CommonLit 7 Short Stories About Revenge for Secondary Students

Insults. Betrayal. Infidelity. What do we do when someone wrongs us? Wait for karma? Seek revenge?

Here are seven short stories about revenge from our digital literacy program which engage students with plot twists and characters they are likely to never forget. These texts also provide ample opportunities to practice key reading comprehension skills and analyze the author's craft, from foreshadowing to plot and character development.

Whether you’re new to CommonLit’s free digital literacy program or a longtime user of CommonLit’s online library, you’re sure to find a great short story to add to your ELA instruction. These rigorous texts will not only engage your students in deep analysis but also open thoughtful classroom discussions around revenge.

Master Jacob” by Howard Pyle (6th Grade)

When members of his community try to fool Master Jacob so they can take his pig, Master Jacob turns the table on them with a series of tricks. As the tricks escalate, so do the consequences. Students will love the build of this story, as Master Jacob’s plan of revenge increases in its consequence.

After reading the short story, have students debate Discussion Question 5, “In this case, is his revenge justified? Why or why not? In which cases, if any, is revenge ever justified?”

One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (8th Grade)

When a power-abusing mayor enters a dentist’s office to have his tooth pulled, the dentist views it as an opportunity to punish the mayor for how he has treated the town. Your students will wince (and maybe groan!) at the stark description of the encounter, as the dentist inflicts revenge by removing the mayor’s tooth without anesthesia.

Assessment Question 5 asks students to answer, “How do Aurlio Esovar’s actions contribute to the development of the story’s theme?” Guide student annotations throughout the text, keeping track of Escovar’s actions, to prepare students to answer this question with multiple pieces of evidence.

Ruthless” by William DeMille (8th Grade)

To protect his precious bourbon from whoever stole it last year, Judson places two rat poison pellets in the bottle. His wife, Marcia, is not happy about this, but Judson is adamant that the unknown thief should be punished. When Marcia steps out of the house a few moments later, Judson’s fate takes a turn. He slips on an acorn, bumps his head, and awakes to find Alec, their neighbor, offering him a sip of the poisoned bourbon to revive himself.

Encourage students to check out the related media video The Psychology of Revenge. It’s a great resource to build background knowledge or extend their thinking further and support comprehension. After reading the text and watching the video, ask students to consider the following questions, “How are people negatively impacted by seeking revenge? How is this idea reflected in ‘Ruthless’? How do you think Judson could have shifted his focus from revenge to success?”

Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (8th Grade)

When Patrick tells his wife, Mary, that he is leaving her, she seems to respond with her usual evening routine: going down to the basement to retrieve a leg of lamb to cook for dinner. Suddenly, she knocks Patrick on the head with the leg of lamb, killing him almost instantly in an act of cold revenge. Now she must try to cover up what she’s done. Will she get away with it?

Mary’s scheme to hide her crime is sure to keep students on the edge of their seats! Before reading the text, use the pre-reading activity available under the Related Media tab to build schema and hook students about whether or not individuals are always responsible for their actions.

The Cone” by H.G. Wells (10th Grade)

The text is sure to engage your high schoolers! The story begins with a man and woman, quietly in love, having a discussion about another man. When an intruder enters the home, readers quickly learn that the “intruder” is  the woman’s husband and the man inside the home is her lover. From this dramatic moment, tension continues to build as the husband kindly takes his wife’s lover on a tour of the iron works, getting closer and closer to the dangerous molten material. Students will be left breathless in the final moments of action and the ambiguous ending.

After reading this passage, ask students Discussion Question 3, “In the context of this story, was revenge justified? Is revenge ever justified? When? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.”

The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe (11th Grade)

This classic Poe text begins with the main character, Montresor, explaining why he must seek revenge: his friend, Fortunato, insulted him. When Montresor encounters Fortunato at a party, he seizes his opportunity, taking Fortunato down into a cellar under the guise of tasting exquisite wine. When they reach the bottom, however, Montresor shackles Fortunato to the walls and builds an additional wall around him, trapping him there forever.

Afterwards, have students read the paired text “The Poison Tree” by William Blake, a poem about revenge. Ask students to consider, “Why do both speakers seek revenge? How have they handled their hatred for their enemies?”

Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston (12th Grade)

This story, set in early 1900’s Florida, chronicles the final interactions between husband and wife, Delia and Sykes. The final straw for Delia is when Sykes brings home a rattlesnake - Delia’s greatest fear - hiding it in a laundry bin for her to find. When faced with the rattlesnake, Delia escapes; however, when Sykes returns home, the snake is still loose. In a moment that could be considered karma, the snake bites Skyes. The story ends with Skyes calling for Delia’s help but receiving no response.

After reading, ask students Discussion Question 1, “Would you describe Delia’s actions at the end of the story as revenge? Why or why not? Do you think Delia should have forgiven Skyes in the end?”

Next Steps

Want more tense short stories to engage your students? Check out our text sets on Revenge & Betrayal or come to one of our webinars!

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