Study Guide

An Honest Thief

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

An Honest Thief Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

An anonymous frame narrator tells how his housekeeper, Agrafena, introduces an old soldier named Astafy Ivanovitch into the household as a lodger. Astafy proves to be an affable companion, breaking the monotony and loneliness of the reclusive narrator’s existence by relating incidents from his past life.

One day, a stranger enters the apartment and asks for someone who does not live there. He leaves when told to do so but returns the following day and boldly steals a coat from the front hallway. This event incenses Astafy, who professes disgust with thievery. He mutters and exclaims over it repeatedly, commenting that a thief is the worst sort of vermin. The incident, however, reminds Astafy of a former acquaintance who was, in his opinion, an honest thief.

Astafy tells how he met this man, Emelyan Ilyitch, in a public house. Emelyan is a drunkard, habitually out of work and homeless. Nevertheless, his gentle nature arouses Astafy’s kindness, and soon Emelyan is following Astafy everywhere and even staying all night at Astafy’s lodgings. Astafy tries to get Emelyan to leave and seek employment but to no avail. Emelyan merely responds with tearful passivity, and Astafy is unable to turn him out. Astafy attempts to escape by moving to different quarters, but Emelyan finds him and moves in with him again. By this time, Astafy is himself quite impoverished but determines that perhaps Emelyan won’t be so much trouble after all and goes on...

(The entire section is 534 words.)