Edgar Allen Poe helped to popularise the short story as an important literary form in the 19th century. Poe's work laid the rules and groundwork for the short story. Although the rules are not set in stone, it is possible to identify a general framework for the short story. Short stories are complete in themselves and generally are readable at one sitting. The opening sentence sets the tone of the story. A short story typically revolves around one or two themes that are developed during the course of the story.
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Read the short stories that you wish to compare. Critical reading requires that you read the stories more than once. Simply read through the short story the first time like an ordinary reader. This will give you an overall understanding of the short story as a complete unit. Read through each of the stories in the same manner.
Carefully and critically read through the stories a second time. Have a notepad and pen. Some readers like to mark or underline important passages with a pencil. Pay attention to the background, the historical and political circumstances, the characters, and the themes of each story. Make a list of the important theme or themes.
Write down quotations from the important passages that symbolise and represent the themes of the story.
Read the critical and historical secondary literature on the authors. Understanding an author's social world, economic circumstances and relationship among his or her peers provides important insights into the thematic material of a story or book.
Write a short synopsis of the major themes for each short story. Pay particular attention to how the authors deal with and write about the themes, as well as the actual content of the themes.
Make a list of categories for the themes. Possible categories may include gender, sex, death, urban or rural lifestyles, political issues and so forth.
Compare and contrast the themes of the short stories. For example, two different authors may have very different ideas about the urban lifestyle or the role of sex or gender. Consider how each of the authors writes about the themes. One author may present a theme in a straightforward manner while another author may address a similar theme in a much more metaphoric or ambiguous manner.
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