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Power in Literature: Short Stories

The power of money as seen through short stories.

"Money, Money, Money." "Material Girl." "Mo Money Mo Problems." From ABBA to Madonna to Notorious B.I.G., everybody's singing about the power of money. It is all about the Benjamins. If you've ever wondered why our culture is so obsessed with money, this course is for you. And if you so get it (because, after all, who doesn't like fancy cars and diamond necklaces?), then this course is also for you. In it, you'll discover:

  • what a necklace, a rocking horse, and a monkey's paw have to do with the power of money.
  • just how far some people are willing to go to make the big bucks.
  • what gives money its power over us—and whether you, too, are vulnerable.

We know you're hoping that we'll teach you all of this great stuff by giving you a million bucks and letting you spend it however you'd like. But since we're not Oprah, we'll give you something even better: short stories, and the tools to analyze them. "How is that better than a million bucks," you ask? Take our Power Lines course on short stories and find out.

The Power in Literature Series

Have you ever wondered what makes you keep turning the pages of the latest page-turner? Why those "Happy Anniversary" Hallmark cards come with cheesy love poems inside? Or maybe you're curious about why, when you get on the internet to find out how tall Tom Cruise is (because he looks really short next to Katie Holmes, and she wasn't even wearing heels), you emerge three hours later an expert on the mating habits of ducks. What gives language in all its forms—whether prose, poetry, or on a web page—its power to entertain, persuade, and make us lose all sense of time and decency?

Shmoop's Power in Literature nano-series investigates this question by taking apart some literature genres—short stories, poems, nonfiction, and web reading—to figure out what makes them go. Each twelve-lesson, fully Common Core-aligned course for grades 9–10 introduces students to the basic nuts and bolts of the genre. And just to make things really interesting, we look at the power of money, love, freedom, and fame while we're doing it.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Money Makes the World Go Round (Short Stories)

Short stories. They're the neglected middle child of the lit world, sandwiched somewhere between novels and poetry and looking to get some respect. But we at Shmoop think short stories rock. That's why, in this course, we use three short stories about the power of money ("The Rocking-Horse Winner," "The Necklace," and "The Monkey's Paw") to teach the nuts and bolts of literary analysis. Students go down the short story rabbit hole and come out the other side with an understanding of some important basics: characters, plot, setting, symbolism, and themes.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 2: Rocking Horse to Hell

It is a truth universally acknowledged that two quotes in contradiction must be in need of resolution.


One of our favorite authors, Jonathan Swift (you know; the guy who proposed we eat the young in A Modest Proposal) once said, "A wise man should have money in his head, but not in his heart." But, Jane Austen, yes, another of our favorites, once wrote, "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."

So who's right, Jonathan or Jane? Is money truly the root of all evil? On Jane's side, there's the fact that money buys some pretty cool stuff, and even some really good stuff, like shoes and coats in the winter for people who can't afford them. Great art. Books. A juicy filet mignon. But on the other hand, money's power to possess and be possessed can be downright eerie.

That's certainly the case in "The Rocking-Horse Winner," a short story by D.H. Lawrence in which a young boy is so tormented by his family's need for money that he rides his rocking horse all the way to his death bed. Money turns out to be a powerful—even evil—force in this story. But you don't have to take our word for it. Read on.

Power in lit pt 5