Narrative
Tales /märchen

Noble Thief

Form of Folklore:  Narrative (Marchen)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six.  Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture.  Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.

Context:  The interview was conducted in the dining room of the informant’s house.

Item:    There once was a thief who wanted to repent for his sins and stop being a thief so he went to the nearest church to ask for God’s forgiveness.  The priest at the church told him that he should simply try to be a good person.  The thief asks, “How will I know if God has forgiven me?”  The priest points to a tree in the yard of the church and says, “When the fruit from that apricot tree grows, God has forgiven you.”  So the thief leaves and doesn’t steal from anyone even though he is really poor and is in need.  He keeps coming to check if any fruit has grown on the tree, but every time he checks, there’s no fruit.  Finally, he’s so desperate that he knocks on the door of a middle aged woman to ask for some help and shelter (so that he doesn’t steal again).  The woman say, “Well, I live here alone with my three children and we don’t have much but you are welcome to stay.”  Later, that night the children are begging there mother to give them food and she tells them that food is cooking on the stove and will be ready soon.  The thief sees that the woman seems to be boiling some sort of soup.  The children asked if the food is ready and the woman simply says, “Soon, soon”.  The children are running around and playing with each other as they wait for the food to be ready.  They play so hard that they get exhausted and fall asleep.  The thief approaches the woman and tells her that she is a horrible woman for not feeding her children before they fell asleep.  The woman, with tears on her face, says, “Sir, come see, I have no food.  All I have is a stone boiling in this pot.  I lie to my children that there will be food soon so that they may fall asleep with the prospect of being fed.”  The thief is startled and deeply saddened by this news, so much so that he leaves in the middle of the night and steals food for the woman and her children.  He leaves the food at their house and leaves.  On his journey from the house, he passes by the apricot tree in the church yard and to his surprise sees that there is fruit on the apricot tree.

Informant Comments:  The informant loves this story and told it to her children as her father had told it to her.  She likes the fact that doing the right thing is not a matter of black and white.  The story implies that the thief is forgiven for his sins when he actually steals.  The informant does not believe that this actually happened but has seen acts similar to the thief’s in her personal experience.  She believes if more people heard this story and understood it, then people would look out for one another and try to do the right thing more often.

Analysis:  The idea of receiving God’s forgiveness and Christianity are apparent in this marchen but seem to lead the listener to the true moral of the story; this being that the intentions behind actions are of far greater importance than the actions themselves.  When the thief would steal for himself, he was not forgiven; when he would do nothing at all, he was not forgiven; only when he stole in order to help others less fortunate was he finally forgiven.  Regardless of how religious or non-religious one is, this story offers the listeners a comfort in knowing that when they do something that is not typically considered “right” bur for the “right” reasons, they are being moral, even if their direct actions are not so moral.

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