Short Stories About Power, Corruption, & Politics: Authority & Government

These short stories about power show the individual in conflict with the authorities, coping with their rules or rebelling against them. Some of the stories are about politics or government or deal with bureaucracy. See also:

Short Stories About Power, Corruption, Authority, Bureaucracy & Politics

The Last Day | Ellen Oh

Kenji has breakfast with his mother and five-year-old sister, but there isn’t much food. From the hallway they can hear the voice Mrs. Ueda, chairwoman of the Women’s Brigade. She claims children to fight for the Emperor. Kenji’s last brother was taken a year ago. They’re relieved she’s come for one of the neighbors. Kenji leaves for a job with his friend Akira, who has a knack for finding supplies.

“The Last Day” is the first selection in the anthology Diverse EnergiesIt can be read in the Amazon preview above.

The Forbidden Words of Margaret  A | Timmel Duchamp

Margaret A is in prison. While the government allows the press access to her, they control and censor it. A reporter who’s had contact with Margaret A has prepared a report detailing the experience. This reporter entered journalism for the chance to meet her. It was a difficult process.

“The Forbidden Words of Margaret A” is the first story in the Amazon preview of Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology.

The Use of Force | William Carlos Williams

A doctor makes a house call to examine a young girl. He finds that she has hidden the severity of her illness and she resists the examination, leading to a battle of wills. (Summary and Analysis)

Read here

“Condensed Milk” by Varlam Shalamov

The narrator is in a Russian labor camp working in a mine. He envies Shestakov, an engineer-geologist who works in the office. While longing for some bread, the narrator is approached by Shestakov. They walk behind the barracks to talk. Shestakov has an escape plan. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “Condensed Milk”

One of These Days | Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A corrupt mayor needs treatment for an abscessed tooth. He goes to an unlicensed dentist. The dentist doesn’t want to help, and they exchange some words. (Summary & Analysis)

Read here

“Love Letter” by George Saunders

A grandfather advises his grandson, Robbies, on a delicate matter regarding J, who was arrested for withholding information about two of her friends. The prevailing political forces make it risky to get involved. He tries to explain how things got this way. (Summary)

“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

Abner Snopes is being tried in a small-town court for allegedly burning down his landlord’s barn. He’s kicked out of town, and finds a new job working as a sharecropper.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories.

“The Bench” by Richard Rive

Karlie is part of a crowd gathered in the public square. They’re listening to speeches condemning racial segregation and discrimination. Their words make sense to Karlie, and he’s motivated to challenge the discriminatory system. (Summary)

“Harrison Bergeron” by 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 Scriveners” by Dino Buzzati

The King has thousand of scriveners in a huge room who type all manner of fiction and non-fiction for his enjoyment. On rare occasions, one of the typists is singled out and required to continue working at an exhausting pace. Opinion is divided on the significance of being chosen in this way. (Summary)

“Clean Sweep Ignatius” by Jeffrey Archer

When Ignatius Agarbi is appointed Nigeria’s Minister of Finance no one notices. No previous minister had lasted long or accomplished much. Ignatius vows to root out corruption, even among the highest levels of authority. After catching several offenders, General Otobi gives Ignatius a special assignment. (Summary)

Read “Clean Sweep Ignatius” (Page 9)

“The Elephant” by Slawomir Mrozek

The director of a zoo is interested in his own career rather than the facility in his charge. Many of the animals are poor specimens and the zoo lacks an elephant. When they’re informed they’ll be receiving one, the director has another idea. (Summary)

“Welcome to the Monkey House” by Kurt Vonnegut

Sheriff Crocker is at the Federal Ethical Suicide Parlor in Hyannis. He warns the Hostesses, Nancy and Mary, that a Nothinghead, Billy the Poet, is believed to be in the area. Billy doesn’t take the state-mandated ethical birth-control pills that numb a person from the waist down. The birth-control is one method of keeping the population from expanding; the other is the Suicide Parlor, where people can volunteer to die. Billy has been targeting the beautiful Hostesses, who are also highly educated and trained in hand-to-hand combat.

“They Twinkled Like Jewels” by Philip José Farmer

Jack Crane lies in a vacant lot, hiding from Bohas agents. There’s a rumor that a new camp has been built nearby, so there should be agents around. He eats what food he has on him. He plans to wait until dark to get a drink. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a shadow.

This story can be read in the preview of Fantastic Stories Presents: Science Fiction Super Pack #1(23% into preview)

“The Defense of Free Mind” by Desirina Boskovich

is working a shift in the greenhouse when the sirens go off. She grabs a rifle from the locker and sets up at the wall, along with the other Defenders. Five people are approaching on a boat marked with the City insignia. The city people all look the same, and they want to conquer Free Mind and control them. The Defenders fire on the boat.

This story can be read in the preview of Resist: Tales From a Future Worth Fighting Against(32% in)

“Mazer in Prison” by Orson Scott Card

Mazer is responsible for defeating the invading Formic force as a lower-level officer. Now, he’s the commander-in-waiting for the next confrontation—the human attack on the Formic home world and colonies. He will be in the Solar system, communicating and coordinating all the fleets by ansible. The problem is it will take decades for the fleets to reach their targets. Mazer has been sent out on a near-lightspeed courier, away from and then back to Earth, during which time he will only age about five years.

This story can be read in the preview of Federations(8% in)

“The Cloud-Men” by Owen Oliver

The UK has only one newspaper, controlled by the government. This is no time for conflicting opinions. Marriage is mandatory for most adults. There are regulations around where people can live. The cause of all these measures is the Cloud-Men. John and Mary Pender are the only two people who’ve had a confirmed interaction with them. The newspaper relates their story. It started in late August when thick clouds descended toward Earth, causing a great darkness.

This author wrote several sci-fi stories that are collected in Days of Doom: Apocalyptic Visions & Unearthly Nightmares.

“The Dead Past” by Isaac Asimov

Arnold Potterley, a Professor of Ancient History, wants to use the chronoscope—the ability to view a scene from the past—for his research on Carthage. The government maintains strict control over its use, and his request is denied. Frustrated, Potterley embarks on a plan to get around this restriction, which is professionally risky.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories, Vol 1(6% in)

“The Empty Drum” by Leo Tolstoy

A beautiful young maid persuades Emilyan to marry her. They live in a small cottage on the edge of the city. One day, the king passes by and sees Emilyan’s wife. He’s struck by her beauty and can’t stop thinking of her. He wants her for himself, but can’t think of how to get her. He puts the matter before his advisors and they have an idea—work Emilyan to death at the palace and then the king will be free to take the widow. Emilyan reports for duty and works hard, harder than the king and his advisors thought possible. (Summary & Analysis)

Short Stories About Power, Corruption, & Politics, Cont’d

The Aged Mother | Matsuo Basho

A local despot proclaims that all aged people are to be put to death. A poor farmer prepares to let his mother die in a humane way—by bringing her to a mountain and leaving her there. (Summary)

Read “The Aged Mother”

“The Twenty-seventh Man” by Nathan Englander

Stalin issues orders for the gathering and execution of twenty-seven Jewish writers. They’re to be apprehended discreetly and simultaneously and brought to a prison. The writers all have something in common except for one, Pinchas Pelovits.

Read “The Twenty-seventh Man”

The Shape of the Sword | Jorge Luis Borges

The narrator meets an Englishman while drinking. He has a terrible scar on his face. The narrator asks him how he got the scar. The man reveals he is actually Irish. He tells the story of his time with a group who were fighting for independence. They were joined by a new man, John Vincent Moon, who was inexperienced and immature.

Saboteur | Ha Jin

Mr. Chiu and his new wife are having lunch at a train station when a police officer throws some tea on the ground, getting some on their feet. A disagreement ensues and Mr. Chiu is arrested. He’s held in prison without his medication even though he tells his captors that his hepatitis could flare up again.

Almost Home | Barry McKinley

Slattery and Tarrant have Ali in custody and are escorting him out of Ireland. He entered the country at seventeen. He posed as a student and did various odd jobs.

A Conversation from the Third Floor | Mohamed El-Bisatie

A woman goes to the prison where her husband is being held. She tries to talk to him through his third floor window.

Read here

What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence | John Edgar Wideman

A man becomes obsessed with visiting the son of a deceased acquaintance who is in prison. The acquaintance doesn’t leave any contact information for his incarcerated son, so the man tries to track him down and make it through the system’s bureaucracy.

Hermann the Irascible | Saki

Hermann the Irascible rises to the British throne and makes many changes. His Prime Minister complains that the Suffragette movement is interfering with many government meetings. Hermann devises a plan to solve the problem.

Read here

A Chameleon | Anton Chekhov

A police superintendent comes across a commotion in the street. A man has chased down a dog that had bitten his finger. He wants justice so the superintendent tries to identify the dog’s owner.

Read here

Immortality | Yiyun Li

In communist China, a baby boy is born to a widow whose husband was killed for making negative remarks about the dictator. The boy grows to look like the dictator. He receives a government appointment, and, in his late twenties, auditions for the role of the dictator’s impersonator.

A Circle in the Fire | Flannery O’Connor

Mrs. Cope owns a large farm. She is protective of her property and feels she is good at handling whatever comes up. One day, three boys visit her; the father of one of the boys used to work for Mrs. Cope. That boy, Powell, remembers the farm and has been telling his friends about it. They want to enjoy farm life for a while.

Small Change | Yehudit Hendel

Rutchen had a troubled relationship with her father, Shlezi. He collected stamps and small change. Rutchen discovers that some of her father’s valueless change can be converted into new currency in a vending machine. She does this for a while but is eventually caught.

The Censors | Luisa Valenzuela

Juan writes a letter to Mariana, a woman he has feelings for. He immediately starts to worry because the censorship offices scrutinizes all letters. He fears for his and Mariana’s safety. He decides to try to get a job in the censorship division, so he can intercept his own letter.

Read “The Censors”

The Statue of Liberty Factory | Jennifer Armstrong

Monica’s mother makes a lot of money selling Statue of Liberty souvenirs. Monica is given a trust to use as she wants when she is sixteen. She wants to go to Paris but her mother is against the idea, so Monica comes up with a way to protest.

Short Stories About Power, Corruption, & Politics, Cont’d

The Jockey | Carson McCullers

A horse trainer, a bookie, and a rich man are eating at a restaurant when they see a jockey enter – the jockey who rides a horse owned by the rich man. They think he’s crazy or that he won’t last in the business due to an incident that happened six months before. The jockey confronts them about it.

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.

Read “The Garden of Forking Paths”

Lather and Nothing Else | Hernando Tellez

An armed man enters a barbershop for a shave. The barber recognizes him; they are on opposite sides of some kind of political conflict that has turned violent. He has to decide what he will do with this opportunity. (Analysis)

“Lather and Nothing Else”

Hop-Frog | Edgar Allan Poe

The king loves jokes, especially practical jokes. His court jester, or “fool”, is a dwarf and a cripple named Hop-Frog. The king treats him badly, but Hop-Frog does his best to get by. A great state party is approaching, so the king turns to his “fool” for some costume advice.


My Brother at the Canadian Border | Sholeh Wolpé

The narrator relates how his brother was stopped at the Canadian border after claiming he was heading to Mexico. He becomes concerned when they question him about his race.

Read “My Brother at the Canadian Border”

The Guest | Albert Camus

An Arab prisoner is brought to the home of a teacher, Daru, who’s supposed to deliver the man to police headquarters. He doesn’t want to do it, but the Arab’s soldier escort leaves him there anyway.

Read here

In The Penal Colony | Franz Kafka

A visiting dignitary is given a tour of a penal colony, particularly its justice/torture machine. The machine is falling out of favor, and an officer wants the visitor to give his endorsement to the commandant.

Read here

Montreal 1962 | Shauna Singh Baldwin

A Sikh couple moves to Canada, hopeful about starting their new lives. The husband is told he has to get rid of his turban and cut his hair if he wants employment.

Miss Awful | Arthur Cavanaugh

Robert is a third grade student who finds out his teacher, Miss Wilson, is going to be away for a while. He likes Miss Wilson because she is fun and lenient. The substitute teacher, Miss Orville, is strict about completing schoolwork and maintaining order in the classroom.

Read “Miss Awful”

The Secret Miracle | Jorge Luis Borges

Jaromir Hladik, an author, is in his apartment when he is arrested by the Nazis. He is sentenced to die by firing squad; he is terrified, but his biggest concern is that he won’t be able to finish his latest drama.

The Fat Man in History | Peter Carey

Six fat men live together in post-revolutionary Australia. Fatness has come to be regarded as a symbol of the old regime—as greedy, evil and American. They support themselves by stealing. They are planning counter-revolutionary activities.

My Father, the Englishman, and I | Nuruddin Farah

The narrator remembers when he was a young boy and his father was an interpreter for the Administrator of the Ogaden. His father is subservient to the white man. His mother disapproves of her husband’s behavior.

The Wall | Jean-Paul Sartre

Pablo is accused of being a war criminal. He is held in a cell with two other men. They are all informed they will be executed. They each deal with the news differently.

Flowering Judas | Katherine Anne Porter

Laura, an American, is in Mexico City after the Mexican Revolution working for the revolutionary cause and its leader, the socialist Braggioni. Braggioni indulges himself and tries to seduce Laura. Her religious and revolutionary ideals are tested.

The Prisoner Who Wore Glasses | Bessie Head

In South Africa under apartheid, a group of political prisoners are used to having some leeway in prison.  There’s news of a new warden, known for being strict and harsh.

Short Stories About Power, Corruption, & Politics, Cont’d

Do Not Pass Go | Jeffrey Archer

Hamid is flying to Turkey to buy his stock of carpets for his business in New York. Years ago he had been Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Agriculture. When he was fired, he and his wife were able to escape the country before he “disappeared”. He is thrilled with the freedom of the United States and, as a political refugee, must stay out of Iraq at all costs.

The Red Bow | George Saunders

A young girl is killed by dogs. Some men in the village look for the dogs and shoot them. They turn their attention to other dogs that might also be dangerous. Their enthusiasm for making the village safe gets out of hand.

Midnight Raid | Brady Udall

The narrator, a six-foot-three Apache Indian, is in the backyard of his ex-wife. He’s brought a goat for his son. There’s a restraining order against him so he wants to sneak into the house unnoticed. He relates some of his history with his ex.

 Read “Midnight Raid”

A Teacher’s Rewards | Robert Phillips

Raybe Simpson, now an adult, visits his old third grade teacher, Miss Scofield. They talk about the old days and how some things have changed. He mentions a few times that she used to rap his knuckles in class.

Read “A Teacher’s Rewards” (spoilers in side notes)

Miss Leonora When Last Seen | Peter Taylor

Miss Leonora Logan, a retired teacher, left town two weeks ago. Her house has been condemned; the site is the targeted location for a new school. The Logan family has a history of interfering with change in the community. The townspeople feel some guilt over her abrupt departure.

The Night the Ghost Got In | James Thurber

At night a man hears footsteps downstairs. The family is thrown into confusion and overreacts to the situation.

Read “The Night the Ghost Got In”

The Outrage: A True Story | Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin

Nineteen Jewish lawyers are gathered on a hot day to find out who’s behind the last pogrom against the Jews. The doorman intrudes, saying a group of seven men has arrived who wish to be seen. The lawyers agree. The men are from an association of thieves, which confuses the group.

Read “The Outrage”

Children of the Sea | Edwidge Danticat

A young Haitian man is on a boat headed for Florida. He was part of a group that protested the dictator. His lover has remained in Haiti with her family. They are surrounded by violence and terrible conditions.

Read “Children of the Sea”

“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman | Harlan Ellison

The Ones Who Keep The Machine Functioning Smoothly become aware of a disruption, the Harlequin, a man who pulls pranks that throw off their carefully planned schedule. This rebel is becoming a hero to some; they need to find out who he is. Being on time is of the utmost importance—it can even affect how long someone lives.

Read “Repent, Harlequin”

Apocalypse at Solentiname | Julio Cortázar

The narrator, a celebrated writer, went to Costa Rica and then to an island, Solentiname. He meets up with members of the Sandinista movement, a group that is fighting against the Somoza dictatorship. Before returning home to Paris, he takes pictures of some paintings done by the inhabitants as a keepsake.

Africa Kills Her Sun | Ken Saro-Wiwa

Bana writes a letter to Zole, a girlfriend from his youth. He’ll be executed tomorrow morning. Rather than bemoan his fate, he thinks those who have to keep living are the real condemned ones. He and his two accomplices have pleaded guilty to armed robbery and demanded death. They took the power of judgment away from the corrupt authorities.

Read “Africa Kills Her Sun”

I’ll keep adding short stories about power, politics, corruption and authority as I find more.