A Treasury of Literary Classics -
Short Story Series


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Witches' Loaves

O. Henry

O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter ( 11 September 1862 - 5 June 1910). He was an American short story writer whose stories are known for their surprise endings, wit and humour. Most of O. Henry's stories are set in his own time (i.e. the early 20th century) and home city (i.e. New York) with ordinary people as the main characters. Some of his most famous stories are "The Gift of Magi", "The Last Leaf", "The Ransom of Red Chief", "A Retrieved Reformation, "After Twenty Years" and "Witches' Loaves".

1. Who is the protagonist of the story?

A. Miss Martha Meacham
B. the artist
C. the young man
D. a witch

Your answer:

A protagonist is the leading character of a story.

2. Which of the following is NOT true about Miss Martha Meacham?

A. She was a middle-aged woman.
B. She was married.
C. She owned a bakery.
D. She felt a romantic attraction to the artist.

Your answer:

Paragraph 2:

"Many people have married whose chances to do so were much inferior to Miss Martha's."

3. Which of the following descriptions of the artist are true?

  1. He wore glasses.
  2. He had a strong German accent.
  3. He was too poor to afford good food.
  4. He liked to buy two loaves of stale bread from Miss Martha Meacham's bakery.
  5. He was a genius with two thousand dollars in the bank.

A. (i), (ii), (iii) & (iv)
B. (i), (ii) & (iv)
C. (ii), (iv) & (v)
D. (i), (ii), (iv) & (v)

Your answer:

(i) "He was a middle-aged man, wearing spectacles and a brown beard trimmed to a careful point."

(ii) "He spoke English with a strong German accent".
(iii) "She was sure then that he was an artist and very poor" (Martha's opinion only)
(iv) "He always bought two loaves of stale bread."
(v) "Miss Martha was forty, her bank-book showed a credit of two thousand dollars ..." (not about the artist's saving in the bank)

4. Which of the following is NOT what Miss Martha Meacham did to catch the artist's attention?

A. She put a painting in her bakery.
B. She started to wear more fancy clothes.
C. She made some skincare product for herself to look younger.
D. She praised him for his good manners.

Your answer:

Miss Martha Meacham only talked about the picture in the bakery in her conversation with the artist.

5. According to Miss Martha Meacham, why did the artist buy stale bread all the time?

A. He liked the sour taste of stale bread.
B. He wanted to save money.
C. He needed the stale bread for his drawing.
D. He bought the bread for another architechtural draftsman.

Your answer:

Question: According to Miss Martha Meacham... it means we need to identify Miss Martha Meacham's opinion.

"She was sure then that he was an artist and very poor. No doubt he lived in a garret, where he painted pictures and ate stale bread and thought of the good things to eat in Miss Martha's bakery." (Miss Martha's opinion)

6. Put the events in the correct order based on the story.

  1. The artist returned to the shop to confront Miss Martha Meacham.
  2. Miss Martha Meacham observed that the artist got thinner and took pity on him.
  3. An artist often came to Miss Martha Meacham's bakery to buy two loaves of stale bread.
  4. The artist's co-worker told Miss Martha Meacham the reason why the artist bough stale bread.
  5. Miss Martha Meacham secretly put fresh butter into the artist's bread.

A. (iii) --> (ii) --> (v) --> (i) --> (iv)
B. (iii) --> (iv) --> (ii) --> (v) --> (i)
C. (iii) --> (v) --> (iv) --> (i) --> (ii)
D. (iii) --> (i) --> (ii) --> (iv) --> (v)

Your answer:

7. What conclusion can you draw about Blumberger at the end of the story?

A. He bought stale bread because he needed an excuse to see Miss Martha Meacham.
B. He was insulted by Miss Martha Meacham's pity on him.
C. He was upset that his drawing was ruined.
D. He could not get along well with the young man.

Your answer:

The young man who came along with Blumberger explained:
"When it's done he rubs out the pencil lines with handfuls of stale bread crumbs"
"Well, to-day - well, you know, ma'am, that butter isn't ... well, Blumberger's plan isn't good for anything now except to cut up into railroad sandwiches."

8. Why did Miss Martha Meacham take off the blue-dotted silk waist and throw out the quince seed and borax mixture in the end?

A. She was ready to wash up and close the shop.
B. The silk waist was dirty and the mixture was stale.
C. She knew Blumberger preferred her previous look.
D. She was disappointed that her romance was over.

Your answer:

- We first need to understand why Miss Martha put on the blue-dotted silk waist and made the mixture.
"What a thing it would be for art and perspective if genius were backed by two thousand dollars in bank, a bakery, and a sympathetic heart to -- But these were day-dreams, Miss Martha."
Miss Martha Meacham was dreaming of marrying Blumberger. She, therefore, wanted to look pretty and young to impress him.

- When Miss Martha knew that she ruined Blumberger's work, she realised that her dream was never going to become true.

9. Which of the following adjectives does not describe Miss Martha Meacham?

A. compassionate
B. caring
C. wise
D. lonely

Your answer:

A & B: She had a "sympathetic heart" and wanted to give the artist some nice food. This shows she is caring and compassionate.
C: She was not wise because she made false assumptions about Blumberger.
D: The fact that Miss Martha tried to catch Blumberger's attention implies that she is quite lonely.

10. Which sentence best describe the message and moral of the story?

A. One small mistake can destroy the work of a genius.
B. Desire can cloud one's judgement.
C. Neve poke your nose into others' business.
D. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Your answer:

11. Writers often build complex and vivid characters by providing details of their appearance, action, thought and speech, so as to show their personality traits. Identify what the foolowing excerpts describe. Write the letter in the space provided. There may be more than one focus in each excerpt.

A. appearance B. speech C. action D. thought
Excerpt from the story Focus os description
a. He was a middle-aged man, wearing spectacles and a brown beard trimmed to a careful point.
b. She thought he began to look thinner and discouraged. Her heart ached to add something good to eat to his meagre purchase, but her courage failed at the act. She did not dare affront him. She knew the pride of artists.
c. With a bread knife Miss Martha made a deep slash in each of the stale loaves, inserted a generous quantity of butter, and pressed the loaves tight again.
d. His face was very red, his hat was on the back of his head, his hair was wildly rumpled. He clinched his two fists and shook them ferociously at Miss Martha Meacham.
e. "You haf shoilt me," he cried, his blue eyes blazing behind his spectacles. "I vill tell you. you vas von meddingsome old cat!"
f. Miss Martha went into the back room. She took off the blue-dotted silk waist and put on the old brown serge she used to wear. Then she poured the quince seed and borax mixture out of the window into the ash can.

A. Appearance is the way that someone looks.

B. Speech is what someone says, often put in "quotation marks".

C. Action is something done by someone.

D. Thought is an idea or opinion of someone.

Witches' Loaves

Score Sheet

Questions Results
Question 1
Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5
Question 6
Question 7
Question 8
Question 9
Question 10
Question 11a
Question 11b
Question 11c
Question 11d
Question 11e
Question 11f

Extension: Think and Share

12. Why do you think the title of the story is "Witches' Loaves"? Can you give the story another title?

A witch usually tries to tempt people with food in traditional fairytales (e.g. "Snow White", "Hansel and Gretel"), which is similar to the tactics Miss Martha Meacham uses to win the heart of her romantic interest.

13. The story is largely about making false assumptions about other people. Can you share one incident in your life where false assumptions lead to a conflict or misunderstanding?