Work is emphasized in these short stories. They might show the value of work or the toll it takes. They could feature employees or those who work for themselves.
Short Stories About Work & Jobs
Small Fry | Anton Chekhov
Nevyrazimov is a lowly government clerk, working on Easter eve. He’s trying to write a note of congratulations to a higher ranking man, with the hope of getting a small promotion. He resents his lot in life.
This story can be read in the preview of Stories of Anton Chekhov.
“Godliness” by Sherwood Anderson
The Bentley family worked hard on their farm. During the Civil War, all of the Bentley sons are killed, except Jesse who is away, studying to be a minister. His father, Tom, sends for him to come home. Jesse is small and slight but succeeds in driving everyone to work hard. His father turns the farm over to him.
This story can be read in the preview of Collected Stories.
The Egg | Sherwood Anderson
A thirty-five year old farmhand gets married, has a child, and decides he should rise in the world. The family raises chickens and opens a restaurant to meet their goals.
This story can be read in the preview of Great Short Short Stories.
“The Evening of Their Span of Days” by Carrie Vaughn
Opal is on Tennant Station, overseeing ten maintenance docks tasked with repairing the incoming space ships. They’re always short on materials and power. She has to deal with impatient captains, her staff and her supervisor.
This is the first story in the preview of Infinity Wars. (24% into preview)
The Table | William Trevor
Mr. Jeffs, an antique dealer, makes arrangements to visit Mrs. Hammond to see a table she’s selling. He likes to imagine things about the people he deals with—their type, circumstances and motivations. After a misunderstanding, they come to an agreement. Mr. Jeffs soon gets a call from Mr. Hammond.
This story can be read in the preview of The Collected Stories. (48% into Kindle preview)
“Flax” by Will Weaver
Kenny, nineteen, makes a deal to take over the work on his grandfather’s farm. His grandfather will get one-third of the payout from the harvest, and Kenny can’t farm on Sundays. Kenny also works as a welder and helps his dad with other farm chores. He plans on planting flax, which is unseen in northern Minnesota. In the meantime, he has a routine of working all day, visiting his grandfather in the evening, and saving his money to buy supplies when the time comes.
This story can be read in the preview of Sweet Land: New and Selected Stories. (16% into preview)
“The Cat’s Paw” by Stanley Ellin
Mr. Crabtree has taken a room in a boarding-house because it’s near the public telephone in the hallway. This allowed him to include the phone number on a job application. He was a perfect match for the job description, and he’s anxiously awaiting a response. Two weeks later, a call with a job offer comes through. It seems an ideal position.
This mystery story can be read in the preview of The Speciality of the House. (53% into Kindle preview)
Borough of Cemeteries | Irwin Shaw
A group of cab drivers gather at Lammanawitz’s Bar and Grill for a drink before going home. Elias tries to get a beer on credit or get one from his friends. He complains about how long he works and how little he makes. The men talk about how good things were in 1928 during the boom time.
Read “Borough of Cemeteries” (second story in preview)
Main Currents of American Thought | Irwin Shaw
Andrew finishes up his radio script of Dusty Blades, one of his recurring characters. He thinks of money in terms of how many words he has to write. He has lots of bills.
Read “Main Currents of American Thought” (third story in preview)
“The Grocery Store” by Bernard Malamud
Sam and Ida Kaplan sit in the back of their grocery store with Rosen, a supplier. He reads through a list of products and prices. Sam is distracted. He’s been running the store nineteen years and they’re barely making enough to cover their expenses.
This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Stories. (29% in)
“Pastoralia” by George Saunders
The narrator isn’t feeling his best. He’s in his work area, sitting on his haunches, waiting in case someone looks in. No one has looked in for almost two weeks. His coworker, Janet, has been talking English more and more, which is against policy. There’s a fresh goat provided for them in the Big Slot each morning along with matches. Others have it harder. He skins it with a flint and Janet makes a fire to cook it. Back when they got more visitors they would throw themselves into their roles more, grunting and tossing dirt. One morning, there’s no goat in the Big Slot.
Some of this longer story can be read in the preview of Pastoralia. (20% in)
The Balek Scales by Heinrich Boll
The narrator tells the story of his grandfather, who lived in a village that was controlled by the Balek family. The people would bring their flax, mushrooms and herbs to Frau Balek, who would weigh everything on the only scale in the village, and pay them. (Summary)
The Romance of a Busy Broker | O. Henry
Amid the rush of a workday, Harvey Maxwell, a broker, is overcome with feeling for a stenographer, Miss Leslie.
Read “The Romance of a Busy Broker”
“The Summer Farmer” by John Cheever
Paul Hollis takes the train to his summer farm in New Hampshire, which he does every weekend in the summer. He’s met by his wife, Virginia, and they drive home, talking about the kids and Paul’s sister, who’s staying at the farm for a while. The kids want a pet, so they decide on a rabbit. Paul’s going to work the land with Kasiak, the Russian hired man. They’ve been neighbors for twenty years. Kasiak is miserly and bitter, and gives Paul clippings about Communism.
Counterparts | James Joyce
Farrington is criticized at work and then leaves for a drink, causing further reproof when he returns.
The Tuxedos | Jerome Weidman
A young man works for a small formal wear rental store. His boss sends him out shortly before quitting time on a difficult delivery. It requires him to carry many boxes and take the subway.
Sleepy | Anton Chekhov
Varka, a servant girl of thirteen, is obligated to do numerous household chores during the day and tend to the baby at night.
The Postcard | Heinrich Boll
An assistant manager at a textile firm recalls the day he received an important postcard that set his future path in motion.
Life in the Iron Mills | Rebecca Harding Davis
Hugh lives in poverty and works at a foundry. His cousin, Deborah, works long hours at a cotton mill. Despite doing physical, demanding, and uncreative work, Hugh has an artist’s sensibility, sculpting in his free time. One evening, an opportunity arises for Deborah to better their situation.
This story is a novella.
Neighbour Rosicky | Willa Cather
Anton Rosicky is a sixty-five-year old Nebraska farmer. He is told by his doctor that he has to stop doing heavy farm labor. Anton reflects on his life of hard work and his family.
The Underground Gardens | T. Coraghessan Boyle
Baldasare Forestiere is a thirty-two-year-old Italian American immigrant living on seventy acres of California land. He tries to grow his own vineyard, but the land isn’t fertile. He works for other people to make some money, and starts digging more rooms in his underground home. He eventually meets Ariadne, giving him a new goal – to get her to marry him.
Forty-Five a Month | R. K. Narayan
A little girl, Shanta, is concerned about the time and tries to leave school early. Her father, Venkat, promised to take her to a movie at 5 o’clock. Shanta rushes home, dresses up, and waits anxiously for her father’s return. Meanwhile, Venkat is at work, worrying that he won’t be allowed to leave on time. He resolves to quit if he is told to work late.
Action Will Be Taken | Heinrich Boll
The narrator recounts the time he was employed in Alfred Wunsiedel’s factory. Wunseidel was obsessed with taking action, and required his employees to be constantly busy. The narrator is a man of leisure, but manages to fit in to the company culture.
An Old Maid’s Triumph | George Gissing
Miss Hurst has been working thirty years as a governess. She is being let go after the next quarter. She’s lived frugally and is carefully considering her retirement.
Snapshot, Harvey Cedars: 1948 | Paul Lisicky
A man and woman—young and attractive—are on a vacation at the beach. He is thinking about work, and making a name for himself.
Mr. Stanfield’s Memo | Robert F. Hever
A company adopts the HRN 7000 Global Management System, an extensive documentation system that will allow new employees to take over a job with full productivity. It begins with much excitement and optimism, but concerns soon arise about the effort and cost involved.
The Long Sheet | William Sansom
Four groups of captives are being held in a long rectangular metal structure with skylights. Three feet off the ground, running thru all the cells, is a long white sheet soaked with water. The warders tell the captives that they will be released when their section of sheet has been wrung bone dry. Each group takes a different view of their work.
A Simple Heart (Soul) | Gustave Flaubert
After an early romantic disappointment, Felicite is hired as a housekeeper by Madame Aubain. Her work is exemplary and she loves the Aubain children very much. When the daughter takes catechism lessons and her first communion, Felicite becomes involved in religion.
This is a novella.
A Wagner Matinee | Willa Cather
Clark gets a visit from his aunt, Georgiana, who’s in town on business. He thinks of how hard she has worked in her life. He takes her to a Wagner concert, and wonders if she’ll be able to appreciate it.
The Worker in Sandalwood | Marjorie Pickthall
An overworked boy, an expert woodcarver, has to make a cabinet from sandalwood on Christmas Eve. A stranger seeks refuge from the cold in his work shed.
The Saint Joseph’s Ass | Giovanni Verga
A little-valued donkey is sold several times, always working hard for its new owner.
Numbers in the Dark | Italo Calvino
A young boy, Paolino, accompanies his mother to work in the evening. They clean a large office building. Paolino likes seeing the equipment and supplies and is impressed by the machines.
The Beautiful Thing | Kit De Waal
The narrator’s father leaves Antigua to work in America and, later, to start again in England. He works hard and experiences some racism as he establishes himself.
A Field of Wheat | Sinclair Ross
A married couple in their late thirties, beaten down from years of hard work, lives in poverty on their farm. This year the husband’s wheat crop is the best it’s ever been, and there is hope of a large payout as wheat prices are high.
My Uncle Fred | Heinrich Boll
The narrator relates a time from his boyhood when his uncle came home after WWII. The family was looking forward to some aid, as times were tough, but his uncle did nothing but eat, sleep and smoke.
This is Tibten! | Heinrich Böll
The narrator performs his work duties carefully even though his post isn’t commensurate with his education. He works at the Tibten train station, announcing the name to the passengers. He is satisfied with his job.
One More Dead Body | Kartar Singh Duggal
Mr Malkani is desperate for a flat in Rawal Building, government controlled accommodations. It’s closer to his work, and he thinks about how much better his life would be. When the Malkani’s get in, he wants to improve his life even more.
The Turkey Season | Alice Munro
The narrator looks back on her time as a fourteen-year-old working a Christmas job at the Turkey Barn. She was a gutter. The foreman, Herb, taught her the job. He was a good worker and a bit of a mystery.
The Pacific | Mark Helprin
Paulette Ferry, a young woman, is a precision welder in a factory making altimeters for planes. Her husband, Lee, is a Marine stationed overseas, in combat. Paulette devotes herself to her work while waiting, and hoping, for Lee to return.
The Prison | Bernard Malamud
Tommy Castelli has worked long days in his candy store for the past ten years. As a youth, he had dropped out of vocational school, and started associating with a gang. His father wanted him to marry Rosa and open the store, but Tommy left town. Eventually, he came back.
I’ll keep adding short stories about work, jobs, occupations and employees as I find more.