Ruskin Bond is known for his simple, illustrious writing. His delivery contains a sense of humility that creates a truly genuine piece. The Thief’s Story is no exception- within 3 pages, Bond’s pictorial characterization makes it easy for the readers to relate to the characters, and this is what draws them in and touches their hearts.
Before reading this analysis of The Thief’s Story, we urge the reader to first go through its summary. To access the summary of the story, click here
The Thief’s Story Analysis
In this story, Bond reflects upon conscience, guilt, trust, and a change of heart. The first-person narrative gives a deeper insight to the steady and subtle evolution of the main character’s mindset.
Bond begins the story by establishing the setting and character by providing vivid imagery. When the narrator’s age and ‘job’ is revealed- a thief, presumably homeless, at the young age of 15– it sheds light on the harsh reality that many face: needing to resort to stealing for their livelihood.
It is interesting that this character is hard to dislike, despite his moral wrongdoings. The narrator says of Anil “he looked easy-going, kind and simple enough for my purpose,” which makes it clear that he often targets ‘weaker’ looking people- those who may be easier to dupe– highlighting the conditioned and technical mindset of a common thief.
When their conversation kickstarts and the narrator begins complimenting Anil, he thinks “a little flattery helps in making friends”- yet another subtly delivered, but harsh truth. Often, shallow flattery is enough to earn one’s company, and the narrator employs that technique to trick people into trusting him. When the narrator introduces himself as Hari Singh, asking for a job, he displays his ‘most appealing smile.’ This smile is very crucial to the story and makes a few more appearances. It’s necessary to note that the smile here is a calculated one– planned and practiced to perfection with the very aim of gaining trust.
Despite being a terrible cook, Hari once again applies his ‘appealing smile’ in hopes that his failure is overlooked. And true to Anil’s nature, he laughs and says “I’ll teach you how to cook.” This is a very strong display of Anil’s kind nature and steady temperament. He even starts teaching Hari how to read and write. The importance Hari gives to learning this skill makes it clear that literacy was not as common a thing as we tend to believe today. Hari thinks “there would be no limit to what I could achieve” with these skills- but rather than achievement in terms of personal or professional accomplishments, he alludes it to thievery. Being able to read, write and add would make his job of stealing far easier in the future.
Hari speaks about Anil’s odd income– as a magazine writer, he earns in ups-and-downs– mentioning that Anil “would borrow one week, lend the next.” It’s quite unusual that people who need to borrow money at a point would be so willing to lend immediately after- another nod to Anil’s character. This truthfulness and sincerity makes it hard for Hari to steal from him, despite even getting access to Anil’s house keys. It is in this passage that Hari’s conscience begins to stir, so subtly that we may not even catch it. But the line “he was the most trusting person I had ever met” and the fact that he hasn’t, in fact, robbed Anil yet, shows that there is an instinct that stops him from doing so. We may assume that Anil’s personality- one that Hari hasn’t encountered before- is the reason for his slow change of heart.
When Anil gets paid well after selling his book to a publisher, Hari finally steals the money and runs away, planning to escape on the train to Lucknow. He thinks to himself “And if I don’t take the money, he’ll only waste it on his friends. After all, he doesn’t even pay me.” Readers may believe that Hari hasn’t changed at all, but this inner musing says otherwise. Usually, Hari wouldn’t think twice before stealing. After all, it’s his job. But here, he feels the need to justify his actions to himself.
The conscience that began to stir earlier fully roars now, effectively stopping Hari from boarding the train. There is no explanation for his brief hesitation besides the thought of Anil’s reaction :
“The greedy man showed fear; the rich man showed anger; the poor man showed acceptance. But I knew that Anil’s face, when he discovered the theft, would show only a touch of sadness. Not for the loss of money, but for the loss of trust.”
Anil’s disappointment seems to be the catalyst in Hari’s change of heart. He also realizes that he has no friends to take him in- the line “the only man I know well is the one I robbed,” shows that Anil does have a place in Hari’s heart.
When Hari thinks about how he gave up the possibility of learning to read and write whole sentences from Anil in favor of theft, he feels regret overwhelm him. We see one of the biggest changes from the beginning of the story when Hari thinks thus:
“It was a simple matter to steal — and sometimes just as simple to be caught. But to be a really big man, a clever and respected man, was something else.”
Before, he only thought of literacy as a tool to aid his thieving. Now, he aims for more in life– to be respected and clever. This reflects Anil’s positive influence. The urge to aim higher, strive for more and constantly improve. To be respected.
It is interesting to note that it isn’t education that he receives that leads to a change of heart in the end but rather, the kindness on Anil’s part that does the magic of transforming this person. Hence, one sees that goodness in human nature isn’t necessarily related to intellect, which this story also seems to suggest. Often, it is the kind of treatment one receives from others that has a great influence in helping one calibrating one’s moral compass. A very similar story titled The Rattrap by Selma Lagerlof deals with the same theme, the summary of which may be read here.
After Hari returns and secretly restores the money, Anil gives him fifty rupees and says:
“I made some money yesterday. Now you’ll be paid regularly.”
The cash is still damp from the rain, and Hari realizes that Anil knows that Hari tried to steal, but does not say a word. This could be a nod to not only the trust Anil had in Hari, but the potential he saw in him. He took Hari in on rather unconventional terms, taught him to read and write out of his own will, and trusted him with the key to his house. Now, despite knowing what Hari attempted to do, he does not question it, and even pays him. Anil has faith that Hari can learn and grow into something more than just a thief. He does not let Hari’s past plague his future.
“Today we’ll be writing sentences.” Anil says. And just like that, he moves on, letting the past remain in the past. This line is symbolic of a new future for Hari– the first step to becoming ‘clever and respected,’ and a hopeful closure to the dishonest life he led till then. That hope is only multiplied when Hari smiles back– his ‘most appealing smile,’ the one that was calculated and practiced to perfection. But this time, it is not a forced smile, but a true, genuine one, symbolizing the acceptance of a second chance and a change of heart.