Witches’ Loaves by O. Henry
In Witches’ Loaves by O. Henry we have the theme of loneliness, escape, independence, connection, desperation, love, defeat and embarrassment. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Henry may be exploring the theme of loneliness. Martha seems to live and work on her own with her only engagement with others being through her bakery shop. This may be important as it suggests that Martha is lonely. Something that becomes clearer to the reader when Martha begins to take a liking to Blumberger. What is interesting about Martha’s liking of Blumberger is that she makes the assumption that he is an artist because he makes an opinion on a painting that Martha leaves on one of the shelves of the shop. Also Martha notices a red and brown stain on Blumberger’s fingers which she assumes is paint. If anything both these assumptions suggest to the reader that Martha may be desperate for Blumberger to be an artist. It is as though Martha romanticises those who paint for a living. Which further suggests how lonely Martha may be. She also throughout the story constantly thinks about Blumberger and no other customer. Her aspirations for love appear to be pinned upon Blumberger. However later in the story the reader will discover that Martha has been somewhat misguided.
The fact that Martha is also nervous about giving Blumberger anything but the stale bread is also interesting. Though her heart tells her to do more for him her head on the other hand tells her to just provide Blumberger with the stale bread. This may be significant as Henry may be highlighting to the reader the fact that women at the time the story was written were not necessarily supposed to take the first step when it came to a relationship with a man. Women had a role to play and that role involved them being seen and not heard. The fact that Martha does take the first step and adds the butter to the stale bread suggests that Martha may be somewhat independent of society’s views on the role and place of a woman. Also Martha owns her own business which may be important as again this would highlight that Martha is independent of others. She is her own boss. Though there is still no disputing that Martha is lonely and it is this loneliness which acts as the trigger for Martha to put the butter in the stale bread.
There is also a sense that Martha is passionate about pursuing a relationship with Blumberger. Not only because he ticks the right box, or so Martha thinks, when it comes to his occupation. But Martha also knows that she is longing to escape from the loneliness that she feels. Martha in reality is living a life in whereby she feels defeated. On the surface things may appear to be positive for Martha. She is her own boss. Yet inside she longs for the love that comes from being in a relationship with a man. It is as though Martha is driven towards Blumberger who is not described in a flattering light in the story. Though Martha doesn’t appear to be too concerned about Blumberger’s physical attractiveness. Which may be important as Martha may also be old enough to see past an individual’s physical attractiveness and fall in love with an individual’s mind instead. Neither Martha nor Blumberger have youth on their side. Despite all of this Martha still manages to connect with Blumberger. Though the reality is that the connection is one sided.
The end of the story is also interesting as Henry appears to be further exploring the theme of defeat. When Martha discovers that she has misunderstood Blumberger she retreats back into her shell. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Martha discards the homemade cosmetics she had been using. No longer is it Martha’s goal to attract Blumberger. She realises that she has made a mistake and rather than moving on progressively the defeat she encounters leads to her being embarrassed. Which may suggest to the reader that Martha is to remain alone. Her assumptions mislead her and rather than forgiving herself and picking herself up. Martha takes Blumberger’s criticism of her to heart. This may be significant as the reality is Blumberger is really a stranger to Martha and she should not allow his ill will towards her for an innocent mistake affect her permanently. However the reader is left in no doubt that Martha is to live her life as she has always been living it, alone. Any aspirations she had of a courtship with Blumberger have been destroyed due to his reaction to Martha’s innocent generosity. Though Martha may be an independent woman she cannot overcome what has happened. Not only does her embarrassment seclude her from others and any other potential courtship but Martha’s confidence has also been shattered.