Probably most of those who read these lines remember the stories that their parents, siblings, uncles, teachers, friends or legal guardians told them in their childhood. Among them some classics are “The Three Little Pigs”, “Hansel and Gretel” or “Little Red Riding Hood”, for example. But although the genre of stories is generally associated with childhood, we can also find a great variety of them that are more appropriate and/or understandable for adolescents, young people and even adults.
As an example, throughout this article we will see a selection of short stories for adults (or young people about to enter adulthood), which deal with themes such as love, the need to take into account other people’s perspectives or human nature.
A selection of stories for adults
The ones we will see in the following lines are stories especially understandable and relevant for people in adulthood.
Obviously, any adult could read and learn from many apparently childish stories, but the ones we have here may require a greater capacity for reflection than an infant would generally have (given the nuances that can be extracted from each of them may make them somewhat more difficult for a child to understand).
Some of them are drawn from the popular folklore and tradition of different cultures (in this case, mostly oriental), while others are elaborations of well-known authors.
1. The white butterfly
“Once upon a time in Japan there was an old man whose name was Takahama, and who had lived since his youth in a small house that he himself had built next to a cemetery, on top of a hill . He was a man loved and respected for his kindness and generosity, but the locals often wondered why he lived alone by the cemetery and why he had never married.
One day the old man became seriously ill, as his death was approaching, and his sister-in-law and nephew went to look after him in his last moments and assured him that they would be with him as long as he needed. Especially his nephew, who would not be separated from the old man.
One day, when the window of the room was open, a small white butterfly slipped inside . The young man tried to scare it off several times, but the butterfly always returned inside, and finally, tired, he let it flutter around beside the old man.
After a long time, the butterfly left the room and the young man, curious about its behavior and amazed by its beauty, followed it. The little being flew to the cemetery next to the house and went to a grave, around which it would flutter until it disappeared. Although the grave was very old, it was clean and well cared for, surrounded by fresh white flowers. After the butterfly had disappeared, the young nephew returned to the house with his uncle, only to discover that the latter had died.
The young man ran to tell his mother what had happened, including the strange behaviour of the butterfly, to which the woman smiled and told the young man why the old man Takahana had spent his life there.
In his youth, Takahana met and fell in love with a young woman named Akiko , whom he was going to marry. However, a few days before the wedding the young woman passed away. This plunged Takahama into sadness, from which he would manage to recover. However, he decided that he would never marry, and it was then that he built the house next to the cemetery so that he could visit and care for his beloved’s grave every day.
The young man reflected and understood who the butterfly was, and that now his uncle Takahama had finally met his beloved Akiko.”
A beautiful story of Japanese origin that tells us about love , specifically about a love capable of transcending time and even death. An eternal love.
2. The Six Blind Wise Men and the Elephant
“On one occasion there were six wise old men who did not enjoy the gift of sight, being blind and using their sense of touch to experience and know the different realities, beings, and objects of the world. None of these wise men had ever seen an elephant , and after learning that their king had one, they humbly asked to meet him. The monarch decided to grant their request and brought them before the pachyderm, allowing the elders to come and touch it.
The wise men approached the animal and, one by one, touched the elephant in order to know how it was said to be.
The first touched a tusk, and considered the elephant smooth and sharp as a spear. The second sage approached and touched the elephant’s tail, answering that it was actually more like a rope. The third would come into contact with the trunk, saying that the animal looked more like a snake. The fourth one would indicate that the others must be mistaken, because after touching the elephant’s knee, he concluded that it was something like a tree. The fifth one denied it by touching the being’s ear, valuing that it looked like a fan. Finally, the sixth sage concluded that in reality the elephant was like a strong rough wall, having touched its back.
After having reached different conclusions, the wise men began to argue about who possessed the truth . Since they all defended their positions with zeal, they enlisted the help of a seventh sage who could see. He made them see that in reality they were all partly right, since they had been describing only one part of the whole animal, while even without being wrong none of them could know it in its entirety.
A classic tale from India ; this story tells us about the need to take into account that our point of view is not the only one that exists about reality: we must value that other people’s opinions, beliefs or knowledge can be as valid and true as ours, without the need for either of us to be wrong.
3. The hidden deer
“There was once a woodcutter from Cheng who found a deer in a field, which he killed and then buried with leaves and branches to prevent others from discovering the piece. But soon after, the woodcutter forgot where he had hidden the animal and came to believe that the whole thing had been a dream .
Shortly afterwards he would begin to tell his supposed dream, to which one of those who heard him reacted by trying to find the deer. After finding it, he took it home and told his wife about the situation, which indicated that perhaps he was the one who had dreamt the conversation with the woodcutter, even though having found the animal the dream would be real. To this, her husband replied that regardless of whether the dream was his or the woodcutter’s, there was no need to know.
But that same night the woodcutter who hunted the animal dreamed (this time for real) of the place where he had hidden the body and of the person who had found it. In the morning he went to the house of the discoverer of the animal’s body, after which the two men discussed who the piece belonged to . This discussion was to be settled with the help of a judge, who replied that on the one hand the woodcutter had killed a deer in what he believed to be a dream and subsequently considered his second dream to be true, while the other found the said deer although his wife considered that it was he who dreamt of having found it on the basis of the story of the first one.
The conclusion was that no one had actually killed the animal, and it was ruled that the case be resolved by dividing the animal between the two men. Later, this story would reach the King of Cheng, who would end up wondering if it wasn’t really the judge who had dreamed of splitting the deer.”
The story of “The Hidden Deer” is a Chinese folk tale that tells us a story based on the differentiation between dream and reality and how difficult it can sometimes be to realize it. It is one of the short stories for adults that tells us about the possibility that we can live in various planes of existence.
4. The Profitable Ghost (Daniel Defoe)
“Once upon a time there was a gentleman who owned a very, very old house, built on the remains of an old monastery. The gentleman decided that he wanted to demolish it, but he considered that such a task would involve too much effort and money, and he began to think of some way to accomplish this without any cost to himself.
The man then decided to create and start spreading the rumour that the house was haunted and inhabited by a ghost . He also made a white suit or disguise with sheets, together with an explosive device that would generate a flame and leave behind a smell of sulphur. After telling the rumor to several people, including some incredulous ones, he convinced them to come to his house. There he activated the device, causing the neighbors to panic and believe the rumor was true. Little by little more and more people would see this spectral entity, and the rumour grew and spread among the villagers.
After that, the knight also spread the rumour that the reason for the ghost being there might be the fact that there was a hidden treasure in the house , so in a short time he started digging to find it. Even though he didn’t, the neighbors also began to believe that there might be some treasure there. And one day, some neighbors asked him if they could help him dig, in exchange for taking the treasure.
The owner of the house responded that it would not be fair for them to tear down the house and take the treasure, but magnanimously offered that if they dug and removed the debris their action generated and in the process found the treasure, he would accept that they take half. The neighbors accepted and began to work .
Soon the ghost disappeared, but in order to motivate them the gentleman placed twenty-seven gold coins in a hole in the chimney that he later covered up. When the neighbors found it, he offered to keep it all as long as the rest they found were distributed. This motivated the neighbours even more, who in the hope of finding more, dug down to the foundations . In fact, they did find some valuable objects from the old monastery, something that spurred them on even more. In the end, the house was completely demolished and the rubble removed, fulfilling the knight’s wish and using just a little bit of ingenuity”.
This story was created by the writer of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, and tells us a story in which we can see the value of intelligence and cunning , as well as the fact that being greedy can lead us to be manipulated and used without us even realizing it.
5. The wise man and the scorpion
“Once there was a wise monk who walked beside his disciple on the banks of a river. During his walk, he saw a scorpion fall into the water and drown , and he made the decision to save it by pulling it out of the water. But once in his hand, the animal stung him.
The pain caused the monk to release the scorpion, which fell back into the water. The wise man tried to pull it out again, but again the animal stung him, causing him to fall. This happened a third time. The monk’s disciple, concerned, asked him why he continued to do so if the animal always stung him.
The monk, smiling, replied that the nature of the scorpion is to sting, while his was to help. Having said that, the monk took a leaf and, with his help, managed to pull the scorpion out of the water and save it without suffering its sting. “
Another story from India, this time explains that we should not fight against our nature no matter how much others hurt us. We must take precautions, but we must not stop being who we are nor act against what we are.
6. The Chinese Mirror
“Once upon a time there was a Chinese peasant, who was going to the city to sell the rice crop that he and his wife had been working on. His wife asked him, taking advantage of the trip, not to forget to bring her a comb.
The man arrived in the city and once there he sold the crop. After doing so, he met and reunited with several companions and they began to drink and celebrate what they had achieved. After that, and still a little disoriented, the peasant remembered that his wife had asked him to bring her something. However, he did not remember what, so he went to a shop and bought the product that most caught his eye . It was a mirror, with which she returned home. After giving it to his wife, he went back to work in the fields.
The young wife looked at herself in the mirror, and suddenly began to cry . Her mother asked her why she had such a reaction, to what her daughter had done with the mirror, and she answered that the cause of her tears was that her husband had brought another woman with him, young and beautiful. Her mother also looked in the mirror and told her daughter that she had nothing to worry about because she was an old woman.
A story of Chinese origin, by an anonymous author. It is a very short story that has different possible interpretations , but that among other things tells us about how we see ourselves reflected in the world, and the difference between how we think we are and how we really are, often underestimating or overestimating us.
To understand the story it is necessary to take into consideration that none of the characters had ever seen themselves reflected in a mirror, not knowing what they really see. Thus, the wife is not able to understand that the beautiful young woman she sees is herself, while the mother does not see that the old woman she sees is herself either. It is also observed that while the former worries about why she considers what she sees in the reflection to be more beautiful than herself, the latter critically underestimates it , practically making fun of her own image.
7. The World (Eduardo Galeano)
“A man from the Neguá people, on the coast of Colombia, was able to ascend to the high heaven. On his way back, he counted. He said he had seen human life from above. And he said that we are a sea of fire. -The world is that,” he said, “a lot of people, a sea of fire. Each person shines with his own light among all the others .
No two fires are alike. There are big fires and small fires and fires of all colors. There are people of serene fire, who don’t even know about the wind, and people of crazy fire who fill the air with sparks. Some fires, silly fires, don’t light or burn; but others burn life with such passion that you can’t look at them without blinking, and whoever comes near lights up.”
More than a short story, is a micro story created by Eduardo Galeano (one of the most outstanding Uruguayan and Latin American writers) and published in his book “El libro de los abrazos”. It focuses on the vision of the world as a wonderful place full of people who are very different from each other, but who are still people. It also makes us see the relevance of daring to live intensely.
8. The Chained Elephant (Jorge Bucay)
“When I was a kid I loved circuses, and what I loved most about circuses were the animals. I, like others, later found out that I was attracted by the elephant.
During the performance, the enormous beast displayed its weight, size and enormous strength… but after its performance and until a while before returning to the stage, the elephant was only held by a chain that imprisoned one of its legs to a small stake in the ground. However, the stake was only a tiny piece of wood barely buried a few centimetres in the ground .
And although the chain was thick and powerful, it seemed obvious to me that this animal, capable of pulling up a tree with its own strength, could easily pull up the stake and run away. The mystery is clear: What is keeping him then? Why doesn’t he run away?
When I was five or six, I still trusted the wisdom of the greats. So I asked some teacher, some parent or uncle about the mystery of the elephant. One of them explained to me that the elephant does not escape because it is trained. I then asked the obvious question… if it is trained, why is it chained? I don’t remember receiving any coherent answer.
In time I forgot about the mystery of the elephant and the stake… and I only remembered it when I met others who had also asked the same question. Some years ago I discovered that fortunately for me someone had been wise enough to find the answer: the circus elephant does not escape because it has been attached to a similar stake since it was very, very small. I closed my eyes and imagined the little newborn being attached to the stake. I am sure that at that moment the little elephant pushed, pulled, sweated, trying to get loose. And despite all his efforts, he couldn’t.
The stake was certainly too strong for him. He would swear that he fell asleep exhausted, and that the next day he tried again, and also the other one and the one following him… Until one day, a terrible day for his story, the animal accepted his impotence and resigned himself to his fate . This huge and powerful elephant, which we see in the circus, does not escape because it believes -poor- that it cannot. He has a record and a memory of his impotence, of that impotence that he felt shortly after he was born. And the worst thing is that this record has never been seriously questioned again. He never… ever… tried to test his strength again…”
One of Jorge Bucay’s best known stories; this narrative tells us how our memories and previous experiences can give us knowledge, but also generate stagnation and blockages that prevent us and can sabotage us even when their original cause is no longer present. Narration pushes us to keep trying to test ourselves even though what we have lived through may have made us believe that we cannot do it.
9. The landscaper
“Once upon a time there was a very talented painter who was sent by the Emperor of China to a distant and newly conquered province, with the mission of bringing back painted images. After a long journey during which he visited in depth all the territories of the province, the painter returned, but nevertheless he did not carry any images. This generated surprise in the emperor, who ended up getting angry with the painter .
At that time, the artist requested that a wall canvas be left for him. On it, the painter drew in great detail everything he had seen and travelled through on his journey, after which the emperor came to see him. The painter then explained to him every corner of the great landscape he had drawn and explored on his travels. When he finished, the painter approached a path that he had drawn and that seemed to get lost in space. Little by little, the painter entered the path, getting into the drawing and becoming smaller and smaller until he disappeared after a curve. And when it disappeared, the whole landscape did, leaving the wall completely bare.”
This tale of Chinese origin is somewhat complex to understand. To do this we must put ourselves in the position of the painter and what he does throughout the story: on the one hand he observes reality, but on the other, and as you can see at the end when you join his work, he is an intrinsic part of it. It is an allegory that although we can be observers of what happens in the world, we are part of it or not : if something happens in that reality it affects us, since we are part of it, while what happens to us is not far from reality.
10. You rule your mind, not your mind you
“Once upon a time there was a Zen student who lamented that he could not meditate, because his thoughts prevented him from doing so. He told his teacher that his thoughts and the images he generated did not allow him to meditate , and that even when they left for a few moments, they returned with greater strength, not leaving them alone. His teacher told him that this depended only on himself, and that he should stop brooding.
But the student continued to indicate that the thoughts confused him and did not let him meditate in peace, and that every time he tried to concentrate, thoughts and reflections appeared to him in a continuous way, often unhelpful and irrelevant.
To this the master suggested that he take a spoon and hold it in his hand, while he sat down and tried to meditate. The pupil obeyed, until suddenly the teacher instructed him to put down the spoon. The student did so, dropping it on the floor. He looked at his teacher, confused, and he asked him who was holding who, if he held the spoon or the spoon held him.”
This short story is based on Zen philosophy and has its origins in Buddhism. In it we are made to reflect on our own thoughts , and the fact that we should be the ones to have control over them and not the other way around.
- Bucay, J. (2008). The chained elephant. Serres. Spain.
- Defoe, D. (2004). The profitable ghost and other stories. Editorial Colihue. Buenos Aires.
- Galeano, E. (2006). The Book of Hugs. Eduardo Galeano Library. Siglo XXI Editores. Spain.