The short story is a concise form of narrative prose that is usually simpler and more direct compared to longer works of fiction such as novels. Therefore, because of their short length, short stories rely on many forms of literary devices to convey the idea of a uniform theme seen throughout the script. This theme is illustrated by using characteristics that are developed throughout the story such as, plot, setting and characters. The three main components are developed throughout the story in order to guide the reader to the underlying theme, which is necessary as a short story lacking a theme also lacks meaning or purpose. The short story "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin uses characterization to identify the realization that tragedy and suffering can be transformed by a communal art, in this case, jazz music. The narrator in this story is Sonny's brother, an unnamed high school algebra teacher that has worked hard to attain the trappings of middle class success.
Through the eyes of this down to earth, caring husband and father the reader witnesses the life of Sonny. In his youth Sonny was his father's son however, he strayed from his family into a stereotypical, perverse heroin addiction. Sonny's lifestyle change causes conflict between the two brothers, which is not resolved until Sonny is released from prison for pushing heroin. Through the expression of musical talent, the narrator and his brother become closer in their relationship and are able to resolve the differences in character that have caused such anguish in their lives. By using a combination of components such a characters and setting, a strong theme can be reached, for example in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." The combination of the protagonist's insanity and the setting of the nursery with yellow wallpaper identify a theme of imprisonment of females in a domestic world. The anonymous wife is taken by her husband to a country mansion to recover from a state of hysteria.
The narrator then takes it upon herself to actively study and decode the wallpaper, and through her downward spiral into insanity she untangles its confused pattern to reveal a woman trapped in the depths of the chaotic outlines. As time passes the narrator begins to relate to this engaged woman and believes that she too is trapped within the wallpaper. During the last few nights the narrator tears down the wallpaper in an attempt to escape from her cage. The use of the yellow wallpaper as a symbolic gesture to the entrapment of women shows how setting can directly relate to the theme of a short story.
Plot can also be used as a direct representation of the theme in a short story. Plot is the combination of setting, characters, and the series of events that allow the story to progress. The idea of a unifying event that forces a child into the adult world is identified, by analysis of the plot, as the theme of Alice Munro's "Royal Beatings." The story progresses by a series of flashbacks through Rose, the protagonist's, life developing the characters of the family until it settles on the key scene, the royal beating, that truly distinguishes Rose as an adult from her former childhood self. Munro uses acutely descriptive detail in outlining her plot, thus giving a realistic tone to her story. In this case it is the central act of the plot that clearly identifies the theme of this short story. The combination of plot, setting and characterization illustrates the idea of a uniform theme seen throughout the story.
A short story must posses all of these characteristics in order to accurately display a distinct, recurring and unifying idea that connects the framework of the story to its actual meaning.