“Theft”: Katherine Anne Porter Summary, Plot Synopsis

“Theft” is a short story by Katherine Anne Porter from her collection Flowering Judas and Other Stories. It’s about a woman who, after a night out, realizes her purse is gone. Here’s a plot summary of “Theft”.

“Theft” Summary

A woman stands in her apartment in a bathrobe. She remembers having her gold cloth purse when she came in. She had dried it with a handkerchief and spread it out on the bench. She remembers the events leading up to its disappearance.

Camilo walked with her to the station in the pouring rain after having cocktails. She had forty cents in the coin purse for her fare, even though Camilo always paid the nickel for her. He was wearing a new light-colored hat that was being ruined by the rain. She knew he couldn’t afford to waste money. A shabby hat didn’t suit him. Eddie, on the other hand, could pull off a shabby hat. When Camilo left, she saw him stop and put his hat under his coat.

Roger called out to her and they got in a taxi. While waiting in traffic, three boys who’d been drinking walk past talking about love and marriage. Two girls walk by, talking about boys.

Roger has gotten a letter from Stella; she’ll be back on the twenty-sixth. The woman says she got a letter too that has settled something for her. On the corner of West Fifty-third Street, the woman adds a dime and they pay the fare. Roger compliments her purse. His play hasn’t sold yet because they want changes made, but he’s holding out.

The woman walks up the stairs in her building with her purse under her arm. Bill, who’s had some bad news, calls her in for a drink. His play has been dropped because the director doesn’t think it works. Bill sends his wife ten dollars a week and he has very little money. His rug cost ninety-five dollars.

The woman has almost nothing left and won’t get the check for a review for three days. She mentions the fifty dollars he owes her for some writing she did on his play. He got seven hundred for the play but he can’t pay her. They finish drinking in silence and she goes up to her place.

Theft Katherine Anne Porter Summary Plot Synopsis
“Theft” by Katherine Anne Porter: Summary

She remembers taking the letter out of the purse before laying it out to dry. It was about a relationship. She tore it up and burnt it in the coal grate.

The next morning, while she was in the tub, the janitress came in to check the radiator before starting the furnace for the winter. When the woman came out to get a cigarette, the purse was gone. She was going to let it go, knowing it would be a scene to get it back. But she suddenly gets angry and goes to the basement.

She demands the purse back, explaining it was a gift, but the janitress denies knowing anything about it. The woman storms off, still believing she has it.

Walking back up the stairs, the woman remembers who she’s never locked doors and claimed to friends that she’d never had anything stolen. She’s suddenly overcome with a feeling of loss, both things she was responsible for and things others have taken, including missed experiences and words unsaid.

The janitress is behind her on the steps with the purse. She returns it, explaining that she gets crazy sometimes. She wanted a present for her niece, who’s turning seventeen. Still, the janitress justifies the theft, claiming a young person needs it more than a grown woman who would be given another by some man. Upset at being misrepresented, the woman says she doesn’t want it anymore. The janitress now also rejects the purse.

Back in her apartment, the woman sits at the table with her cold coffee and thinks she was right not to be afraid of any thief except herself, who’ll leave her with nothing.

I hope this summary of “Theft” by Katherine Anne Porter was helpful.