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.
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
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.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2a: "The Rocking-Horse Winner"
For our first classic tale of the power of money, we present "The Rocking-Horse Winner," by D.H. Lawrence. As you read, pay attention to what the characters want, and why.
Since this story is about money, and it happens in England, you might want to know about these monetary units called Pounds and Shillings.
Back in the day, 20 shillings or 240 pennies equaled 1 pound (That funny £ symbol is for pound). While you are reading, use this currency converter to figure out what the pound amount from the 1920s would be worth in this decade.
Then convert your answers to U.S. dollars here.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.2b: How Stories Take Over the World
Okay, question: now that we've read "The Rocking-Horse Winner," how do we go about reading it? (Hey, we warned you there was going to be reading!) Like, really, really getting into the nitty-gritty of what on earth it was all about? Well, the best way to start is to break the thing down into its parts. What's a short story made of? What is the recipe for putting one together? And how does the author tweak that recipe to create his own kind of special sauce? (And, no, it's not just ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together.)
Let's start with one of the most basic ingredients: the plot. Yes, just like the evil masterminds in superhero movies, stories have plots. (Profound, we know.) What is this thing called plot, and how does it help stories take over the world?
In a word, the plot all the events that happen in the story—all the action, all the verbs, all the doing. Wait, that's more than one word, isn't it…uh…
Basically, take away all the characters, take away all the descriptions of rolling hillsides and the way the sun creates dancing shadows on the lake water, take away all the talk about feelings, and everything you've got left? That's the plot.
Sometimes, it's good to just tell the story how it happened. You know, "first he did this, then she did this, then she did that, then they did the next thing." This works really well for court testimony—think of any movie courtroom scene, when the lawyer directs the witness to say what happened chronologically.
But what if you're not in court and need to spice the plot up a bit? If you're a writer, what you do is muck about with the chronology of the telling. Not the actual order in which events happen, but the order in which the reader finds out about them. In other words, you're not changing the plot itself, but just the plot structure—how the thing is put together. You're using all the same Lego pieces, just rearranging how you attach them to each other. So, how does a hotshot writer get his lego-plot game on? He uses plot devices that give stories their power to amuse, delight, surprise, and keep you coming back for more:
Flashbacks: Flashbacks occur when whatever you're reading breaks with chronology to give us a glimpse of the past—or the future (we call that a flashforward). Flashbacks can come in the form of a conversation, a dream, or a memory. Or they can just happen, out of the blue, Lost style.
Foreshadowing: Think of foreshadowing as the literary spoiler. It's just a fancy term for when a book gives us hints or suggestions about what's going to happen down the road a page or two (or two hundred). Authors put this trick to use in a number of ways—by describing a similar event, by conspicuously pointing out an object that will rear its ugly head later, or by using words and imagery that hint at the future. It's all fair game.
Irony: Irony's no one-trick pony: It comes in many forms, most of which have to do with contradicting actual and literal meanings. Verbal irony, for example, has to do with the tension between what is said and what is really meant. You've probably used this more than a little in your own life, like when you say, "I'm fine," when really you mean just the opposite. Liar.
Situational irony, on the other hand, plays with the difference between expectations and reality. Rather than explain this one, Shmoop's going to tell you a story:
Remember the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand? No? Well he's the guy who got shot and then World War I happened. Yep. Moving right along. He and his wife were touring Sarajevo when a group of assassins tried to bomb his cavalcade. The bomb bounced off and rolled under another car, but Ferdinand freaked and insisted they deviate from their planned route. Because of this change, his driver got lost, and they wound up right outside a deli where the final assassin, after learning about the unsuccessful plot, went to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a sandwich. The assassin stepped out of the deli, saw the car, and killed Ferdinand with the "shot heard 'round the world." Well, one of them, anyway.
Did you catch the irony? Ferdinand flipped out because of the bomb scare, but the assassins gave up after it failed. If ol' Ferdo had just stayed the course, he never would have ended up outside that deli within pistol-range of Gavrilo Princip, the mopey assassin who hit a major streak of luck. Yep, that's situational irony.
Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something—usually a lot of things—that the characters don't. Remember You've Got Mail? Wake up, Meg Ryan: Tom Hanks is that very same dude you've been chatting it up with online, and he doesn't look like a Clark bar. To be fair, he doesn't look like Clark Gable, either. Sorry, Tom.
Irony can be funny, but it's not, by any means, the same thing as comedy or satire. It often gets used for comedic effect, but some irony is downright tragic (like the fact that Meg Ryan doesn't know she's looking her true love right in the eye).
Famous ironists include Jonathan Swift, Jane Austen, and Stephen Colbert, but it's used all over the place in literature, movies, television, and just about everywhere in between.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.2: Dollar for Dollar on a Timeline
There's just no better way to get a handle on a story's plot than what you're about to do. That's right: it's time for a timeline. But this timeline's special, because it doesn't just include the plot of the story. That's kid stuff. Nope, we want you to include the plot devices, too.
So, start by putting up the chronological timeline of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" (first this happened, next that happened, then that, the end).
Now go back to the story and go over it with a fine-toothed comb. (Yes, you can borrow the one your mom used on your little brother when his preschool had that head lice outbreak. Just be sure to clean it first.) You're on the hunt for plot devices, specifically
1 example of foreshadowing
1 example of situational irony
1 example of dramatic irony
Add these to your timeline wherever they occur in the story, and describe them.
Then upload your timeline below.
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4