Elements of Shock and Coincidence in Short Fiction
The following analysis is going to focus on the element of shock and coincidence present in short stories. As starting point, it would be convenient to define the short story as a genre, giving special importance to the structure and how it helps to impact on the reader. To make the analysis more precise, two particularshort stories will be profoundly analyzed in order to state the argumentations. These two well known stories are “The Fall of the house of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe and “Rappacini’s daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Both writers and stories have a very strong tradition in American literature and therefore in Europe as well.
Instinctively the short story cannot be defined simply as a small novel.However, the difficulty of defining exactly what a short story actually is has not been resolved. As an easy definition we could say that a short story is a short work of fiction. Novels are another example of fictional prose and are much longer than short stories. Some short stories, however, can be quite long. If a story is as long as fifty to one hundred pages, it is not a short story but anovella.
Both genres differ not only in the length but also in how the action is presented. Some critics as Shaw1 comment that ‘the short story’s narrative intensity has frequently been contrasted with the novel’s more leisurely manner’, although they are rather different. Because of the shorter length, a short story usually focuses on one plot, one main character (with some additional lessimportant characters), and one central theme, whereas a novel can have multiple plots and themes, with variety of characters. Short stories are also more exposed to experimentation. They can use uncommon prose styles or literary devices to tell the story. Such uncommon styles or devices might be annoying in a novel, but they may work well in a short story.
This type of literary genre is characterizedmainly by the short length of the narrative and the concrete plot, which most of the times is focused on one certain event. Edgar Allan Poe says in his Philosophy of Composition2 that the ideal short story must be short enough to be read at a single sitting.
In order to capture reader’s attention in such a short period of time, the story has to fulfill some characteristics that could remain inthe reader’s mind. They should influence his feelings as much as, for example, a good film should do. The author has to be aware of this essential element, otherwise his works will not success. Every short story should have some important elements that may contribute to it, like the kind of characters, the setting, the development of the plot, the conflict and the theme. The plot is always dividedin five steps (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution) which take place always in relation to a particular event giving structure to the story.
The element of shock and coincidence present on many short stories is the main resort used by the authors in order to, as already has been said, capture the readers’ attention. A perfect example to justify the common usage ofthis element is the story “The fall of the house of Usher”, by Allan Poe, one of the most known short-fiction masterpieces of all time. It is a great example of a story on the basic level of a gothic horror, in which the element of fear is evoked in its highest form. There are many different elements that play an essential role in suggesting this. An old house, dreary landscape, mysterioussickness, and doubled personality characters contribute to the horror and shock feeling. This atmosphere is appreciable since the beginning and during the entire story, as we can observe in the first paragraph of “The house of Usher”:
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on...