The Best Short Stories about Marriage

Marriage, a central theme in literature, explores the complexities of love, commitment, conflict, and other aspects of human relationships. As countless individuals spend a significant portion of their lives married to someone, it comes as no surprise that literature delves into the diverse facets of marriage. The short story form allows writers to explore marriages in jeopardy, infidelity temptations, happy unions, and a myriad of other variations on the theme of marriage.

Kate Chopin, 'A Respectable Woman'

Let us embark on this selection of classic short stories about marriage with 'A Respectable Woman,' written in 1894 by Kate Chopin (1850-1904), an American author. When the story was first published, it faced some negative reviews due to its perceived 'unnecessary coarseness' in handling certain subject matters.

'A Respectable Woman' tells the story of a woman whose husband invites his old college friend to stay with them on their plantation. Although she expects to dislike the visitor, she finds herself strangely attracted to him, leading to confusion about her feelings and a struggle to remain faithful to her husband.

O. Henry, 'The Gift of the Magi'

'The Gift of the Magi' is a short story by O. Henry, the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), an American short-story writer. The narrative unfolds on Christmas Eve, portraying Jim and Della, a married couple living in a modest furnished flat in New York.

The story explores the lives of this contented couple living in challenging financial circumstances. Despite their poverty, their marriage remains strong as they each strive to make the other happy by sacrificing to buy the perfect gift. However, their plans to surprise each other take an unexpected turn.

James Joyce, 'The Dead'

Considered one of the longest and most profound stories in Joyce's 1914 collection Dubliners, 'The Dead' borders on being a novella rather than a typical short story. Set during New Year festivities, the story revolves around Gabriel Conroy and his wife's attendance at a party.

'The Dead' meticulously captures the minutiae of the party – conversations, dances, speeches, and snide remarks – gradually revealing not only Gabriel's personal revelations but also reflecting the state of Dublin and Ireland as perceived by Joyce. The story concludes with Gabriel uncovering a secret his wife has kept since before their marriage, further emphasizing marriage as a significant theme in this masterful work of fiction.

Katherine Mansfield, 'Bliss'

Published in 1918, 'Bliss' centers around Bertha Young, a young wife and mother, as she prepares to host a dinner party for friends. The arrival of a captivating socialite named Pearl introduces subtle hints of complex emotions and moods experienced by the protagonist, Bertha.

The story raises questions about Bertha's romantic attraction towards Pearl and her true desires for her husband. However, it is at the conclusion of the dinner party and the story itself that Bertha discovers something that disrupts her entire world. 'Bliss' exemplifies the remarkable storytelling of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), one of the greatest modernist writers of her time.

Zora Neale Hurston, 'Sweat'

'Sweat,' published in 1926, emerges from the pen of Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), one of the leading African-American female writers of the early twentieth century. The story is set in Florida and revolves around Delia, a washerwoman, and her unemployed husband, Sykes.

Sykes mistreats his wife and harbors resentment towards her for having to clean the clothes of white individuals. However, Delia devises a satisfying revenge when her husband attempts to harm her.

Ernest Hemingway, 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber'

'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber' is a popular Ernest Hemingway story that features an uncharacteristically atypical protagonist. Initially published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1936, the story follows an American married couple on a safari in Africa accompanied by their English guide.

The husband's cowardice during a lion hunt leads to a loss of respect from his wife. Themes of courage and cowardice intertwine in this narrative, framed by the husband's initial failure of nerve, which is revealed through a flashback later in the story.

John Steinbeck, 'The Chrysanthemums'

'The Chrysanthemums' (1937) stands as one of John Steinbeck's most renowned and highly regarded short stories. Set during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the narrative focuses on a housewife who experiences a chance encounter with a traveling tinker.

This encounter awakens something within her, leading her to question her own marriage. Steinbeck masterfully explores the complexities of human emotions in this poignant tale.

J. D. Salinger, 'Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes'

'Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes' is a short story by J. D. Salinger, first published in 1951. The story unfolds through a phone conversation between two men, Arthur and Lee, following a party. Arthur becomes increasingly worried about his wife's possible affair, while Lee attempts to console him and advises him to wait for his wife's return.

However, a subtle twist near the end of the story adds a surprising element to the narrative.

John Cheever, 'The Enormous Radio'

'The Enormous Radio' is a short story by American writer John Cheever, initially published in the New Yorker in 1947 and later included in the collection titled 'The Enormous Radio and Other Stories' in 1953. Blending elements of magic realism, the story revolves around a middle-aged married couple who acquire a radio capable of eavesdropping on their neighbors' conversations.

Through its meticulous attention to details, symbolism, and exploration of characters, Cheever captures the quiet frustrations and dissatisfactions that can arise within a middle-class American marriage.

Angela Carter, 'The Bloody Chamber'

'The Bloody Chamber' serves as the title story of Angela Carter's renowned collection and stands at a length that almost qualifies it as a novella. Carter (1940-1992) draws inspiration from the French folk tale of Bluebeard, a man who murdered his successive wives and kept their bodies locked away in his castle.

In Carter's rendition, the Bluebeard figure becomes a French Marquis who marries a teenage bride. As expected, the bride discovers the fates of her predecessors when she enters his 'bloody chamber' using the forbidden key while he is away on business.

Each of these exceptional short stories offers a unique perspective on marriage, weaving together captivating narratives that delve into the complexities of human relationships and the myriad emotions experienced within the institution of marriage.

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