’s Day dance by the two most popular boys at school and she can’t decide whom to go with. When they approach her friend, Brenda, for advice they turn their attention to her, with both boy’s now wanting to go with Brenda.

* Marriage Is a Private Affair | Chinua Achebe

A young man from the Ibo tribe in Nigeria who lives in the city, returns home to tell his father he’s engaged. His father is dead set against the marriage and cuts off his son.

Read “Marriage is a Private Affair”

*The Poison of the Blue Rose | Yasmin Marri

The narrator loves the silence of her house. She gets a visit from her friend Gulab Bibi, who has been getting letters from Rafiq. She wants to be with him but her parents have already arranged a marriage.

*Peter Two | Irwin Shaw

Peter, thirteen-years-old, watches action programs on T.V. where the hero always overcomes danger no matter what the odds. He thinks back on an incident from school when he defended a weaker student. Peter feels he will become a hero who others can turn to for help.

Read “Peter Two”

Invitations | Carol Shields

On Monday the narrator receives an invitation to an art exhibition. She is pleased and thinks about what she will wear. On Tuesday she receives an invitation to a cocktail party for the same evening.

*Imagine a Day at the End of Your Life | Ann Beattie

The narrator, a retired man, talks about his wife, who is a mystery writer, and his grown children.

Read “Imagine a Day at the End of Your Life”

Desiree’s Baby | Kate Chopin

Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby.

Read “Desiree’s Baby”

The Legacy | Virginia Woolf

Gilbert Clandon’s wife, Angela, died six weeks ago. He is waiting for a visit from Sissy Miller, his wife’s former secretary. He has a keepsake of his wife’s to give her. She had little tokens prepared to give all her friends in case of her death. Gilbert finds it strange that Angela had everything so organized.

Read “The Legacy”

See also: The Gold of Tomas Vargas (Greed)


I will try to add more stories about discovery or with epiphanies that could be helpful for teaching reading and reading comprehension to middle or high school students. Eventually, I hope these pages will become a teaching resource.