Barometers have often been likened to short stories—measuring momentary shifts in atmospheric pressure. Short Stories, like barometers are sensitive instruments, recording impressions about the stresses our world is under. What separates Short Stories though from their meteorological counterparts is that, what they measure is infinitely more elusive than the pressure air places on the Earth. What they measure are the prevailing spirits of a times—the Zeitgeist.
These four authors, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, and Crane, have, in their respective texts, created stories that not only measure this spirit but capture it. From a writer’s perspective, these authors imbedded the zeitgeist of their eras into the very alloy of their stories like coppersmiths—pounding every character, every description and mundane object into a vessel of meaning. However dissimilar in subject matter, “Babylon Revisited” , “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”, “Araby”, and “The Open Boat” are similarity in that they have been fashion to speak to more than their immediate subject matter. It is because of this intentioned placement of meaning, symbolism and allegory that these stories are able to transcend their subject matter—because each functioning part of the story has been strategically tied to something greater than itself.
Whether it be the object imbedded with pathos as in Crane’s “The Open Boat” or the character of “Babylon Revisited” made in to proxies for real life people in Fitzgerald’s work, or it be the use of patriotic tropes of Irish Womanhood in Joyce’s “Araby”—everything in these stories call on the very spirits that drive us as human beings. These spirits and the unlocking of them are what makes these stories resonate, not only within the times they were written, but in the rich fabric of literary history of which they are a part.
These short stories find their roots in either a societal truth, a personal truth, or a metaphor and this case study seeks to explore how author’s employ the spirit of the time—the zeitgeist—as well as their own histories to give their stories greater import. More simply put, these writers have honed their ability to use what the know we already have lingering around in our head to what we all ready have in our heads to break their dependance on being culturally situated to speak the millions unborn who have yet to read their pages.
-Vincent Hugh Bish, Jr.
Bish, Vincent, "LIBERATING THE ZEITGEIST: Using Metaphor & Emotion To Unlock the Transcendency of The Short Story" (2011). General Student Scholarship. Paper 1.