The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Benjamin and Tom bring Ren to see Mister Bowers, a dentist with an office next to the boatyard in Granston. They tell Bowers, who is an eccentric older man with a black eye and an old wig of white curls, that Ren has a toothache. Once inside, Ren uneasily surveys all of the terrifying tools that are used for dental repair. He notices Bowers’s partially eaten breakfast of dark bread with jam and coffee. Bowers sees Ren eyeing his food and asks if Ren likes jam. Ren, hoping that Bowers will share some, says that he does. Bowers suddenly takes out his teeth and holds them out before Ren, saying that “This is what happens to people who eat jam.” Without dentures, his mouth looks “shrunken...the skin around his chin loose.”

Ren climbs into the chair in the middle of the office and tells Bowers that his teeth are loose. Bowers begins the examination, but Tom interrupts by presenting the handkerchief full of loose teeth. Bowers draws the curtains and locks the door before examining the teeth. He suspects that they belong to a young woman who likely died recently from childbirth. He shows a cracked incisor to Benjamin and Tom, saying that the crack indicates that there is decay in the tooth. Tom becomes angry and does not believe him, so Bowers cracks the tooth open to show the black inside.

Bowers tries to give the handkerchief back to Benjamin and Tom, but they do not take it back. He tries shoving the handkerchief in Ren’s missing hand and is stunned when it falls to the ground, sending teeth across the floor. He asks Ren why he does not wear a hook and then tells him about a shop on the wharf that sells wooden hands and other artificial body parts that are “quite lifelike.” He then walks to a glass showcase against the wall and surveys some of the dentures on display. Some of them are made of wood; others, of ivory, porcelain, and animal bones. He picks a pair made of high-quality human teeth. Benjamin admires them, and Bowers says that they are expensive because they come from a teaching hospital in North Umbrage. Benjamin immediately reacts to hearing about North Umbrage, and Ren can tell that something is wrong because he looks like he has been “kicked in the chest.” Bowers explains that the doctor who extracted the teeth had to pay “resurrection men” for the body. He tells them that resurrection men can make a lot of money—as much as $100—by supplying bodies to hospitals and research labs. The work is dangerous, but he imagines that men like Benjamin and Tom might be up to the task. Tom is very interested, but Benjamin refuses. They quietly argue until Benjamin agrees to think about it. Before leaving, Bowers offers Ren a piece of his breakfast, but Ren is no longer hungry. Bowers takes a bite of bread and jam, his dentures “[mashing] together, moving like that [have] their own mind.” He tells Ren that “teeth want to be lost” and not to “give them an excuse to leave you.”

Analysis

The theme of commodified bodies continues to develop through the evolving motif of body parts —or, as is the case in chapter 10, the motif of missing body parts and their artificial replacements. As Mister Bowers’s response to Ren’s missing hand indicates, the loss of a limb or a set of teeth is an opportunity for someone else to make money; in fact, there are so many sailors with missing limbs in Granston that an...

(This entire section contains 774 words.)

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artisan opened a shop was established to sell wooden replacements. The human body is like a machine; if a hand or set of teeth are lost, one can buy replacement parts—or “tools,” as Mister Bowers calls them—to become functional again. In the context of commerce, corpses are merely broken-down machines to be sold or dismembered for body parts.

Closely related to the ongoing theme of commodified bodies is the anticipation of another plot point: Mister Bowers proposes that Benjamin and Tom become “resurrection men” by digging up and selling corpses to a hospital in North Umbrage, but Benjamin is inexplicably upset by the suggestion. Though no justification is given for Benjamin’s dislike of North Umbrage or of becoming a resurrection man, it is clear that this foreshadows conflict that will arise in some way. Either Tom and Benjamin will clash over the decision, because Tom relishes the possibility of making such good money, or the reader will learn about a piece of Benjamin’s mysterious past.

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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis