Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Gerald Kennedy


This study proposes a new way of measuring brevity in the American short story. Since Edgar Allan Poe's definition of the tale, literary criticism has looked to various structural features within the text to define the elements that distinguish the short story from other prose genres like the novel. I argue that brevity is an essential feature of storytelling and suggest that its perception is molded and shaped by several historical factors. The phrase "wise economy" offers two ways of thinking about the conciseness of the form: it evokes a history of rhetorical economy central to the formation of a distinctly American English and, more broadly, the exchange that takes place between a storyteller and his/her audience in the narrative act. These meanings work at cross-purposes: rhetorical economy results in the disappearance of the storyteller whose presence is the most visible marker of exchange. I trace how the general elision of the narrative act shapes the reader's perception of the meaning in a text in four different modes of storytelling (romanticism, realism, modernism, and minimalism) by proposing an interpretive model grounded in speech-act theory. This model is in turn applied to works by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Rebecca Harding Davis, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, Richard Wright, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Raymond Carver.