Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story

By Farhat Iftekharrudin; Joseph Boyden et al. | Go to book overview

Preface

Psycholinguists have noted that a human child's first complex utterances are in story form. Extrapolating from this thesis, these scientists propose that we regard the short story, not the word, phrase, or sentence, as the most basic unit of human expression. Parallel to this finding and as far as scholars have been able to determine, the roots of the short story go back very far indeed. They are in Greek, Norse, Native American, African, and Celtic mythologies (to name a few). They are in the matter of Britain, France, and Rome; they are in the Biblical parables of the Old and New Testaments. It is even probable that they are within the oral traditions of prehistoric human interactions that took place around the first campfires of the first human communities.

However, these early narratives were likely different from the short stories we write today. In fact, most literary historians and short-story theorists date the short story as genre from the early nineteenth century when the impact of the prose narrative creations of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe (in the United States), and Nikolai Gogol (in Russia) compelled literary theorists to find a name for a unique method of storytelling. In 1842, Poe's review of Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales described the kinds of stories that Hawthorne included in that collection, stories that had been previously published in different journals, thus, twice-told.

Poe's chapter remains a critical touchstone for many scholars engaged in short-story theory. Besides insisting that the short story be short enough to be read in one sitting, Poe emphasized that a primary characteristic of the short story, then called [tale,] must be its unity of effect. In other words, all the elements within the composition of the tale ought to elicit from the reader one coherent response. Additionally, Poe remarked on submerged metaphors, which a

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