Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“An Honest Thief” is a story-within-a-story. The frame story presents the bold, calculating thief who steals the anonymous narrator’s coat and excites Astafy’s contempt. This unrepentant thief is a vivid contrast to Emelyan, who steals on impulse and bitterly regrets his dishonesty. The contrast between these two thieves suggests the story of the good thief from the New Testament (Luke 23: 39-43), in which Christ converses with two robbers who are hanging on crosses next to him. One criminal mocks Christ, but the other speaks meekly to him. Christ promises salvation to the good thief. Dostoevski’s allusion to the New Testament story emphasizes the moral purpose of “An Honest Thief.” The reader sees that Christian virtues can be attained even in the humble or sordid circumstances of everyday life.

Much of the story is told through naturalistic dialogue, so that the reader has an impression of immediacy and spontaneity. Astafy pours out his story passionately and sincerely, without artifice or elegance. He describes his reactions to each event as it occurs, so that the reader feels he or she is living through the story with the narrator. Astafy does not attempt to present himself in a flattering light; he discloses his angry and impatient thoughts about Emelyan as unreservedly as his charitable ones, so that the reader senses a remarkable degree of human authenticity in his account. Although the reader does not have direct access to...

(The entire section is 443 words.)