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O. Henry, whose true name was William Sydney Porter, wrote a short story titled “Witches’ Loaves” in the United States (1862-1910). Irony and unexpected twist endings are features that define his stories. Both of these components have come to be considered distinctive elements, and “Witches’ Loaves” definitely has a surprising finish.
The protagonist of the narrative is an unmarried baker who develops feelings for one of her regular clients, a man she assumes to be an artist.
Martha’s Attraction to the German-Accented Man
Bakery owner and single 40-year-old Martha Meacham operates her own business. A German-accented man frequents the shop and frequently purchases two stale loaves of bread. She finds him attractive and assumes from the paint smears on his fingers that he must be an artist. She sets up a painting she owns in the bakery one day in the hopes that it will support her theory.
Sure enough, the man notices the picture the next time he stops by to buy his stale bread. He then talks to her about it and complains that the perspective is poor. Upon realizing she was accurate in assuming he was an artist; Martha begins to entertain thoughts of getting married to him to support his artistic endeavors.
She wears a blue-dotted silk apron in place of her own brown serge one and uses a mixture of quince seed and borax to make herself look better and more attractive to him.
The artist’s difficult life
She observes that the man is getting weaker and thinner, and assumes that he must be finding it difficult to support himself through his artistic endeavors. To fatten him up, she stealthily opens up the two stale bread one day and slips big amounts of butter into both of them when the man is distracted by a fire engine passing by outside.
She imagines the man’s reaction when he opens the bread and learns of her generosity. However, soon after, the bakery door opens, and the artist enters with a young man smoking a pipe. Before storming off, the artist yells at her and calls her a “Dummkopf” (German for “fool”), a “Tausendonfer” (German for “millipede,” i.e., a pest), and a “meddingsome [i.e., meddling] old cat.”
Martha’s decision to give up on finding love
His youthful friend is left to explain this outburst. He reveals to Martha that Blumberger, a friend of his who works as an architectural draftsman, has spent three months creating a design for a new city hall. He had penciled in the outline of the drawing and then erased the pencil lines with bread crumbs. His drawing was damaged since the butter had oil on it.
After the man has departed, Martha enters the bakery’s back room, takes off her blue-dotted apron, and puts on the worn-out brown one. As she has given up on finding love, she also discards the quince seed and borax mixture she had been using to lighten her complexion.
We meet these circumstances daily, thus Witches’ Loaves is realistic and teaches a valuable lesson. Especially if they don’t dress properly, we typically have a poor or completely false impression of other people when we encounter them. The narrative is charming and humorous, in part because we can relate to the author’s experiences because we are placed in his shoes.
The irony is effectively used to highlight the differences between the two characters’ lifestyles. This occurs because the draftsman, who should be storing bread for his stomach, instead uses it as an eraser.