Quantitative studies of material behavior characteristics are essential for predicting the functionality of a material under its operating conditions. A nonintrusive methodology for measuring the in situ strain of small dimeter (to 11 microns) ceramic fibers under uniaxial tensile loading and the local internal strains of ceramics and ceramic composites under flexural loading is introduced. The strain measurements and experimentally observed mechanical behavior are analyzed in terms of the microstructural development and fracture behavior of each test specimen evaluated. Measurement and analysis of Nicalon silicon carbide (SiC) fiber (15 microns diameter) indicate that the mean elastic modulus of the individual fiber is 185.3 GPa. Deviations observed in the experimentally determined elastic modulus values between specimens were attributed to microstructural variations which occur during processing. Corresponding variations in the fracture surface morphology were also observed. The observed local mechanical behavior of a lithium alumino-silicate (LAS) glass ceramic, a LAS/SiC monofilament composite, and a calcium alumino-silicate (CAS)/SiC fully reinforced composite exhibits nonlinearities and apparent hysteresis due to the subcritical mechanical loading. Local hysteresis in the LAS matrices coincided with the occurrence of multiple fracture initiation sites, localized microcracking, and secondary cracking. The observed microcracking phenomenon was attributed to stress relaxation of residual stresses developed during processing, and local interaction of the crack front with the microstructure. The relaxation strain and stress predicted on apparent mechanical hysteresis effects were defined and correlated with the magnitude of the measured fracture stress for each specimen studied. This quantitative correlation indicated a repeatable measure of the stress at which matrix microcracking occurred for stress relief of each material system. Stress relaxation occurred prior to the onset of steady state cracking conditions. The relaxation stress occurred at 18.5 percent of the fracture stress in LAS and 11.0 percent of the yield stress in CAS/SiC. The relaxation stress ratio was dependent upon the dominant fracture mode of the LAS/SiC specimens. Relaxation stress ratios greater than 0.30 were observed for specimens which fractured due to shear at the fiber matrix interface; specimens which fracture due to tensile cracking had relaxation stress ratios less than 0.30. The stress relaxation ratio appeared to be a specific characteristic of the glass ceramic material. The measured stress relaxation for LAS indicated a measure of the inherent residual stresses in the material due to processing and suggested localized toughening mechanisms for brittle material structures.