Theft by Katherine Anne Porter
In Theft by Katherine Anne Porter we have the theme of loneliness, uncertainty, struggle, trust, independence, love, identity and loss. Taken from her Flowering Judas and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Porter is using the weather to set the tone of the story. At various stages in the story it is raining which not only blurs an individual’s vision and in turn leads to uncertainty but there is also a sense of hopelessness that comes with the rain. It is also interesting that the majority of the story is set in the night time when it is dark. This may be important as in many ways the setting matches the mood of the main protagonist. She too is in a dark place having received a letter of rejection from a lover. It may also be important that the reader never knows the full contents of the letter, only a few lines. It is possible that by only giving the reader a few lines Porter is attempting to bring the reader into the main protagonist’s mind. To highlight how she is thinking and feeling. From the lines given by Porter and which the main protagonist is focused on we can see expressions of love, unanswered questions and finally the conclusion or ending of the relationship. Just as the main protagonist has lost her purse, she has lost in love too.
Though the majority of the story is a flashback (of the previous night) it might be important that the main protagonist remains in the same place at both the beginning and the end of the story – her apartment. It is possible that Porter is suggesting nothing has or will change for the main protagonist. It might also be significant that she is also alone at the beginning and end of the story as Porter may be suggesting that the protagonist despite having had an eventful night is in essence lonely. What is also interesting is that as readers we never fully know what the protagonist’s relationship is with Camilo, Eddie or Roger. There is an element of uncertainty as to whether they are just friends or if the relationship is driven by desire. However Porter does use symbolism (hats) to explore further the character of both Camilo and Eddie. Camilo’s hat is described as being impractical while Eddie’s hat suited him even though it was an older hat. It may be case that Porter is suggesting that Eddie is wiser than Camilo though again whether the protagonist looks upon either man or Roger as a suitor remains unclear. It is possible that Porter by including all three men in the story is suggesting that an individual (the protagonist) can still have people in their lives but remain lonely.
With regard to trust as a theme in the story. It is clear to the reader that the main protagonist cannot trust the janitress. She has after all stolen the purse. Though the purse was empty of money it still remains important to the main protagonist. If anything the purse gives her a sense of self it is part of her identity. Something that becomes clearer when we realise that the purse was a gift. Though we don’t know who gave the purse to her we are aware of its importance and its possible symbolic significance. If anything the purse provides the main protagonist with a connection. It is also noticeable that she can’t trust Bill. He owes her money but is refusing to pay her preferring instead to try and persuade her to forget about the money and have another drink with him. How important the money is to the protagonist is noticeable by the fact she needs to pay her account in the basement restaurant. This may be important as it suggests that the protagonist is struggling to make ends meet. Rather than being able to pay for her food every day she has credit with the restaurant.
There is other symbolism in the story which may be important. Prior to going down to the basement to confront the janitress the main protagonist is drinking a cup of hot coffee which symbolically mirrors her mood of anger. Yet when she retrieves her purse and returns to her apartment the coffee is described as chilled (or cold). Which again may mirror the mood of the protagonist. The janitress wanted the purse for her niece and in essence has told the main protagonist that her best days are behind her. This along with the rejection letter from her lover leaves the protagonist feeling cold. It is also possible that she is acutely aware of her circumstances. Something that becomes clearer in the final line of the story – ‘I was right not to be afraid of any thief but myself, who will end by leaving me nothing.’ This line is important for several reasons. Firstly it suggests that the protagonist knows her circumstances only too well and secondly it is possible that Porter is suggesting that the protagonist rather than giving herself to others (as she did with her lover) should be more independent not only when it comes to the men in her life but with life in general. If anything rather than focusing on others (her lover) the main protagonist should focus on herself.