Short Stories About Independence, Individuality or Being Yourself

These stories feature characters who are asserting their independence, individuality or are showing who they really are. Others might be more focused on someone trying to squash individuality. They will usually be in conflict with other individuals, small groups, or society. For stories where people are in conflict with larger forces, see:

Stories About Independence or Individuality

“The Era” | Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenya

Ben is in school learning about the Long Big War and the Big Quick War. Ben isn’t optimized; he’s a clear-born. His sister, Marlene, is a rarity; her optiselection made her a para-one. She’s highly ambitious. Everyone receives regular helpings of Good at breakfast to function normally. Ben goes to the nurse for more.

“The Era” can be read in the Amazon preview of The Best American Short Stories 2019. (39% into preview)

“A & P” by John Updike

Three young women wearing bathing suits enter a grocery store. Sammy, a nineteen-year-old cashier, watches them as they move through the aisles. He focuses in particular on one he calls Queenie, who looks like the leader of the group. The other employees and customers also notice the girls. (Summary & Analysis)

Read here

Bartleby, the Scrivener | Herman Melville 

An elderly, Manhattan lawyer tells the story of Bartleby, the strangest law-copyist he has ever heard of. After being hired, Bartleby does good work for a short time. One day, though, he is asked to look over a document, and simply replies “I would prefer not to.” This marks the beginning of a trend for Bartleby.

This is the sixth story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.

My Man Bovanne | Toni Cade Bambara

Bovanne, an older, blind man is a guest at a fund-raising event for an African-American political group. Hazel, a relative of one of the group’s members, dances with Bovanne, causing a stir at the event.

This is the first story in the preview of Gorilla, My Love.

Robot Dreams | Isaac Asimov

Linda Rash, a robopsychologist, shows a master of the field, Susan Calvin, what has happened. Elvex, her robot, claims to have dreamed. Susan analyzes Elvex’s positronic brain patterns. Linda has applied fractal geometry to its brain to add complexity. Susan isn’t sure whether this is brilliant or disastrous.

This story can be read in the preview of the anthology Future on Ice(46% into preview)

“Bug Eater” by Nathan M. Beauchamp

The tribe’s men haven’t returned after three days and everyone knows there won’t be any food. Angi has been breeding generations of beetles, looking for a sustainable food source. She’s getting closer, but no one appreciates her work. They’re going to have to draw lots. Grandfather urges her to leave while she can.

This story can be read in the preview of OCEANS: The Anthology(16% in)

“They” by R. A. Hogan

Alice is on a ledge looking into the fog below. They told her to go there, the ones who keep humanity safe. They tell her to jump off, but she’s not sure. She uploads the picture to the Connection and her followers encourage her to do it. Alice had made the mistake of asking if anyone had ever disconnected, and worse, she even tried it for a while.

This story can be read in the preview of Science Fiction Stories(20% in)

“Deer in the Works” by Kurt Vonnegut

David Potter goes to the Ilium Works, a large industrial plant. They’re hiring lots of new staff to help fulfill an armament contract. David is a writer, which isn’t exactly what they’re looking for right now. After talking to the hiring manager, Mr. Dilling, David lands a job in the publicity department. His wife isn’t sure about the new job, because David loves the small paper he owns. They have four children now, though, and David thinks it’s time he work his way up in the corporate world. Plus, the job is still in journalism.

“The Fourth Alarm” by John Cheever

A man sits drinking gin on a Sunday morning. He doesn’t have much to do. His wife, Bertha, a good-looking young woman, will arrive tomorrow just for a day. She used to be a teacher, but now she lives near the theatre where she performs. She was cast in Ozamanides II, a scandalous show that made her husband want to seek a divorce.

“The Widow’s Might” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Three grown siblings—James, Ellen and Adelaide—gather at their mother’s home in Denver. They’ve just attended the funeral of their father, who died after a long illness. His will is to be read, and they all hope to settle matters quickly and return home. They discuss what is to be done with their mother, including where she will live and who will pay for her expenses. They hope there will be enough from the sale of the estate to cover most of it.

A Dill Pickle | Katherine Mansfield

After six years a woman and man meet again in a cafe. He talks about his life away from her and of shared experiences. She compares his recollections with her own. They fall into their old pattern.

Read “A Dill Pickle”

Black Walls | Liu Xin-Wu

It’s early on a Sunday morning in a small housing complex. The neighbors notice that Mr. Zhou is painting his room. Everyone is gathered in another resident’s room  to discuss the situation.

My Man Bovanne | Toni Cade Bambara

Bovanne, an older, blind man is a guest at a fund-raising event for an African-American political group. Hazel, a relative of one of the group’s members, dances with Bovanne, causing a stir at the event.

Read “My Man Bovanne”

A&P | 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.

Read “A&P”

Shifting | Ann Beattie

Larry and Natalie have known each other since they were ten and are now married. Larry is organized and follows a schedule. Natalie is more imaginative, and has her own interests. When Natalie inherits a car, they have different ideas about what should be done with it.

Rose-Johnny | Barbara Kingsolver

Georgeann, the eleven-year-old narrator, is curious about Rose-Johnny, a woman who runs the feed store. Parents warn their children to stay away from her. Georgeann thinks she seems ordinary, except she has really short hair and wears men’s boots. Georgeann comes up with an excuse to spend time around Rose-Johnny, to see what all the fuss is about.

The Revolt of ‘Mother’ | Mary Wilkins Freeman

Adoniram Penn is building a new barn on the spot where he had promised his wife, Sarah, that he would build the family a new house. She confronts him about it but he won’t speak of it. She sees an opportunity to assert herself, and takes it.

Read “The Revolt of ‘Mother'”

Three Thanksgivings | Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Mrs. Morrison is a fifty-year-old widow in a difficult financial situation. Her children want her to sell her house, while Mr. Butts, who holds the mortgage on her house, wants her to marry him. She tries to come up with a way to live independently.

A New England Nun | Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman

Louisa Ellis has lived alone a long time and is used to doing things her own way. Fourteen years ago, she promised to marry Joe Dagget when he returned from seeking his fortune in Australia. Joe returns and it’s time to fulfill her promise.

Read “A New England Nun”

Don’t Call Me by My Right Name | 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.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner | Alan Sillitoe

A teenager is sentenced to a school for delinquents for robbing a bakery. He turns to long-distance running and excels. He’s offered a reduced workload for the remainder of his sentence if he wins a prestigious race for his school.

Read “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”

So On He Fares | George Moore

Ulick, ten-years-old, lives with his mother in a cottage in Ireland. His father, a soldier, is away from home. Ulick wants to watch the boats pass, but his mother is controlling and strict, confining him to the garden. He dreams of running off.

Read “So On He Fares”

The Albatross | Susan Hill

Duncan is an eighteen-year-old with limited mental ability. He lives with his mother, Hilda. She controls his life, and thinks him incapable of doing anything without her guidance. She’s in a wheelchair and, thus, depends on him for help. Wanting some independence, Duncan is drawn to the sea. A fisherman, Ted, treats him well.

The Man in a Case | Anton Chekhov

Byelikov is a teacher, strict, narrow-minded and obsessed with propriety and following the rules. Not simply content to live this way himself, he also coerces others to conform. When a new teacher, Kovalenko, moves into the area, some people think his sister, Varinka, would make a good match for Byelikov.