(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” recounts the process by which Johnny Hake, a stable citizen of a quiet New York suburb, briefly becomes a thief, suffers remorse, and reforms. In the process, it comments satirically on the mores of modern suburbanites. Johnny’s career in theft begins shortly after he resigns his job with a company that makes parablendeum—a kind of plastic wrap. Fed up with office politics, Johnny strikes out on his own, only to discover that he cannot earn a living comparable to his old salary. Unwilling to burden his wife with his financial worries, reluctant to borrow from friends or relatives, Johnny one night enters a neighbor’s house and steals a wallet containing nine hundred dollars.

Immediately appalled by what he has done, Johnny finds that his crime preys on his mind all the next day. Everywhere he looks he seems to encounter crime, from the stranger in the restaurant who pockets a tip left by a previous customer, to his old friend who tries to cut him in on a business deal that is “just like stealing.” The very word “steal” seems to have a powerful effect on him; he suddenly feels he is a part of the force destroying the peace and order of the world. At church the next Sunday he imagines that he hears a rat gnawing away at the floorboards, and he is so distracted that he misses the opportunity to take Communion. He comes to a further crisis when his children surprise him for his birthday with the gift of an...

(The entire section is 504 words.)