Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although “Thief” at first seems like a realistic story about real people in a real situation, it is actually an ironic fable about how men treat women as if they were anonymous things and steal their identity when they stare at them and have sexual fantasies about them in public places. The fable nature of the story is initially suggested by the implausible nature of the events that take place. Rather than being realistic, they have been calculated purposely by the author to illustrate his ironic theme. It is unlikely, for example, that the two women haunt the airport just to trap men who stare at them; it is also unlikely that they have just met at the airport and plan their revenge on the man spontaneously. Thus, if the actions of the story cannot be accounted for realistically, they must be accounted for in terms of the author’s purposeful plan for the story’s illustrative point.

The thematic significance of what the women do depends on the reader’s realization of the fact that the man has first stolen something from the black-haired woman; thus her stealing his wallet so he can then be accused of stealing from the other woman becomes an ironic example of poetic justice. What the man steals from the woman by staring at her is her identity as an individual because he is interested in her only as a conquest or as a sexual object. As the black-haired woman says when the man sits down and accuses her of stealing his wallet: “Is this all you characters think about—picking up girls like we were stray animals? What do you think I am?”

Although the man, like many men, may feel that his admiration of the woman and his desire to have a drink with her is innocent and harmless, the story seeks to illustrate that women may feel differently; indeed, they may deeply resent someone openly staring at them or trying to pick them up. Such an action is an invasion of a woman’s freedom to be in public without being the victim of some man’s sexual fantasies, for such fantasies drain a woman of her personal identity and transform her into a mere object. Robley Wilson’s story is about how two women turn the tables on such a man and steal his identity instead.