These short stories address identity in several ways: mistaken identity, concealing a true identity, people figuring out who they are, people trying to fit in, and any other way that identity is an important issue. See also:
Short Identity Stories
“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)
“Heartburn” by E. M. Lacey
Nine-year-old Anala has broken her grandmother’s rules: don’t answer the door; don’t even look out the peephole. The popular girl, Summer, started talking to her, which led to her breaking the household rules and ending up in the back of a van. She doesn’t know why they want her. She’s not pretty like Summer. She has features she doesn’t like.
“Heartburn” can be read in the preview of Girls of Might and Magic: An Anthology by Diverse Books.
“Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Joey has a newfound celebrity status at school. She’s reminded of her first day when everyone was interested in her left arm. It’s her last day for at least six months. She’ll be going to live at Sky Tower with the team. Her friends speculate about who she’ll become and who she’ll be replacing. There’s a lot of uncertainty and excitement about Joey’s new path.
This story can be read in the preview of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories.
“One Small Step” by Aime Kaufman
The narrator, Zaida, is a seventeen-year-old girl living on Mars. As the first human born there, she’s a celebrity back on Earth. She has billions of followers who look forward to her updates. Her parents want her to go to Harvard. She’s not sure what she wants to do. Zaida goes out on inspection duty with her best friend, Keiko. One of the airlocks blows, hitting Keiko and damaging her suit.
This story can be read in the preview of Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology.
“Names/Nombres” by Julia Alvarez
In this essay, Alvarez talks about the difficulty Americans have with her family’s names. As soon as they enter the country, the Immigration officer pronounces it wrong. This continues through the years. Julia’s preference for how her name should be said evolves as she grows up. (Summary & Theme)
“The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club” by Sherman Alexie
The narrator was born with water on the brain. He explains what this means, and outlines the wide variety of other physical difficulties and peculiarities he suffered from. He definitely stood out as different, and was treated as such.
“The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club” is the first story in the preview of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This amazing novel can also be read as a series of connected short stories. They’re often excerpted in this way. If you haven’t read any of it yet, you’re in for a treat.
“Flotsam” by Deborah Eisenberg
Charlotte is reminded of when she first came to New York after breaking up with Robert. He grew tired of her, annoyed that she never seemed to want or do anything. Charlotte’s friend arranged for her to be roommates with Cinder. She spends time with Cinder, the men Cinder sees, and her friend Mitchell. Charlotte feels uncertain of herself.
“Flotsam” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg.
“James Penny’s New Identity” by Lee Child
James Penny, a Vietnam vet, is called into the boss’s office. He gets laid off, along with many others. A fellow worker tells him the company informed the bank of the layoffs. Penny has payments to make on his house, car, and furniture. His desperation and fury impel him to action.
“James Penny’s New Identity” can be read in the preview of Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up at Night.
“The Eighty-Yard Run” by Irwin Shaw
Christian Darling thinks about the time he ran for eighty yards in football practice at Midwestern University. He also thinks back on his college sweetheart, Louise, whom he married. He thinks about the wrong turns his life has taken.
This story can be read in the preview of Short Stories: Five Decades.
“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin
Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby’s background.
This story can be read by selecting it in the table of contents of The Awakening, and Selected Short Stories.
“A Cosmopolite in a Café” by O. Henry
The narrator is sitting in a crowded café when he is joined by a true citizen of the world. E. Rushmore Coglan talks about his travels and his familiarity with the globe. He proclaims his impartiality and decries any attachment to a particular place.
This is the second story in the preview of The Very Best Short Stories of O. Henry. (Pg. 7, Go into Kindle preview first, then select Hardcover)
“Learning to Be Me” by Greg Egan
Almost everyone has a small, dark jewel inside their heads that learns to be them. It analyzes everything the brain processes and alters itself to replicate it perfectly. As the narrator grows up, he ruminates on the implications of the jewel. Most people switch out their original brain for the jewel in their early thirties. This allows them to continue functioning at their best.
This is the first story in the preview of The Best of Greg Egan. (4% into Kindle preview)
“Alaree” by Robert Silverberg
A spaceship, the Aaron Burr, makes an emergency landing for repairs on an unexplored planet. They make contact with an alien, a pale-green humanoid. His name is Alaree, and he refers to himself as “we”. Alaree returns to visit the crew throughout the repairs, and they learn about each other.
This story can be read in the preview of The Robert Silverberg Science Fiction Megapack. (13% into preview)
“Twin Study” by Stacey Richter
A woman, along with her twin sister, is part of a study of twins. It’s been four years since the last meeting when she saw her sister. She compares herself to her sister.
The beginning of this story can be read in the preview of Twin Study: Stories.
“Rachel in Love” by Pat Murphy
Rachel, a small chimpanzee, watches a Tarzan movie on television. She knows her father, Dr. Aaron Jacobs, wouldn’t approve, but he’s still sleeping. When she gets hungry, she goes to wake him up. He has died of a heart attack. Rachel doesn’t know what to do. He is the only person she has ever known.
This sci-fi story can be read in the preview of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection. (27% into preview)
“The Hounds of Fate” by Saki
Martin Stoner is a weary, hungry man wandering aimlessly. He happens upon a farm-house. Thinking he might buy a drink with his last coin, he approaches the door. Before he can knock, he’s greeted by an old man who addresses him in a surprising way.
This story can be read in the preview of The Hounds of Fate: 13 Tales of Terror. (Pg 1)
“Dupe” by Tony Bertauski
The narrator hears a car horn, sees red and has a cup of coffee in front of him. He doesn’t remember anything before this moment. He doesn’t feel engaged in the environment, and the people in the diner seem to be going through the motions. The scene repeats with some added commotion from outside. Each repetition of the scene allows the narrator to figure out more.
This story can be read in the preview of The Gamer Chronicles. (23% in)
“#8” by Jack Ritchie
A man and his young redheaded passenger listen to a news report about someone who’s killed seven people. The police are searching the area and have roadblocks set up. The young passenger is impressed with the killer, and talks about his motivation and how smart he is.
This story can be read in the preview of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense. (65% in)
“Rates of Change” by James S. A. Corey
Diana is at the hospital, looking at her son in the medical bay. He’s only a black casing that holds his brain and a spinal column. His brain is active, but the interface took some damage. It’s not certain if he’ll be able to integrate into a new body. They’re working on making contact with him. Diana was against the decision that led her son here.
This story can be read in the preview of Meeting Infinity. (22% in)
“Pygmalion” by Seanan McGuire
At age ten, the narrator found out her mother was Galatea, the most powerful superwoman in the world. She also figured out that her father was Zenith, the most powerful superhuman. She, however, had no powers of any kind, and felt like she could never be good enough. The turning point came when her mother’s secret identity was revealed, putting her at risk.
This story can be read in the preview of Unmasked: Tales of Risk and Revelation. (18% in)
“The Father” by Raymond Carver
A family is gathered around a baby in a basket, doting over him and admiring his little features. They try to figure out who the baby looks like. (Summary and Analysis)
“Charles” by Shirley Jackson
Laurie starts kindergarten and comes home every day with stories of a classmate, Charles, who’s constantly getting in trouble for being “fresh”. Laurie’s parents wonder about Charles’ parents and worry that he’s a bad influence on their son. (Summary & Analysis)
“Clothing Dreams” by Margaret Atwood
A woman has been having a recurring dream about clothes for fifty years. She’s unsure of her identity and why she’s looking through the clothes.
This story can be read in the preview of The Tent. (62% in: Go into Paperback preview first, then select Kindle)
“Wounded Soldier” by George Garrett
The bandages are removed from the head and face of a wounded soldier. His wound was irreparable; the doctor apologizes for not being able to do more. A high-ranking officer visits the veteran to persuade him to stay out of sight.
“Across the Bridge” by Graham Greene
Joseph Calloway is hiding in Mexico after being charged with investment fraud in his own country. He’s being pursued by two detectives who are trying to identify him based on an old photograph.
“The Fat Girl” by Andre Dubus
Louise is a young, fat girl who doesn’t feel accepted by family or friends. When she goes away to college, she follows a strict diet and loses seventy pounds. When she goes home to visit, it leads to a lot of changes in her life.
“The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud
Leo Finkle, studying to be a rabbi, hears that being married would improve his job prospects. He consults a matchmaker, but is concerned about the commercial nature of the venture and wonders whether love plays any part in it. He has an important realization about himself during the matchmaking process.
“Going Fishing” by Norma Fox Mazer
Grace is up at four in the morning to go fishing. She doesn’t want to look in the mirror—she’s a big girl. She often dreams of men who make her self-conscious about her looks, rather than her ideal man.
“The Kid Nobody Could Handle” by Kurt Vonnegut
Jim Donnini is a new kid in town. He is Mr. Quinn’s nephew by marriage, and no one knows what to do with him. Jim is moody and a trouble maker at school. The head of the music department, George Helmholtz, tries to help the boy.
“Who Am I This Time?” by Kurt Vonnegut
A member of a theatrical society is named director for an upcoming play. He takes the job on the condition that he can cast Henry Nash, a shy but great actor, as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.
“A Day Goes By” by Luigi Pirandello
A man finds himself in a deserted train station with no memory of how he got there or who he is. He leaves the station, trying to get a sense of his identity and what is happening.
This allegory parallels a man’s life from birth to shortly before death. More specifically, it is likely an allegory for Pirandello’s life.
“From Behind the Veil” by Dhu’l Nun Ayyoub
Ihsan is a good-looking young man who likes looking at women when he’s out walking, preferring the women in veils. Siham is out taking her regular evening stroll to meet him. She’s pleased that her veil conceals her strong attraction to him.
“Don’t Call Me by My Right Name” by James Purdy
Lois Klein decides that she wants to go back to using her maiden name, McBane. This desire comes to the fore while she and her husband are attending a party with mostly men. Her husband is against the idea and an argument ensues.
“Dressing Up for the Carnival” by Carol Shields
“All over town people are putting on their costumes.” After this opening, the narrator describes the clothes, accessories, and activities of several people. We see how they behave, view themselves, and how they are seen by others.
“Ranch Girl” by Maile Meloy
The narrator describes what it’s like being born a girl into a middle-class ranching family. She talks about working with her father, the social rules of going through school, dating, and growing up.
“The Hidden Woman” by Colette
A husband and wife talk about the possibility of going to a costume ball where licentious behavior is common. The man says he has to make an out-of-town call on a patient; the woman demurs because of all the strangers there who could touch her.
“The Bound Man” by Ilse Aichinger
A man awakens on a path robbed, bleeding, and with arms and legs bound. He struggles to his feet and tries to make his way to the nearest town.
“Blue Winds Dancing” by Tom Whitecloud
A young Indian-American man, lonely and disillusioned with school, leaves for home to be with his own people again.
“Flying Home” by Ralph Ellison
Todd, a young black man training to be a pilot in World War II, comes to after a crash landing. He is worried about the reaction of the white officers to his failure. An old black man, Jefferson, checks on Todd and sends his son into town for help.
“Red Dress—1946” by Alice Munro
A thirteen-year-old girl is going to be attending a Christmas dance. Her mother is making her a new red dress, but she is becoming self-conscious about wearing homemade clothes. She is awkward and uncomfortable at school and doesn’t expect to do well in the social atmosphere of the dance.
“The Belonging Kind” by John Shirley & William Gibson
Coretti meets a captivating woman in a bar. They have a stilted but successful interaction before she leaves. Coretti follows her from bar to bar. Her appearance seems to change after each visit.
“Identities” by W. D. Valgardson
Moved by childhood memories, a man leaves his own affluent neighborhood and goes exploring. He ends up in a seedy area. He can’t blend in because he’s driving a Mercedes.
“My Name” by Sandra Cisneros
The narrator tells us about her name—what it means in Spanish and English, its history in her family and whether it suits her.
“The Lost Sanjak” by Saki
A condemned man tells his story of mistaken identity to the prison Chaplain. He claims that a lack of specialization led to the mix up. It started when he fell in love with the doctor’s wife. They began a neighborly friendship. When he expressed deeper feelings for her, things went bad.
Read “The Lost Sanjak”
“The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad
A ship is anchored in the Gulf of Siam. The new captain sees another ship anchored nearby. The second mate identifies it as the Sephora, which is transporting coal. The Captain decides to take the first watch himself. He notices the rope ladder over the side hasn’t been hauled in. As he deals with it, he sees the pale body of a man in the water. The man has been swimming a long time. He doesn’t want to raise an alarm. The Captain learns the man was under arrest on the Sephora but escaped. He has to decide what to do with him.
Read “The Secret Sharer”