Narrative Structure Common to Short Stories of Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

narrative structure common to short stories of the past cannot be found in modern examples of the literary form, and that in short "nothing happens" in modern short stories. When one examines the modern short story on its own terms, however, exploring the text for what it contains and extracting meaning and action from the words on the page (and the words not on the page), rather than trying to read modern short stories according to the frameworks and preconceptions of the past, it becomes clear that this stance simply doesn't hold water. While it might be true that a direct narrative structure is less present in modern short stories than in examples from the past, it is far from true that nothing happens in the modern short story. An examination of two canonized and gripping short stories, William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Andre Dubus' "Killings," reveal that though narrative structure might have faded in important, character, setting, and even narrative distance can create very compelling "happenings."

Plot in the Modern Short Story

The "happenings" of a short story can generally be equated with the story's plot, and while this plot consists of the narrative events in a classic or traditional short story, it has increasingly been directly if not solely related to character development in modern short stories. Even when events make up a significant element of the plot, as they do in both "A Rose for Emily" and "Killings," the manner in which these events are communicated to the reader gives a stronger emphasis to character and the internal reactions to these events than it does to the events in and of themselves. In Faulkner's tale, all of the events of the story are related in the past tense, and in fact the titular protagonist of the tale has died before the events are recounted. It is through the recollection
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of events in Emily Grierson's past by a narrator that wasn't even present for the events that the story is moved forward, and at every turn it is clear that Miss Emily's development through the events of the story, not the events themselves, are of primary importance. Even when the tense shifts in the final section and the action is revealed through more traditional narrative, the focus remains on the absent Emily: "Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it…a long strand of iron-grey hair" (p. 5). The major plot revelation here is not the discovery of a rotting corpse, but the profundity of Emily's emotion. The same is true of "Killings," in which the story is entirely about the internal struggle of the Fowlers, particularly Matt, following the murder of their son; Matt's eventual decision to kill Richard Strout is not the climax of the story, but the emotional release experienced after the deed is accomplished is actually of greater import.

The settings of modern short stories also provide a great deal of the plots or "happenings" of these tales, with the changes in environment or in the description of the environment reflecting the changes in character and mood. Just as the extreme end of "A Rose for Emily" illustrates the importance of character in the story, the extreme beginning can help illustrate the importance of setting. Faulkner begins this tale with the line, "When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral (p. 1). Not only is the importance of the central character immediately made known, but so too is the importance of the context within which this character exists -- there…

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Works Cited

Dubus, Andre. "Killings." In Selected Stories 2nd Ed. New York: Vintage: 1996, pp. 47-


Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Accessed 18 October 2011.

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