The saddest story I have ever read

The saddest fictional story I have ever read is also the shortest.  It is quite famous for its brevity and content, and how the brevity of the story actually strengthens the content.  The story is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although the authorship is in doubt.  The story is untitled.  Here it is:


For sale: baby shoes, never worn.


baby shoesAn English teacher could do all sorts of things with this simple text.  I can imagine discussions of the importance of brevity in writing, of the necessity to eliminate verbosity, to show rather than tell (to use a bit of a writing cliché), to make ideas implicit rather than explicit.

If this kind of thing interests you, try a Google search on “flash fiction.”  That’s the name for this form of writing, of which the story above is an extreme example (most flash fiction stories are longer, though there is no consensus on how long is too long).

I first encountered the pseudepigraphical Hemingway story when I was a student at Simon Fraser University.  The story was presented to us in a fiction class, and part of what we did was to write our own story.  The only restriction we faced was that the story had to be twenty words or less.  There was one story that was especially memorable, although I regret to say that I don’t remember the name of my fellow classmate who wrote it, although I can still picture what he looked like.  (In case you’re wondering, I don’t remember what I wrote for the assignment, which is probably just as well.)  With all apologies to my classmate for forgetting his name, here it is, still stuck in my memory after all these years:


Every day when the whistle blows he punches the clock and walks out to his car alone.



Image courtesy of Flying Scot Glasgow