Short Stories for Teaching Symbolism

Any teacher who’s ever made a joke that hurt someone’s feelings knows that high school students take things too literally.  This list of short stories for teaching symbolism will help eradicate the problem and put an end to all the mean emails.

Symbolism in “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne


The super duper Minister’s Black Veil teacher’s guide contains lesson plans, graphic organizers, rubrics, quizzes, and answer keys. It’s only $3.50. Buy it now!

Symbolism in “The Minister’s Black Veil” is unique insomuch that the story is dominated by a single predominant object that, the minister’s black veil. It symbolizes the following:

  1. Individual sin. This could be a personal sin that Hooper is hiding or specific sins that all hide.
  2. Original sin. The main objective of Hooper’s object lesson is that all are hiding something and that humans are inherently evil.
  3. The passage from life to death. The veil isolates Hooper, making him almost part of another world.
  4. Excessive pride. Hooper attempts to take the moral high ground…and makes sure everyone knows about it by covering his face with the veil.

Symbols in “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

This symbolism lesson plan specifically made for “The Masque of the Red Death” will prove beneficial.

Poe wrote many excellent short stories rife with intriguing symbols. The following symbols in “Masque of the Red Death” prove illuminating.

  • The Red Death represents death in general.
  • The castle and all its barricades represent the futility of man against death.
  • The clock symbolizes the approach of death.
  • Prince Prospero’s rooms progressing east to west represents the stages of life.
  • Prince Prospero’s name, symbolizing financial prosperity, along with the feudal symbols of a castle and the inability of peasants to enter the masquerade may also symbolize the death of the aristocracy and nobility of feudal times.

Other Poe short stories rich in symbolism include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“Through the Tunnel” by Doris Lessing

A vacationing lad with an overly protective mother strives to swim through an under water tunnel to prove his manhood. It doesn’t even take a dirty mind to figure out the symbolism in Doris Lessing’s “Through the Tunnel.”

  • A pasty English boy confronts “natives” swimming through a long tunnel. The natives symbolize the shedding of stuffiness.
  • The tunnel is a moist hole that the boy, just reaching puberty, wishes to enter.
  • He feels that penetrating the hole will make him a man.
  • He sticks his head in several times to get a feel for things. The growth around the mouth of the cave tickles his face.
  • He nearly passes out while going through the tunnel.
  • He exits, breathing heavily, head covered in blood.

I would play stupid and look shocked when students come up with their own interpretation. On second thought, don’t mention symbolism at all.

“A White Heron” by Sara Orne Jewett

“A White Heron” teacher’s guide contains tons of stuff: lesson plans, handouts, answer keys, a quiz, essay rubrics, and more. It’s only $5.95. Or just go to the free stuff by clicking the picture.

All is nice and peaceful in Sylvia’s rural world, just her and her grandma and a cow…..until the hunter shows up. He’s a handsome fellow with money. He offers Sylvia $10 if she can direct him to an elusive white heron, a white heron he wishes to kill and stuff and mount on his wall. Symbols in the short story include:

  • The white heron which represents the purity of nature.
  • Sylvia, whose name suggests she’s part of nature.
  • The hunter, who represents intrusion and the corruption of youth.
  • A large pine tree, which symbolizes the journey to clarity.

There is a coming of age element to the symbols–the large tree, long gun, knife. Just letting you know.

ELA Common Core Standards Covered

Teaching symbolism in short stories can accomplish the following ELA Common Core Standards.  This is for your administrator, not your kids.  Kids need student-friendly worded objectives.

  1. RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  2. RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Teaching Literary Elements with Short Stories

Understanding literary elements is necessary for literary analysis.  These short stories will help you teach literary elements.