Oh, I see all of you running in here to see the Tart's latest iteration of mischief, but I'm going to give you some actual psychologically grounded food for thought, so how's that? (Aren't I naughty?)
MAN STEALS LOAF OF BREAD
People can look at that and think a lot of different things. In literature, the act could be made sympathetic ages before any psychological theories were out there (Look at Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and both his motivation and the significant consequences). So I want you to think about this.
He was hungry.
He was starving.
His family was starving.
He saw some children on the street who were starving.
He saw it as a challenge and wanted to see if he could.
He wanted to show off to his friends.
He was impulsive.
He hated the bread vendor and wanted to cause him problems.
He's in love with the girl selling and wanted her attention.
The window of a hungry family.
From the donation truck for hungry families.
From a wealthy widow baking loaves.
From a wealthy widow baking loaves for the orphans.
From a wealthy widow after providing her with some much wanted company.
From a street vendor.
From a small shop.
From a national chain.
WHEN and HOW?
At the end of the day when it is mostly stale anyway, he nicks a last loaf unlikely to sell.
When it is first set out for sale, hot fresh and irresistible and it makes his tummy rumble.
When there are dozens of people gathered and it is most daring.
When the vendor turns his back, he nabs it and runs.
There are people who believe it's wrong no matter what—that right and wrong is a matter of black and white (I almost gave them a political affiliation, but stopped myself—wasn't that good?) But most of us think there are circumstances by which stealing is a reasonable offense. Most of us would attribute different shades of right and wrong, based on the circumstances and motivations of the bread thief.
In Our Writing
I have a long fan fiction up for the 2009 finals at HPANA and was rereading some of it (editing a little) and caught some of the comments recently—I managed a writing coup. The story was about the 'Marauders' (Harry's father and his best friends, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettygrew) and I wrote their pranks and antics in such a way that the Marauder LOVERS (a large, loyal group of people who adores this bunch—other than Peter, anyway) thought they were funny and fabulous, and the Marauder HATERS (often Snape sympathetics, though I fall into a third group who thought they were ALL boys behaving badly) thought they were horrible, awful people.
Before WRITING this complex group and their antics, I had thought some writers were too forgiving and wrote it all as light fun, and some were too merciless and wrote them as awful. I tried to draw from both my psychology and from some boys I knew when I was a teen, and I think I managed to nail that gray area. How people felt about the Marauders I wrote depended largely on the feelings about 'boys will be boys'. [this group might think the thief above was in his rights if he stole in a very daring manner to see if he could get away with it, though not from starving children—something like that]
So I am trying to use such shades of gray in my more recent books, but it isn't easy. I tend to cut people in dire straights (hungry or backed into a corner) a break but not be very sympathetic to flashy antics for fun. I need to remember though, that some of those mischief makers are sympathetic to part of my readers, and there is nothing better than stirring up a bit of controversy!
And because I can’t bear to disappoint you (though baring is another matter entirely)… a little seasonal naughtiness…