Lecture on Short Story

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The short story
Narrative genres, such as the novel or the short story, are born out of the very powerful human need to tell stories, out of our fundamental desire to give shape to experience in order to understand it and share it with the community. Through story telling early communities made sense of natural phenomena, unexpected events, and personal experience. Storytelling enabled them to pass on valuable information and to keep the memory of their ancestors alive down the generations. Storytelling satisfies our need to understand and control our origins and destiny; it enables us to meaningfully shape our individual and communal experiences (to extract meaning from experiences that can appear senseless, bewildering or even
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A Review”, Essays and Reviews, The Library of America. 569-577). Intensity and tension are the two qualities that Poe singles out as distinguishing short narratives from longer narratives like the novel. Poe even prescribes the ideal length of the short tale as that which can be read “at one sitting” in order to preserve the desired “unity of impression” without which “the deepest effects cannot be brought about”. Although Poe understands that there is a danger in extreme brevity (its effects will not be lasting), that danger is far surpassed by the unpardonable sin of extreme length that plagues the novel. The middle point between them is desirable but if, in doubt, the balance is obviously in favour of the short story writer: those who err on the side of brevity can be fickle, those who err on the side of length can become something altogether more unforgivable, they can be bores.

Poe’s essays, naturally biased towards the genre at which he excelled, have been extremely influential in our understanding of the genre and its development. His emphasis on technique and construction allows us to understand how the short story departs from other short narratives like the
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