English 138: Short Fiction: Telling Li(v)es

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English 138: Short Fiction: Telling Li(v)es

Carol Beran, Ph.D.

GV 207



Because short fiction is short, it delivers maximum pleasure in minimum time. Because short fiction is fiction, it takes us into the exciting world of the human imagination.

How short is short fiction? How fictional is it? This course will explore various forms short fiction has taken including anecdotes, parables, folktales, flash fiction, frame stories, linked stories, “standard” short fiction, and the novella. Thinking about fiction will take us into questions of autobiographical fiction, romance and realism, dirty realism, magic realism, and regionalism. We will pay particular attention to narrative techniques that create the intensity and compression typical of short fiction.
We will read a few stories from the nineteenth century, but the main focus will be on more recent short fiction as we seek an understanding of the genre as it is practiced by both male and female writers and writers of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
For those interested in creative writing, assignments will offer options to write short fiction as well as analyze it.


Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

Charles Baxter, A Relative Stranger

Kate Chopin, The Awakening and Selected Stories

Thomas Hardy, The Distracted Preacher and other Stories

Margaret Laurence, A Bird in the House

Alice Munro, The Beggar Maid

Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, ed. Thomas et al

3 x 33, ed. Winegardner

Supplementary text: Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms

When students have completed English 138, they should be able to:

  • Engage in active reading of short fiction of varying lengths informed by a broad base of literary, historical and cultural knowledge.

  • Read a wide range of short fiction with a critical eye, an awareness of the ways in which generic assumptions influence interpretation, and an understanding of current controversies related to fiction in general and to the short story in particular.

  • Apply a variety of reading strategies and combine critical detachment with the intellectual, imaginative, and emotional engagement necessary for appreciation.

  • Support oral and written arguments about short fiction with appropriate, thoughtfully analyzed evidence.

  • Converse articulately about texts and interpretations, understanding that interpretation often involved dialogue and collaboration.

Learning goals: Artistic Understanding

  • Engage in close reading and serious analysis of a group of texts important in the development of the short story form.

  • Read with attention to the language and formal features of each text; note each writer’s use and revision of conventions of the genre and be able to relate formal features of each text to the writer’s purpose.

  • Apply appropriate critical vocabulary (“point of view,” “plot,” “genre,” “literary convention,” for example) in analysis of texts.

  • Develop familiarity with multiple and evolving forms of the short story


Careful reading and preparation for class.

Active participation in class discussion and activities.

Good attendance. Credit will be deducted from the participation grade for each absence beyond two. More than 6 absences may result in a failing grade for the course.

Three out of 4 essays. (If you do all 4 essays, only the top 3 grades count). Late essays lose credit. Essays must use MLA format. All sources must be credited with parenthetical citations keyed to a Works Cited list. Academic integrity is expected at all times. Use precise terminology, referring to Abrams’s Glossary. You may do your essay with one partner from the class, if each partner participates equally in creating the essay. Include a Works Cited list with every essay, even if you use only books from the course reading list. Use MLA format (see Library webpage).

Project presentation.

Final exam, made up of questions created by the class.
The final grade for the course will be the average of 3 essay grades, the project grade, the participation grade, and the final exam grade.
Note on email: Please email me from your Saint Mary’s account, using a recognizable subject.

(Aug. 31 Social, cultural, and personal functions of storytelling. Genres of short fiction. Realisms, regionalism, autobiographical fiction. Traditional plot structure. Narrators. Implied author.)
Sept. 2 Hardy, “The Distracted Preacher.”
Sept. 7 Chopin, “The Awakening.”
Sept. 9 Hardy, “A Mere Interlude” and Baxter, “A Relative Stranger.”
Sept. 14 Hardy, “The Withered Arm” and Baxter, “Westland.”
Sept. 16 Hardy, “The Fiddler of the Reels” and Baxter, “Prowlers.”
Sept. 21 Hardy, “An Imaginative Woman” and Baxter, “Snow.” Essay #1 due.
Sept. 23 Chopin, “Love on the Bon-Dieu,” “Beyond the Bayou,” “A Visit to Avoyelles,” “A Night in Acadie,” “Ozeme’s Holiday,” “A Matter of Prejudice.”
Sept. 28 Chopin, “A Respectable Woman,” “Regret,” “Athenaise.”
Sept. 30 Anderson to p. 53.
Oct. 5 Anderson to p. 98.
Oct. 7 finish Anderson. Essay #2 due.
Oct. 12 Laurence, “The Sound of Singing,” “To Set Our House in Order,” “Mask of the Bear.”
Oct. 14 Laurence, “The Loons,” “Horses of the Night,” “The Half-Husky,” “Jericho’s Brick Battlements.”
Oct. 19 Munro, “Royal Beatings” and Privilege”
Oct. 21 Munro, “Half a Grapefruit,” “Wild Swans,” “The Beggar Maid.”
Oct. 26 Munro, “Mischief,” “Providence.” Essay #3 due.
Oct. 28 Munro, “Simon’s Luck,” “Spelling,” “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Nov. 2 Flash Fiction, stories beginning on pp. 25, 28, 34, 37, 41, 59, 61, 75, 84, 86.
Nov. 4 Flash Fiction, stories beginning on pp. 94, 97, 102, 123, 126, 128, 137, 142, 181, 198.
Nov. 9—Essay #4 due. Begin projects based on stories in 3 x 33; see project sheet for daily assignments for Nov.11, 16, 18, 23, 30, and Dec. 2.
Dec. 2 Bring questions for Exam.

Thursday, Dec. 11, 9:00-11:00. Bring bluebooks.

Book titles should be italicized:

A Relative Stranger

Short Story titles should be put in quotation marks:


Periods and commas go inside quotation marks:

I liked “Prowlers.”

Have you read “Prowlers,” a story by Charles Baxter?

Parenthetical citations go outside quotation marks:

As Baxter writes in “Prowlers,” “Everyone has secrets” (45).

If title or author or both aren’t clear in the paragraph, use a fuller parenthetical citation:

(“Prowlers” 45)

(Baxter 45)

(Baxter, “Prowlers” 45)

For short quotations within the paragraph, put the terminal punctuation outside the parenthetical citation.

“Everyone has secrets,” (Baxter, “Prowlers” 45).

The rule changes slightly with extracted quotations (more than 4 lines): end the quotation with a period, and then put the parenthetical citation. Only put quotation marks that appear in the original in an extracted quotation.

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files -> Course: engl 140, Studies in Literary Genre Name of proposer: Sandra Grayson

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