the suit can themba

The Suit by Can Themba: A Story of Betrayal and Revenge

Published in 1963, “The Suit” by Can Themba is a captivating short story that delves into themes of betrayal and revenge. Set in apartheid-era South Africa, this tale unfolds the devastating consequences of infidelity and the cunning strategies employed to seek justice. Through the journey of its characters, the story explores the complexities of human emotions and the desire for retribution.

The Storyline

The story revolves around the lives of Philemon and Matilda, a couple living in Sophiatown, a vibrant township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Philemon holds a prestigious job, while Matilda is a beautiful and dedicated housewife.

the suit can themba

Everything seems perfect in their world, until Philemon discovers Matilda’s infidelity with a younger man named Mandisa. Devastated by this betrayal, Philemon concocts a plan to exact revenge on his unfaithful wife.

The Dramatic Turn of Events

Philemon decides to punish Matilda uniquely. Instead of confronting her directly or resorting to violence, he demands that she treat the suit that Mandisa left behind as an honored guest in their home. The suit becomes a haunting symbol of Matilda’s indiscretion, a constant reminder of her deceit.

The suit is given a prime position in their living room and served meals at their dining table. Matilda is forced to care for the suit as if it were a living person, combing its hair and preparing morning tea for it. This strange and surreal arrangement showcases the extent of Philemon’s twisted plan for revenge.

The Emotional Toll

As the story progresses, it becomes evident that the suit is not just a symbol of betrayal, but also a source of severe emotional distress for Matilda. The suit’s presence magnifies her guilt and shame, leading her to fall into a deep depression.

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In a desperate attempt to rid herself of this torment, Matilda seeks solace in religion. She attends church regularly and begs for forgiveness. However, the suit continues to be a constant and unrelenting presence in her life.

The Unexpected Outcome

While the story initially suggests that Philemon’s revenge will ultimately bring satisfaction and closure, it takes an unexpected turn. Philemon’s plan proves to be a double-edged sword that ultimately destroys him as well.

One day, Philemon returns home unexpectedly to find Matilda dancing with the suit. Overwhelmed by rage and jealousy, he loses control and furiously beats her. The violence culminates in Matilda tragically collapsing and dying from her injuries.

A Harsh Lesson Learned

The suit, once a tool of revenge, now becomes a haunting presence for Philemon. He is left alone to grapple with the consequences of his actions, consumed by guilt and remorse. The suit, which represents both Matilda’s transgression and Philemon’s vengeance, ultimately symbolizes the destruction that betrayal and revenge bring.

The Suit by Can Themba’s Legacy

Can Themba’s “The Suit” continues to be celebrated as a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature. Through its vivid portrayal of human emotions and complex moral dilemmas, the story engages readers and raises questions about the nature of revenge, forgiveness, and the consequences of our actions.

The uncompromising portrayal of apartheid-era South Africa adds an additional layer of social commentary, showcasing the destructive nature of a society built on inequality and resentment.


“The Suit” by Can Themba remains an enduring classic, exploring the depths of human emotions, the weight of betrayal, and the corrosive power of revenge. It serves as a cautionary tale, urging us to tread carefully when seeking vengeance, reminding us that the consequences can be far-reaching and devastating.

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