Could you tell me why O. Henry called his story "Witches' Loaves"?Could you tell me why O. Henry called his story "Witches' Loaves"?

Expert Answers
lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't know if we know for sure why O. Henry called this story Witches Loaves. What we do know is that he chose the titles for his stories very carefully and they all represented an important idea in the story itself.

Perhaps O. Henry was thinking of another story when he wrote this - the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. In folklore, witches often used food to lure people into their traps. The witch in Snow White used an apple, the witch in Hansel and Gretel used candy. In this story, the "witch" is Miss Martha. Why is she a witch? She thinks she is a kind woman who feels sorry for a starving artist. Week after week, she eats rich food but never offers any to her customer. She wishes he would notice her, but she tells herself he is too proud. She does everything she can to entice him into a conversation with her. She hangs up a painting, she wears a fancy dress, she puts goop on her face to make her skin look good. Finally, she uses food - she puts butter into the two stale loaves of bread, thinking she is giving her poor starving artist customer a treat. Now he will think of her when he eats the stale bread. Perhaps he will ask her to tea. Alas. Her plan backfires. He has been buying the bread to use as an eraser for his drawings. He is a draftsman. The buttered bread has ruined his drawings. In typical O. Henry style, there is a surprise ending. The loaves turn from something good into something "witchy".

Of course, the title could mean something totally different, but that is my idea.

Maybe some other teacher has some specific information, but when I checked, I could not find anything so it is up to us to figure it out. What do you think?

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of O. Henry's painful short story "Witches' Loves" has several meanings, each of which dramatizes a part of the story. The first is that at times, "Witches' ___" (fill in the blank) is used as an invective against someone one is really agnry with or toward something one is really angry about. The artist was certainly really angry about what those...those...those witches' loves did to his drafting plans...really angry.

The second and third meanings are closely linked. You recall that Miss Martha prepared a mysterious brew of quince and borax in the kitchen, and the narrator says that "Ever so many people use it for the complexion." Upon consulting Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, Volumes 25-28, you find that various quince borax recipies for bars--or loves--of creams or soaps are used for beauty treatments.

In a metaphorical sense, Miss Martha can be said to be brewing up witches' loves with witchly mysterious recipies for purposes of romantic witchery. In another metaphor, Miss Martha's beauty treatment loaves and her doctored--or bewitched--loves of bread are intended as magic potions to capture the affections of the lonely artist who subsists on stale bread--or so she thinks.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the German draftsman perceived those two particular loaves of bread as "witches' loaves" because they destroyed his plans, and he was, therefore, cursed by them.  In other words, they were like the brew of a witch in that they contained powers to destroy.

krameri | Student

thank you very much for your answers.

krameri | Student

can somebody help me with this question? it's urgent!

krameri | Student

Thank you for your answer. In some way that  is logical, what you wrote. But if you pay attention to the title "witch" is written in plural.  So, not only Miss Martha was a witch. May be that German  was a witch too. Because at the end, he turned out to be a draftsman and not a poor painter.