O. Henry Questions and Answers

O. Henry book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Why does O'Henry call his story "Witches' Loaves"?

Expert Answers info

David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2017

write10,803 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Miss Martha somehow thinks that her simple act of kindness—adding butter to Blumberger's stale loaves of bread—will make her regular customer want to share a meal with her one evening instead of eating alone in his cramped little garret. In that sense, she's trying to bewitch Blumberger by adding something to his loaves, almost like a magic elixir. Miss Martha also applies a strange compound of quince seed and borax to her complexion to make herself appear younger. There's something weird and witchy about this; it's as if she's using a magic potion, the kind that keeps you in a state of eternal youth. But if Miss Martha is some kind of a witch, then she's not a very good one, for her attempts to attract the attention of the gruff architectural draftsman prove ultimately unsuccessful.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

sensei918 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write190 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Arts, and History

O. Henry was a master of irony. Almost all of his short stories dealt with the ironies of life. This is also true of the story "Witches Loaves." The title is ironic for two reasons. One is that he alludes to Miss Martha using a recipe of "a mysterious compound of quince seeds and borax," which was supposedly for her complexion. Yet, he leaves the impression that it is also something that a wise woman, or witch, who might be versed in herbal lore, might do to create a love spell.

The second, and more ironic use of the title indicates that the man, Blumberger, calling her an "old cat" when she inadvertently ruins his drawings because  her romantic fancy of him as a starving artist prompted her to add butter to his stale bread, considers her the equivalent of a witch who put an evil spell on him and destroyed his work. 

check Approved by eNotes Editorial