The Burglar's Christmas

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The Burglar's Christmas is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in Home Monthly in 1896 under the pseudonym of Elizabeth L. Seymour,[1] her cousin's name.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Out in Chicago on Christmas Eve, two shabby-looking men are considering getting food after they have not been eating for days. Crawford is too tired to walk however, so the other homeless goes off by himself. Crawford considers stealing the food as he cannot pay for it, but when a woman drops a parcel he gives it to her instead of running off with it. He feels as if he is a failed thief, in the same manner as he has failed at everything - college, journalism, real estate, performing. He then walks into a house in an attempt to steal the jewellery, and his mother finds him there. She says she forgives him for everything; his father remains distant. They have dinner and he feels warm again.


  • Crawford, a shabby-looking man. Crawford is not his real name.
  • William, Helen and James's son, who run away from college for years.
  • A woman who drops a parcel in the street.
  • Helen, William's mother.
  • James, William's father. Helen says he is 'undemonstrative'.
  • Ellen, a woman Helen mentions.

Allusions to other works[edit]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

It has been argued by critic Sharon O'Brien that this rewriting of the prodigal son theme bears some resemblance to Willa Cather's own relationship with her mother.[3]


  1. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 November 1970, page 585
  2. ^ William M. Curtis and Willa Cather, The World and the Parish: Willa Cather's Articles and Reviews 1893-1902, Volume 1, University of Nebraska Press, 1970, page 307
  3. ^ James Leslie Woodress, Willa Cather - A Literary Life, University of Nebraska Press, 1989, page 122

External links[edit]