These short stories for theme are excellent for teaching or studying theme in literature. Following the short story descriptions, there are some suggestions for possible themes that could be considered. See also:
Short Stories for Theme
Here are some great short stories for teaching and studying theme.
“The Lottery” by 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. (Violence, Tradition, Victimization, Superstition)
This story can be read in the preview of Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories. (10% in)
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
A poor, married couple tries to figure out how to get each other a nice Christmas present. (Unselfish Love/Giving, Poverty, Sacrifice) (Themes)
This is the first story in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories.
“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.” (Guilt, Sanity/Insanity, Obsession, Time)
This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories.
“The Story of an Hour” by 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. (Freedom/Independence, Grief, Death)
“The Story of an Hour” (Includes Analysis)
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
The Whites live in an out-of-the-way place, and the weather is bad. Despite this, they receive a visit from Sergeant-Major Morris, who tells them interesting stories. Mr. White urges him to tell the story of something he had only mentioned before, a monkey’s paw. The visitor is hesitant, but he tells it. (Careful What You Wish For, Fate/Free Will, Wishful Thinking Dangers, Grief, If Something Sounds Too Good to Be True…)
This story can be read in the preview of The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales.
Short Stories for Theme, Cont’d
“Marigolds” by Eugenia W. Collier
Lizabeth recalls a time when she was fourteen, in Maryland, during the Depression. A woman in her neighborhood, Miss Lottie, lives in a dilapidated home, but has a colorful marigold garden. She’s an outcast, and the children make her a target of taunts. (Beauty, Coming of Age, Effects of Poverty, Compassion, Bullying, Identity) (Summary & Analysis)
This is the first story in the preview of Breeder and Other Stories.
“The Necklace” by 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. (Greed, Illusion/Reality, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Materialism)
“The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty
At night a sniper waits on a rooftop. He risks lighting a cigarette which alerts a nearby sniper of his presence. They exchange some fire. The sniper feels trapped, but he knows he has to get off the roof before enemy forces converge on him. (Effects of War, Isolation/Alienation, Survival) (Summary & Analysis)
“A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
In the future, a company offers guided hunting safaris into the past to kill dinosaurs. Extreme care is taken to ensure nothing happens that could alter the present. (Unintended Consequences, Importance of Small Things, Danger of Technology, Arrogance, Choices & Consequences)
Read “A Sound of Thunder” (PDF Pg. 3)
“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. (Identity, Change, Assertiveness, Heritage) (Summary & Analysis)
“All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Humans are living on Venus. The children are eagerly awaiting an event that scientists have confirmed: it will stop raining for two hours, the only break from rain in seven years. The kids speculate about what the sun is like. One student remembers the sun from Earth, but the others don’t believe her. (Bullying, Nature, Envy, Disappointment)
Short Stories for Theme, Cont’d
“To Build a Fire” by Jack London
A man is traveling on foot in the Yukon with a husky. He’s headed for a camp where there’ll be companions, fire and hot food. It’s –75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots. There’s a limited amount of time for him to get a fire going. (Pride, Survival, Nature, Danger of Self-Reliance, Experience vs Inexperience)
Read “To Build a Fire” (Includes Summary & Analysis)
“Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes
Mrs. Luella Jones, a large woman with a large purse, is walking home late at night in Harlem. A boy rushes up behind her and tries to grab her purse, but the strap breaks and he falls down. Mrs. Jones grabs the boy and brings him to her apartment. (Kindness, Empathy, Parental Oversight, Dignity) (Summary & Analysis)
Read “Thank You, Ma’am”
“The Moustache” by Robert Cormier
Mike, seventeen-years-old, is going to Lawnrest Nursing Home to visit his grandmother. She has a chronic circulatory disease and a fading memory. He isn’t eager to make the visit, uncertain if his grandmother will be having one of her bad days. (Guilt, Coming of Age, Aging, Judging Others) (Summary & Analysis)
“The Scholarship Jacket” by Marta Salinas
A fourteen-year-old girl in a small town Texas school has been a straight A student for eight years. This means she will be awarded the school’s scholarship jacket, but a complication arises. (Doing the Right Thing, Justice/Injustice, Guilt) (Summary & Analysis)
“Cemetery Path” by Leonard Q. Ross
Ivan is known in his village as a timid, fearful man. When he walks home at night he goes the long way around the cemetery, even though it’s cold. One night he is challenged to cross the cemetery. (Fear, Peer Pressure, Bullying) (Summary & Analysis)
“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. (Equality, Media Influence, Totalitarianism, Freedom)
This is the first story in the preview of Welcome to the Monkey House: Stories.
I hope you found some great short stories for theme.