America’s short stories have developed over time to reflect not only the literary developments of the genre but also have kept in step with the political, social, and philosophical ideals of the periods. Beginning with writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, 19th century creations of short fiction showed a trend toward understanding human nature and morality.
Their stories, darker in some cases than stories printed only decades later, they used a particular style of third person narration that lent the sound of a morality tale to the overall plot and themes of the stories. Later, as America’s political and social landscape began to change, America’s author’s showed a similar move away from the imagined and attempted to relate a deeper realism to the issue of gender and even race. Such writers as Kate Chopin, Eudora Welty or Richard Wright were able to place the spotlight of American fiction within a more regional and individualized context.
Briefly, such writers as Ernest Hemingway pulled the genre to a more simplistic narrative that reflected the changing attitudes of literature itself with the emergence of Modernism. Since World War II, the short story has grown to represent the general fragmentations of politics, gender, sexuality, social norms and many more. Ray Bradbury’s fiction in the 1950s reflected a renewed fear of mortality that once more brought to light the morality of Poe and Hawthorne, though in a decidedly different and once unimagined context of a cold and heartless future.
While the bleakness of Bradbury’s future has dimmed, the harshness and danger of the realities presented by Joyce Carol Oates in her piece, “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been? ” shows the new challenges of a modern society. As time has passed, this reality has come more sharply into focus through the literary developments of the past and the individual has become the most powerful of plot devices, as shown in the non-climactic telling of Raymond Carver’s short stories.
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