Short Stories About Identity, Belonging or Being Yourself

These short stories address identity in several ways:

  • Mistaken identity
  • Concealing a true identity
  • People figuring out who they are
  • Trying to fit in, among other possibilities

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“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

“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 IndianThis 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.

A lot of this sci-fi story can be read in the preview of the anthology Future on Fire(38% 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.

Read here

“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.

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South. Her daughter, Dee, an educated woman who’s drawn to a traditional African identity, is coming for a visit.

“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.

Read here

“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.

Read here

“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.

Read “The Magic Barrel”

“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.

Read here

“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.

Read “A Day Goes By”

“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.

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“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.

Read “The Bound Man”

“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.

Read “Red Dress-1946” (Free sign-up required)

“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.

Read “The Belonging Kind”

“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”