(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The bad characters in this fictional autobiography are two young girls: Emily Vanderpool, the protagonist and narrator, and Lottie Jump, an eleven-year-old vagabond from the lower-class section of town. A brash, impudent, yet privileged girl, Emily has not yet learned to maintain friendships. Because she believes that she needs frequent solitude, she insults her friends until she loses their friendship. Always Emily repents of these impetuous actions, but always too late; she indeed alienates all of her friends. Even her brother and sisters are targets of Emily’s vituperation.

Emily has one friend—her cat, Muff. Muff dislikes all humans except Emily, mirrors Emily’s need for self-inflicted privacy, and, by extension, mirrors Emily herself. Because Muff and Emily are mirror images, Stella, her sister, frequently refers to Emily as “Kitty” whereas Jack, her brother, calls Emily “Polecat.”

As the Christmas holidays approach, Emily, without a friend, sits home alone with Muff. When she investigates a sound coming from the kitchen, she quickly discovers a young girl stealing a piece of cake. Tall, sickly looking, ragged, and dirty, this girl, Lottie Jump, is the antithesis of Emily. Lottie frequently lies, steals, has ragged teeth, and comes from a lower-class family. Lottie’s mother is a short-order cook in a dirty café; her father has tuberculosis; her brother has received no education. By contrast, Emily has a good home, wears nice clothes, attends a good school, attends church regularly, and has educated, healthy parents. However, during the course of one afternoon’s conversation, the spirited Lottie, who explains that she appeared in Emily’s kitchen not to steal but to visit Emily, manages to convince the vulnerable Emily to become her friend. Incredible as the story may appear, Emily acquiesces.

That afternoon, the girls search through Emily’s mother’s bureau drawers. Emily, however, fails to notice Lottie stealing Mrs. Vanderpool’s perfume flask. Emily’s many advantages make Emily feel guilty, which is why, perhaps, she...

(The entire section is 853 words.)