These stories feature a character with an important decision to make, or characters who have already made important decisions. Often we’re shown their options, and given some insight into their decision-making process. For a relevant anthology, check out No Easy Answers: Short Stories About Teenagers Making Tough Choices. (Amazon)
Stories About Choice
“The Photograph” by Will Weaver
Bobby Johnson tells some teammates that his father happened to see the phys ed teacher, Ms. Jenson, skinny-dipping in the lake by her home. Lance, the quarterback, tells Bobby and the narrator, who’s a photographer, to stay and talk about it. He has a plan.
Some of “The Photograph” can be read in the preview of the No Easy Answers anthology, above.
“A & P” by John Updike
Three young women wearing bathing suits enter a grocery store. Sammy, a nineteen-year-old cashier, watches them as they move through the aisles. He focuses in particular on one he calls Queenie, who looks like the leader of the group. The other employees and customers also notice the girls. (Summary & Analysis)
“Button, Button” by Richard Matheson
A hand addressed package is left at the door of Arthur and Norma Lewis. Inside is a contraption with a button on it, and a note saying that Mr. Steward will call on them at 8 PM. He arrives at the appointed time and makes them a startling proposition.
This is the first story in the preview of The Box: Uncanny Stories.
“Curly Red” by Joyce Carol Oates
Lili Rose wasn’t allowed to return home until her father was weakened and dying at seventy-three. She was exiled at thirteen, sent to live with an aunt and uncle. She had four older brothers who were often in trouble. Things changed when a local boy was attacked and beaten, and died soon after from his injuries. Lili Rose overheard some conversation. She made a decision that alienated her from her family.
This story can be read in the preview of I Am No One You Know: And Other Stories. (9% in)
“Boule de Suif” by Guy de Maupassant
The Prussian army advances while the French army retreats. Ten passengers are given clearance to board a carriage and leave the city, with the possibility of crossing into England. Among the passengers is Boule de Suif, a prostitute who has to make a moral decision that will affect the whole group.
This is the second story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.
“The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank Stockton
A long time ago, a barbaric king had a peculiar method of putting criminals on trial. They’re placed in an arena and the public is allowed to attend the proceedings. The accused is brought out before the king. Opposite him are two doors. Behind one is a beautiful woman; behind the other, a hungry tiger. The accuser must choose.
This is the first story in the preview of The Lady, or the Tiger? and Other Stories. (Select Paperback preview first, then Kindle)
“Eveline” by James Joyce
A nineteen-year-old woman is going to leave home with a sailor. She thinks about her life, mulling over the decision she has to make.
This story can be read in the preview of Dubliners. (select in table of contents)
“And Death His Legacy” by George R. R. Martin
The Prophet, Norvel Arlington Beauregard, comes out of the South preaching Americanism. Many supporters rally around him. Meanwhile, Maximilian de Laurier is near death with terminal cancer. He’s a wealthy, influential man but feels he hasn’t accomplished anything significant.
This story can be read in the preview of Dreamsongs: Volume 1. (77% into preview)
“A Blow for Freedom” by Lawrence Block
Elliot returns to New York by plane. He’s a bit concerned picking up his bag because it contains a gun he bought in Miami. He waits until he gets home to check it. He remembers his experience with Huebner, who helped him pick out the gun and showed him how to use it.
This story can be read in the preview of Enough Rope. (12% in)
“A Retrieved Reformation” by O. Henry
Jimmy Valentine, an expert safe-cracker, is released from jail after serving nearly ten months. The warden urges him to go straight. He goes to see Mike Dolan at his café; Jimmy’s room is upstairs. Starting a week after Jimmy’s release, there’s a string of burglaries. When Jimmy starts going straight he’s faced with a dilemma.
This story can be read in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other New York Stories. (14% in)
“Dead Men’s Path” by Chinua Achebe
The new headmaster of an African school wants to modernize it and rid the locals of their superstitious beliefs. He blocks off part of the school grounds, even though that means blocking a path with great religious significance for the locals. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Guest” by 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.
“This Telling” by Cheryl Strayed
Geraldine, seventeen-years-old, tells her boyfriend Jim, nineteen, that she’s pregnant. He’s about to be sent off to Vietnam. Jim knows someone who knows a doctor who can help, for a hundred dollars. Geraldine is hesitant but they make the arrangements.
Amazon preview of “This Telling”
“The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad
The new captain of a ship is taking the night watch when he sees a man swimming to the side of the ship. The man comes aboard. The captain learns the man was under arrest on his own ship and escaped. The captain has to decide what to do with him.
Read “The Secret Sharer”
“Almost Home” by 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.
“Happy Event” by Nadine Gordimer
Ella is recovering from a medical procedure which she had so she and her husband could take their planned six month vacation. Before they leave they have to deal with the disagreements between their gardener and newly-hired maid; she has an important decision to make.
“Old Woman Magoun” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Magoun has raised her granddaughter, Lily, and kept her sheltered from other people. One day, when she’s fourteen, Lily is sent into town to buy salt, where she encounters her father and an acquaintance of his. They make her uncomfortable. That night, her father goes to Magoun and says she has one week to turn his daughter over to him.
“All About Suicide” by Luisa Valenzuela
Ismael takes a gun from a desk drawer and fires it. The narrator jumps in time to give us more information.
Read “All About Suicide” (PDF pg 11)
“Daughter of Invention” by Julia Alvarez
A Dominican-American mother, Laura, sketches inventions at night before going to bed. Her daughter, Yolanda, writes poetry and is chosen to write a speech that she will read to the class. The family is adjusting to American culture.
“The Daffodil Sky” by H. E. Bates
A man returns to a town after many years away. He’s looking for Cora Whitehead, a woman he used to see. We hear the story of their relationship and of a decision he made that changed everything irrevocably.
“Silence” by Leonid Andreyev
Father Ignatius and his wife try to find out what is wrong with Vera, their daughter, who stays in bed. She has recently returned from St. Petersburg, a trip her father didn’t approve of. Her condition has a powerful effect on everyone.
“The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin
An emergency space ship is on course to deliver desperately needed medical supplies. The pilot discovers a stowaway, which is a major problem: emergency ships only have enough fuel to transport a predetermined amount of weight—the vessel, the supplies, and the pilot—to its destination.
“Death of a Tsotsi” by Alan Paton
Spike is in a reformatory in South Africa. He is a member of the tsotsis, a black gang. Spike gets visits from his mother, sister and her friend, Elizabeth, whom they want him to marry. He also gets visits from his fellow gang members. Spike knows he has to decide which way he will go, and prepares for the consequences.
Read “Death of a Tsotsi”
“Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
The narrator is a British colonial policeman in Burma. He gets a report that there’s an elephant loose, causing damage in the marketplace. While looking for it, he comes across a dead Burmese man, crushed by the elephant. This escalates the situation and he’s not sure if he will be able to avoid shooting the elephant.
“Another Part of the Sky” by Nadine Gordimer
Collins is the white principal of a South African reformatory for black youths. In his quest to reach the inmates, he’s made a major change—he replaced the high walls surrounding the grounds with pathways and flower beds. One of his boys has run off, and is the primary suspect in a beating and robbery.
“Hands Off” by Edward Everett Hale
The narrator exists outside the limits of space and time. While watching one of Earth’s epochs, he observed an injustice. Before he could help, his mentor forbade him from interfering. He took the narrator to another system where he could see the results of helping.