Here are some great short stories for teaching and studying character. They are generally character-driven short stories that are considered to have good character development or characterization. Many of the selections are well-known, so you won’t have any trouble finding explanatory notes on them.
Short Stories for Teaching Character
“Powder” by Tobias Wolff
A father and son are on a skiing trip just before Christmas. The mother wants the boy home on Christmas Eve for dinner. The father assures her he will be back. When it comes time to leave, they try to get a few more runs in. (Summary & Analysis)
“A Conversation with My Father” by Grace Paley
The narrator’s eighty-six-year-old father is dying with a heart problem. He asks her to craft a story for him before his death. She writes one about a mother and son who become addicts.
This is the second story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
In this prose/poem hybrid, a mother gives her daughter some advice about how to behave, and on becoming a woman. (Summary and Analysis)
This story can be read in the preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story. (93% in)
“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.
“Gimpel the Fool” by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Gimpel, the narrator, is an adult orphan who gets turned over to the baker as an assistant. He admits that he’s “easy to take in”, and the villagers all play him for a fool. When he talks about leaving, the villagers try to convince him to marry Elka, a prostitute.
“Gimpel the Fool” is the first story in the Amazon preview of Collected Stories. (7% into preview)
“María Concepción” by Katherine Anne Porter
Maria and Juan are a young married couple. Maria works hard, is frugal, and is respected in her Mexican town. She is pregnant. Although she doesn’t believe in the remedies of the local medicine-woman, Maria feels she needs honey to prevent her child from being “marked” in some way. She goes to her place, where a young beekeeper, Maria Rosa, also lives.
This is the first story in the preview of Collected Stories and Other Writings.
“The Catbird Seat” by James Thurber
Mr. Martin, head of the filing department at a law firm, decides to kill Mrs. Barrows, an annoying and overbearing adviser to the founder. She always asks him silly questions with odd expressions. Worst of all, Martin suspects she’s planning a reorganization of his department.
This story can be read in the preview of The Thurber Carnival. (34% in)
“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South with her daughter, Maggie. Her other daughter, Dee, an educated woman who’s drawn to a traditional African identity, is coming for a visit. (Summary & Analysis)
“The Greatest Man in the World” by James Thurber
A man successfully makes a continuous flight around the world, and becomes a national hero. However, he is coarse, with a criminal past, so government officials and newspaper men don’t know how to present him to the world.
“I’m a Fool” by Sherwood Anderson
A nineteen-year-old horse groomer buys some fancy cigars and sits in the grandstand at the races. He meets a young woman and they spend some time together.
“Astronomer’s Wife” by 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.
Short Stories for Character, Cont’d
“The Sin Eater” by Margaret Atwood
The narrator talks about her therapist, Joseph. He told her about a Wales tradition where a person known as a Sin Eater would be called to eat a meal over a dead body. This would transfer the dead person’s sins to the eater, thus clearing the person’s way to heaven. When Joseph has an accident, the narrator finds out about his life from his ex-wives and other patients.
“Vengeful Creditor” by Chinua Achebe
The African government is now offering free primary education, causing a lot of servants and low paid workers to return to school. The Emenikes, educated and affluent, are upset when they lose some servants, including their nurse. Things turn around for them when the government suspends the free program due to higher than expected enrollment.
“A Visit of Charity” by Eudora Welty
A teenage girl makes a visit to an Old Ladies’ Home. It is a part of her duties as a Campfire Girl and she will receive points for the visit. She is shown in to a room with two elderly residents. The visit is unnerving.
“Paul’s Case” by 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 Jilting of Granny Weatherall” by Katherine Anne Porter
Doctor Harry checks on Granny Weatherall, a bed-ridden woman of almost eighty. She’s uncooperative and wants him to leave. She thinks about what she’ll do tomorrow. She has to go through her box of letters from George and John. She doesn’t need the children finding them. She thinks about her life, including the time she was left at the altar.
“Why I Live at the P. O.” by Eudora Welty
The narrator’s sister, Stella-Rondo, is coming back home. She’s separated from her husband, Mr. Whitaker, whom she had stolen from the narrator. She returns with a two-year-old adopted blonde daughter, Shirley-T. The narrator notes that the girl resembles both sides of the family. The sisters, and the family in general, engage in lots of petty arguing.
“In the Zoo” by Jean Stafford
A visit to a zoo reminds two sisters of a childhood friend, an alcoholic with a lot of animals, who gave them a puppy. Their foster mother had a bad effect on the dog.
“Our Friend Judith” by Doris Lessing
Judith is a single, childless, English woman who lives alone. Judith’s friend narrates the story, speaking about her disposition and life, making judgments on her behavior and interpreting her actions. She’s a poet and lives on her own terms. Her friend recounts some incidents that could reveal who Judith really is.
“A&P” by John Updike
Three young women wearing bathing suits enter a grocery store. The manager warns them to be appropriately dressed next time. Sammy, a teenage clerk, doesn’t mind, and imagines who the girls are based on their appearance.
“Miss Brill” by 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.
I hope you found some great short stories for character.