Some weeks back a student come to me in the writing center who wanted to talk about short stories and fiction. I showed him how plot works, we spoke of scene and sequence.
This student told me James Joyce's short story, The Dead, was the reason the student wrote. The best story he'd ever read--and, he added--he didn't think it followed the classic plot arch or short story form. Luckily, I had Dublinders on mu bookshelf at home--not mine, may partners.
While The Dead is a nuanced and difficult story to parse, it still follows the plot structure we see commonly today, albeit with a couple variations.
The most glaring aspect of this story to me is that very little happens in terms of the physical plot. People go to a party, they dance, the protagonist makes a speech, everyone eats and goes home. However, within this frame is a story of modern times and modern people being haunted by antiquity. I call it "Good Old Day Syndrome," which is the belief that there was a time in the past when everything was better. There are constant allusions to the quality of the people and art of yesteryear. Though the protagonist feels he is part of this golden era, at least due to his educated status.
When it comes to plot form, works in a slightly different way, which is to say the main incident that creates tension in the story doesn't come about until half way through the story. In fact, conflict is introduced continuously between the protagonist and others earlier in the story. The inciting incident typically changes the course of action, or the behavior of the protagonist from his/her typical routine to something "special," or at least interesting to read. But this story does away with this construct, and establishes the yearning for the past time and again before the inciting incident takes place. The graphic below charts the plot emotionally and physically.
This is what I've made of this story, but I'd be curious of other opinions. It's a clever tale--though not one I particularly enjoyed reading.