This page contains amazing stories that have stayed with readers for many years. Some of them are simple and others are more complex, but both types evoke a strong emotional response. They’re must read selections for fans of short fiction. Be warned that not all these short stories are moving in a positive way. See also:
Moving Short Stories
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas | Ursula K. Le Guin
The citizens of Omelas are happy, but the narrator is vague as to what exactly they have which makes them so. However, the people’s happiness depends on one thing, which all the citizens are aware of.
This story presents a memorable moral dilemma.
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” is the third story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story.
A Distant Episode | Paul Bowles
A linguistics Professor visits Ain Tadouirt in the warm country. He goes to the cafe of Hassan Ramani, a man he had met ten years earlier. After finding out his old acquaintance is dead, he gets a local to show him where to buy some goods he is looking for. They set off on a walk.
This story, first unsettling and then shocking, will stay with you.
This story can be read in the preview of The Stories of Paul Bowles.
A Jury of Her Peers | Susan Glaspell
A farmer in Dixon County is found murdered in his home. His wife is the primary suspect and she is held on suspicion of the murder. While the authorities investigate the scene, two of the men’s wives collect a few items for the accused.
This memorable story is a warning against a patronizing, superior attitude and much more.
This story can be read in the preview of A Moment on the Edge: 100 Years of Crime Stories by Women.
The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry
A poor husband and wife try to figure out how to get each other a nice Christmas present. (Themes)
This moving, sentimental story about the beauty of selfless giving will stay with you forever.
This is the first story in the preview of The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories.
2 B R 0 2 B | Kurt Vonnegut
Life is almost perfect—no prisons, poverty, wars, disease or death. The US population is maintained at 40 million. Edward Wehling is at the hospital, and is in despair. His wife is going to give birth to triplets. Due to population control, this is a major problem.
This is the first story in the preview of Worlds of If Superpack #2.
“A Grain of Mustard Seed” by Ellis Peters
When they lived in Lahore, the narrator’s father, a Hindu, had a Muslim friend, Mahdar, who was a struggling shoemaker. Her father gave him some business and recommended him to others, which allowed him to get out of debt and save some money. Her father believed in God, and believed that people were inherently good. The troubles surrounding the partition of India, when hostilities broke out between Muslims and the Hindu/Sikh populations, caused a major change in their relationship.
I don’t want to give anything away on this one, but I won’t forget it.
This story can be read in the preview of The Lily Hand and Other Stories. (29% in)
A Good Man is Hard to Find | Flannery O’Connor
An extended family is headed to Florida for a vacation. The grandmother wants to go to Tennessee instead, so she talks about an escaped murderer—The Misfit—who is suspected to be on his way to Florida.
It’s no accident that this is one of the most frequently anthologized short stories. It has deft characterization, will make you think about what “good” really means, and has an unforgettable ending.
This story can be read in the preview of A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. (Kindle preview)
The Story of an Hour | Kate Chopin
A woman is given the news that her husband has been killed in a train accident. Over the next hour, she thinks about what her life will be and experiences a range of emotions.
This story is memorable for revealing a forbidden reaction to devastating news.
To Build a Fire | Jack London
In the Yukon, a man is traveling on foot with a husky in the wilderness to meet some acquaintances. It’s – 75 degrees and even though he’s careful, he breaks through some ice and soaks his boots, necessitating a fire.
This story of a man’s struggle for survival against the elements is a warning, a statement of our relationship to nature and, most of all, an engaging adventure.
“A Dark-Brown Dog” by Stephen Crane
A dog follows a small boy home, even though the boy tries to scare the dog away with beatings. They become close, but the other members of the family continue to treat the dog badly. (Summary)
Hairball | Margaret Atwood
Kat goes to the hospital to have a large ovarian cyst removed. There’s no way to know if it’s malignant until the doctor “goes in”. After the operation she makes an unusual request. We learn some of Kat’s personal history, including her job at a fashion magazine, her relationship with Gerald, and the many versions of her name. (Summary)
This story grabbed my interest immediately. More significantly, it held my interest even though it wasn’t always clear to me what was at stake. Another one that delivers a believable shock.
“The Bishop’s Silver” by Victor Hugo
While in town running errands, Madame Magloire, the housekeeper, hears about a vagabond who’s been spotted and is probably up to no good. She tells the bishop but he seems unconcerned. There’s a loud knock at the door. A tired but fierce looking man enters. Madame Magloire and Mademoiselle Baptistine, the bishop’s sister, are frightened. The man is a convict, released only four days ago. He can’t find an inn that will take him due to his past. He’s looking for a place to stay the night.
This story is an excerpt from the novel Les Misérables. It’s one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read.
Coco | Guy De Maupassant
A young farmhand beats and starves a nag in his care.
A story to rouse your sense of compassion and justice.
The Veldt | Ray Bradbury
A family lives in a futuristic house that automatically meets all their needs, including a nursery for the children that can create any scene they want. The parents are thinking about reducing their reliance on technology by taking a break from the nursery and all the automation, but the children are against the idea.
This is a powerful story about over reliance on technology and the possible dangers of it.
The Little Match Girl | Hans Christian Andersen
A young girl seeks shelter from the cold in a nook. She can’t go home because she was unable to sell any matches; her father would beat her. She wants to light one of her matches to warm herself.
Another moving, sentimental story to rouse your sense of compassion and justice.
Portrait of a Lady | Jose Leandro Urbina
A lady is led by her jailers into an interrogation room.
This is a very short, powerful story of inner strength.
Family | Joyce Carol Oates
The narrator relates the family history of her youth. Her family was wealthy. Her father liked to spend time on the roof observing all the construction in the Valley. There was an economic downturn. The National Guard starts patrolling the area for feral animals and criminals. The Mother and Father go to the capital for a loan. Mother comes back by herself with the news that she and Father have separated. This leads to a series of unusual events.
This is a memorably messed up family.
The Child Who Favored Daughter | Alice Walker
A girl gets off the school bus and walks toward her house. Her father sits on the porch watching. He knows about the letter. She’s sure of it, but she doesn’t know how he knows about it. He has a shotgun within reach. He thinks back to his own sister and how things went for her. His daughter reminds him of his sister.
I don’t want to say any more about the story. It’s outrageous and shocking, but believable.
“The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather
Two shabby young men talk about getting some food. One decides to walk to a saloon where he knows the owner, hoping to get something from him. The other, Crawford, isn’t up for the walk so they split up. Crawford has reached his breaking point; he can see that he’s failed and there’s no hope. He thinks about what has led him to this point. He decides to steal something.
A moving story of forgiveness and love.
I’ll keep adding moving, powerful, memorable or otherwise unforgettable short stories as I find them.