Reading about Revolution

Thousands of alumni remember the same fun-loving smile Mary Smith showed in this circa-1970 photo.Democratic movements across the Greater Middle East have captured headlines this year. But reading about revolution has long been a part of the curriculum at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

We unearthed a 1996 course packet from the late Professor Emerita of English Mary Smith’s English 103 course: “Masterpieces of Literature: Revolution.” Here’s a look at the short stories Smith had NWU students reading 15 years ago.

“Barn Burning,” by William Faulkner, 1939
Abner Snopes revolts against men who hold power over him. Meanwhile, his young son is pushed to do the same to him.

“Popular Mechanics,” by Raymond Carver, 1981
As a man and woman break up in this chilling and short piece, there is no higher priority than hurting one another.

“A & P,” by John Updike, 1961
A young grocery checker admires three girls as they shop in swimsuits. When his boss scolds them for their dress, the clerk takes a stand in their defense.

“Better Be Ready ‘Bout Half Past Eight,” by Alison Baker, 1993
When Byron’s friend and coworker makes a revolutionary transition from Zach to Zoe, Byron must grapple with his own identity.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1976
Everyone in the nearly Utopian Omelas knows the cruel leg on which their shared prosperity stands. But few have the moral fiber to “walk away from Omelas.”

“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” by Harlan Ellison, 1965
When cumulative tardiness becomes a capital offense, the Harlequin fights with everything at his disposal—including $150,000 in jellybeans.

“Dead Men’s Path,” by Chinua Achebe, 1953
A new headmaster arrives at Ndume Central School with bold plans for revolutionary reforms. The counterrevolution comes not from the school’s teachers, but from the village’s dead.

“The Revolt of ‘Mother’,” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, 1891
Forty years after Adoniram promised to build Sarah a new house, she’s still waiting. When he builds a huge second barn where the house was to stand, Sarah takes action. 

“Guests of the Nation,” by Frank O’Connor, 1931
A couple of English prisoners of war befriend their Irish guards. When those guards are given orders for their tit-for-tat execution, the guards find themselves fighting multiple wars at once.

You can find these stories and more in the following books:

Collected Stories of William Faulkner, William Faulkner, $14

Short Cuts: Selected Stories, Raymond Carver, $10

The Early Stories: 1953-1975, John Updike, $14

Prize Stories 1994: The O. Henry Awards, William Abrahams, $19

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories, Ursala K. Le Guin, $11

Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century,

Orson Scott Card, $12

Girls at War, Chinua Achebe, $12

The Revolt of “Mother” and Other Stories, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, $3

Collected Stories, Frank O’Connor, $15