The Palace Thief

by Ethan Canin

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Student Question

What does the narrator's reasons for telling his story suggest about his character in The Palace Thief?

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In The Palace Thief, the narrator’s description of his reasons for telling “this story” suggests his lack of self-awareness and his pride in his vocation as a history teacher. The now-retired Hundert tries to present the story as a factual tale from history rather than his individual, highly biased personal account. He seems to identify with the ancient chroniclers whose work he shared with the boys. This description reveals that Hundert is a hypocrite. Although he deeply loved teaching and the school where he taught, he ultimately failed to uphold the principles he was supposedly committed to imparting.

Hundert tries to draw a sharp distinction between his own supposedly ethical character and the flaws that characterized the boys he taught, whom he calls indolent, boorish, and arrogant. By distancing himself from his own involvement in shaping “this story,” Hundert conveys his unwillingness or inability to admit that he was complicit in the episode that follows, enabling Sedgewick to cheat.

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