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Evaluating the Short Story: Form
The Three Forms of the Short Story
When reading a short story, readers place a value on it. Either its trash or exemplary. Most of the time, of course, its somewhere in between . One of the most important factors in evaluating the short story is discerning the form in which it is written. Although rarely come across, the forms of the fable, tale and allegory need to be understood.
The origins of the modern short story lie in the oral tradition. Somewhere, sometime, someone told a story around a hearth and someone wrote it down. No other form of the short story proves this better than the fable and tale.
Animals usually do the talking in fables. What comes to mind is Aesops Fables. Remember the one about the fox and the sour grapes? When the fox could not reach the grapes, he preferred to believe they were sour.
A fable always has a moral. In this case, the moral is: What is difficult to attain is sometimes perceived as undesirable. Thats easier to do rather than obsess about the object of desire. At times the moral is stated clearly at the end as in haste makes waste or implied.
The Appointment in Samarra, W. Somerset Maughams re-telling of an Arabian folk story is an example of a fable. In this story, the moral is implied.
In this form of the short story, characters and other ingredients often stand for abstractions. An instance of an allegorical work is the seventeenth century novel Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan. In this book, characters stand for negative and positive values such as obedience, greed, wisdom and hypocrisy.
George Orwells Animal Farm is a modern example of an allegorical fable in which barnyard animals represent human victims and totalitarian tyrants.
The term tale comes from the Old English talu which means speech, clearly implying its oral origins. The term is sometimes applied to any story, short or long, fact or fiction, but for literary purposes, tale refers to a summary of strange and wonderful events without detailed description or deep characterisation.
An example of this yarn is Jack and the Beanstalk which impresses the reader more with its marvellous events than Jacks character.
When the reader, aware of these forms, reads a tale, fable or allegory, he does not write the story off as a failed story because of its lack of realism.