Download Theft Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Theft Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A woman living alone in New York City’s bohemian area during the late 1920’s discovers that her treasured gold cloth purse is missing. Aware that she had the purse in her hand when she came in the night before and dried it with her handkerchief, the woman recollects the events leading up to its loss.

The previous evening, the woman attended a cocktail party. When she left, she had the purse, and it contained forty cents in a coin envelope. It was raining and she was accompanied by Camilo, who was escorting her to the train. Observing that Camilo’s new hat was being destroyed by the downpour, she compared him with her sweetheart, Eddie, whose hat never looked out of place, no matter the weather or the hat’s general shabbiness.

At the stairwell to the train, Camilo left, to her relief. She immediately met up with Roger, a longtime friend, who suggested a taxi for the trip home. Soon they were in a cab making small talk. Roger casually mentioned that his wife, Stella, had written and would be coming back to him. The woman told him about a letter she had received. He asked her for ten cents to pay for the cab and commented on her purse’s beautiful appearance. She gave him the dime and remarked that her purse was a birthday present. Their last comments were on Roger’s new play and his determination not to compromise his integrity.

On entering her apartment building, the woman was met by Bill, a struggling playwright, who offered her a drink while he unloaded his personal problems. He told her that his latest work was in trouble. The play’s director had rejected the script after casting and rehearsing it for three days. Bill then began to criticize his estranged wife because she demanded ten dollars a week for their baby.

The woman attempted to change the subject by commenting on Bill’s pretty rug. Bill told her it cost fifteen hundred dollars when it belonged to a celebrated actress, but he had paid only ninety-five dollars. She then asked him about the fifty dollars he had promised her for revising part of his third act. Angered, Bill chastised her. She reminded him that he was paid seven hundred dollars, but he did not relent. Despite herself, she told him to forget the money, had another drink, and left for her upstairs apartment.

The woman remembered taking the letter out of the purse before drying it. She again read the letter, which was from a lover (possibly Eddie). The letter writer blamed her for the collapse of the relationship. She tore the letter into narrow strips and burned them in the coal grate. The following morning, while she was in...

(The entire section is 704 words.)