Short Stories About Guilt

Characters in these stories feel guilt or remorse over things they’ve said or done.

“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.”

This is the second story in the preview of Great American Short Stories.

Babylon Revisited | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Charlie Wales returns to Paris to get back his daughter, Honoria. She has been living with his sister, Marion. Charlie is financially secure and has abandoned the partying and drinking that contributed to the death of his wife and loss of his daughter.

Read “Babylon Revisited”

The Man Who Lived Underground | Richard Wright

An unnamed man is hiding from the police. In his desperate state he lifts a manhole cover and, despite the rushing water below, jumps in. He explores the tunnels and thinks about his options.

This story is a novella.

Roger Malvin’s Burial | Nathaniel Hawthorne

In 1725, two wounded soldiers have been struggling to safety for three days. The older one, Roger, is hurt worse; he knows he won’t make it. While resting by a rock, he tells the younger one, Rueben, to go on without him. They argue about it, and Roger tells a story to persuade the younger man to leave.

Read “Roger Malvin’s Burial”

Markheim | Robert Louis Stevenson

Markheim goes to a shop under the guise of looking for a present for someone. He really has murder on his mind, so he can then steal the dealer’s money and goods.

Read “Markheim”

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.

Read “Miss Leonora When Last Seen” (Pg 246)

Sonny’s Blues | James Baldwin

The narrator, a high school teacher, reads in the paper that his younger brother, Sonny, has been arrested for dealing heroin. Their lives have gone quite differently—Sonny, a jazz musician and drug user, and the narrator who is educated and living in a middle-class neighborhood—so the narrator feels guilt over not having been able to help his brother more.

Read “Sonny’s Blues”

The No-Guitar Blues | Gary Soto

Fausto wants a guitar more than anything. When he finds a lost dog, he is sure there will be reward money that he can use for a guitar, especially if he embellishes the story.

Read “The No-Guitar Blues”

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.

Read “The Shape of the Sword” (Pg. 73)

Absolution | F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rudolph, an eleven-year-old boy, goes to see Father Schwartz. He wants to confess a sin. He relates the events of last Saturday, when his father ordered him to go to confession. He ended up lying. With this guilt on him mind, he concocted a plan to avoid going to communion the next day.

Read “Absolution”