This page is a collection of famous short stories online that could serve as an introduction to short stories, or to help avid readers find well known stories to enjoy.
These selections have stood the test of time. They are frequently anthologized stories, and are generally considered to be excellent examples of the form.
The Gift of Cochise | Louis L’Amour
Angie Lowe stands in her cabin doorway with a shotgun. A group of Apaches face the cabin, including Cochise, the leader. Angie has killed several of his men defending her property. They talk about her husband, her children, and her right to live there.
“The Gift of Cochise” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Collected Short Stories of Louis L’Amour: Volume 1
“The Last Leaf” | O. Henry
A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia, and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.
This is the fourth story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories.
The Yellow Wallpaper | Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A woman’s husband, a doctor, confines her to the upstairs bedroom of their summer house. He diagnoses her with a “hysterical tendency” and “nervous depression”. She chronicles her confinement in her journal; the treatment doesn’t have a positive effect on her condition.
This story can be read in the preview of The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce
A man is on a bridge in Alabama, his hands bound and a rope around his neck. He’s a civilian, a confederate sympathizer, and is being held by Federal soldiers. He’s been sentenced to hang from Owl Creek Bridge during the American civil war.
This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs.
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.
This story can be read in the preview of A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. (18% into preview)
“The Gift of the Magi” | O. Henry
A poor husband and wife try to figure out how to get each other a nice Christmas present. Despite saving, Della is low on money. She realizes she does have something valuable.
This is the first story in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories.
“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by 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.
This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories.
The Dead | James Joyce
Gabriel Conroy attends his aunt’s annual dinner and dance along with other family and friends.
This story can be read in the preview of Dubliners. (select in table of contents)
A Jury of Her Peers | Susan Glaspell
A farmer in Dixon County is found murdered in his home. His wife is the primary suspect and she is held on suspicion of the murder. While the authorities investigate the scene, two of the men’s wives collect a few items for the accused.
This story can be read in the preview of A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women.
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
An unnamed narrator describes how he killed a man; he tries to convince his listener of his sanity and wisdom. He believed his boarder, an old man, watched him with an “Evil Eye.”
This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories.
Harrison Bergeron | Kurt Vonnegut
All Americans are equal—no one is allowed to be better than anyone else in any way. An exceptional fourteen-year-old, Harrison, is taken away from his parents by the government.
This is the first story in the preview of Welcome to the Monkey House: Stories.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway
On the African savannah, a man’s leg is rotting with gangrene. His wife tries to comfort and encourage him. As he waits for death, he thinks about his life.
This is the third story in the preview of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. (62% into the preview)
Symbols and Signs | Vladimir Nabokov
An elderly couple intend to visit their son in a mental institution, but because of a recent suicide attempt, they are not allowed to see him. The husband decides to remove the son from the facility.
This is the third story in the preview of The Big Book of Modern Fantasy.
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.
This is the eleventh story in the preview of The Big Book of Modern Fantasy.
The Steadfast (Brave) Tin Soldier | Hans Christian Andersen
A boy gets a set of toy soldiers as a gift. One of the soldiers falls in love with a paper ballerina, but they’re kept apart when he falls from the windowsill and lands outside.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories and Fairytales.
The Garden-Party | Katherine Mansfield
The Sheridans, an upper-class family, are making preparations for a garden party. Before it starts, they hear that a working-class neighbor has just died.
This is the first story in the preview of 50 Great Short Stories.
The Lady, or the Tiger? | Frank Stockton
A king has a peculiar method of putting criminals on trial. They’re placed in an arena and allowed to pick between two doors. Behind one is a beautiful woman; behind the other, a hungry tiger.
This is the first story in the preview of The Lady, or the Tiger? and Other Stories. (Select Paperback preview first, then Kindle)
The Landlady | Roald Dahl
A young salesman stays at an eerily quiet, but seemingly perfect, bed and breakfast.
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.
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.
Hills Like White Elephants | Ernest Hemingway
At a train station, a man and woman have a casual conversation which transitions into something serious. It’s not explicitly stated what they’re talking about.
The Cask of Amontillado | Edgar Allan Poe
The narrator, Montresor, tells the story of how he sought revenge against a man, Fortunato, who insulted him. He was careful to hide his feeling of ill-will toward the man. They meet one evening at a carnival, after Fortunato has been drinking. Using Fortunato’s knowledge of wine as bait, Montresor says he has paid full price for a shipment of Amontillado that might not be genuine. His target insists on lending his expertise immediately.
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 that test her resolve.
Read “A Worn Path” (The Atlantic)
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.
The Open Window | Saki
A man is visiting the country for some relaxation. While waiting to be introduced to all the members of the household, a young girl tells him the story of their tragic family history.
Flowers for Algernon | Daniel Keyes
A mentally retarded man undergoes a procedure to vastly increase his intelligence. He keeps a diary of his progress and personal interactions.
The Bet | Anton Chekhov
At a dinner party, a banker argues that capital punishment is preferable to life imprisonment. A young lawyer disagrees, saying that he would rather life in prison than death. They bet two million rubles that the lawyer can’t stay isolated for fifteen years.
Araby | James Joyce
A boy wants to go to a bazaar to get something for his crush, the older sister of a neighbor friend.
This story can be read in the preview of Dubliners. (select in table of contents)
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.
Babylon Revisited | F. Scott Fitzgerald
Charlie Wales returns to Paris to get back his daughter, Honoria. She has been living with his sister, Marion. Charlie is financially secure and has abandoned the partying and drinking that contributed to the death of his wife and loss of his daughter.
Good Country People | Flannery O’Connor
Mrs. Hopewell is a widow who runs her farm. Her daughter, Joy, has an artificial leg from a hunting accident as a child. Mrs. Hopewell is a Christian; Joy is an atheist with a Ph.D. Mrs. Hopewell likes “good country people”, like her hired tenants, the Freemans. She and Mrs. Freeman like exchanging platitudes. Joy is introverted and believes she has life figured out. One day, a traveling Bible salesman calls on Mrs. Hopewell.
The Lottery | Shirley Jackson
On a summer morning, citizens of a small village are anticipating the annual “lottery”, a local tradition that is believed to bring a good harvest. The children gather first, making their usual preparations. The women and men arrive and make sure their whole family is present. Mr. Summers arrives with the black wooden box.
The Necklace | Guy De Maupassant
Mathilde is married to a minor government official. They’re of modest means, but Mathilde has expensive tastes. When they get invited to a party, she borrows a necklace from a rich friend.
The Door | E. B. White
A man is touring a house. He is confused about the location of the doors in the house, and compares his situation to rats that are experimented on.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty | James Thurber
A mild and ineffectual man has a series of daydreams while accompanying his wife on her weekly errands.
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.
The Swimmer | John Cheever
On a summer Sunday, Neddy is hanging out at the Westerhazy’s pool. They’re talking about how they drank too much last night. He realizes he could make his way home by swimming the length of the pools in his neighborhood.
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.
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.
Lamb to the Slaughter | Roald Dahl
When Mary Maloney’s husband comes home from work, he drinks but doesn’t want to eat. After some stalling, he tells her something he’s been thinking about for a while that changes everything. She’s dazed by the news; mechanically, she goes to the freezer to get something for their supper.
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.
The Semplica-Girl Diaries | George Saunders
A forty-year-old father of three girls starts a diary to inform future readers how life is in the present. He chronicles the events leading up to the thirteenth birthday party of his oldest daughter, Lilly. The family is middle-class, but they live beyond their means. The father wants to buy his daughter an expensive present, and also wants a status symbol to show off to the neighbors.
To Build a Fire | Jack London
In the Yukon, a man is traveling on foot with a husky in the wilderness to meet some acquaintances. It’s -75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots, necessitating a fire.
The Most Dangerous Game | Richard Connell
Some men on a ship talk about the hunting they’re going to do in the Amazon. They pass a mysterious island and are glad to be leaving it behind; it has a bad reputation. At night, Rainsford hears three gunshots in the distance. He leans over the rail to check it out, but loses his balance.
The Little Match Girl | Hans Christian Andersen
A young girl seeks shelter from the cold in a nook. She can’t go home because she was unable to sell any matches; her father would beat her. She wants to light one of her matches to warm herself.
I hope you enjoyed this list of famous short stories online and found something new to read.