An Honest Thief (Short Story)
I have a book of selected short stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky which includes this story An Honest Thief. I have never read anything written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky before so I thought starting with short stories might be a good idea.
An Honest Thief starts with the narrator taking on a lodger named Astafy Ivanovich, an old soldier. Both of them get along well enough. One day, a thief steals the narrator’s coat and Astafy unsuccessfully tries to stop the thief from getting away. It is after this incidence that Astafy tells the narrator a story about a man named Emelyan Ilyitch; an honest thief. The writing is simple and apt; it has depth and layers but it doesn’t become too much to go on.
Astafy and Emelyan know each other from before but one night in a pub Emelyan wants a drink but doesn’t have any money for it. Astafy feels bad about Emelyan’s situation and buys him a drink. Since then Emelyan follows Asrafy around and even moves in with him. Emelyan has problems that are hinted at right from the introduction but then the gravity of his issues starts to set in for Astafy and the readers as the plot progresses. Astafy is working as a tailor and short on money so he decides to sell a pair of riding breeches made for a wealthy customer which he never collected. The breeches are missing and Astafy suspects Emelyan but he denies.
An honest thief uses the narrative technique of a story within a story. It starts in the present time of Astafy’s life and then he recalls his life events to the narrator. The way it has been described and written, it works well for the story though in the beginning it was slightly confusing but that doesn’t last long. Astafy genuinely wants Emelyan to make a change in his life, for him to quit drinking so much and find a job. Emelyan is a sad and troubled soul, he knows his addiction to alcohol is a problem but he doesn’t seem to want to anything about it. He depends a lot on Astafy and his friendship means a lot to him.
This story has more psychological depth than I expected. Emelyan is a drunk and clearly he has given up on his life, there are hints of some tragedy but it is never made explicit. He is troubled and seems to use alcohol as a crutch. He steals the breech which leads to a fallout between him and Astafy. He leaves the apartment and Astafy can’t find him. When Emelyan returns, he is very cold and starved and sick, Astafy knows his time is limited. Emelyan confesses about the theft to Astafy before he dies; the guilt has tormented Emelyan.
An honest thief is a short story that focuses more on the characters I feel. The title itself is an oxymoron but it kind of makes sense by the end of the story. The characters show how the good and evil that exists in all humans and it is morally in the grey zone. You can’t explicitly say this character is evil and this one is not. It is an interesting read.
*Get a copy of Selected Stories by clicking on the image above.