The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Granston experiences a “nor’easter” storm, which causes the harbor to freeze several feet deep. Ren re-reads The Deerslayer while Benjamin and Tom play cards or go to the saloon. Tom contracts the chickenpox in the middle of January, so Benjamin takes Ren to the saloon instead. Ren learns how to smoke a pipe and drinks beer while listening to Benjamin’s stories. Even the other men, who are mostly fishermen, gather around to hear about Benjamin’s supposed adventures. Whenever anyone else tries to tell a story, Benjamin instructs Ren to show everyone his missing hand so he can tell wild stories about how he lost it. The fishermen are not horrified; instead, they celebrate Ren’s scar and cheer when he holds up his arm. Some of them have missing limbs, too, and an old sailor lets Ren try on his wooden hand.

Money runs out by the time winter ends, and Benjamin says that it is time to leave Granston. Tom asks Ren what he wants to be when he grows up. He thinks that Ren needs a real profession, saying that “maybe he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life living in a basement.” Tom does not like relying on small, petty crimes to survive—instead, he wants to find something to “tide us over for a few years instead of a couple of months.” Benjamin looks at his old, half-polished shoes and then at Ren and seems troubled. He disappears until the next evening, when he announces that he has changed his mind about going to North Umbrage. They follow the river out of Granston, carried by the wagon and the horse that Benjamin and Ren had stolen from the farmer. One day before reaching North Umbrage, they enter a valley of pastures full of white, brown, and black sheep. They stop in a small town nearby and use the last of their money to stay in a dilapidated inn.

Benjamin says that there will be a crowd gathered to watch a sheep-shearing the next day. He has a plan for Ren to make them money. Tom does not want Ren involved because he is too inexperienced, but Ren agrees to help. That afternoon, while Benjamin is away to find food, Ren and Tom change the bottle labels from “Doctor Faust’s Medical Salts for Pleasant Dreams” to “Mother Jones’s Elixir for Misbehaving Children.” Ren notices Tom’s excellent handwriting, learns Tom was a teacher, and asks why he stopped teaching. Tom tells Ren about his childhood friend Christian. Though they were close, Tom and Christian loved the same woman. Christian had land and an inheritance, whereas Tom was only a teacher—so the woman chose Christian but continued meeting with Tom in secret. Tom drunkenly confronted Christian one night and taunted him about the affair. Christian told him to stop, pulling out a pistol and holding it to his own head. Tom told him to pull the trigger, and he did. After that, Tom stopped being a teacher.

The next morning, Tom and Ren attend the sheepshearing. Ren approaches a group of children and punches one of the boys in the neck. Ren feels “surprisingly good” but is promptly attacked by the other boys. A farmer intervenes, pulling Ren to his feet. Ren reveals his scarred wrist, and Tom approaches to say that Ren has been starting fights ever since losing his hand in a thresher. Benjamin suddenly appears, saying that Ren only needs some tonic. He presents a bottle of “Mother Jones’s Elixir for Misbehaving Children,” and Ren drinks the entire thing. He makes a show of kneeling...

(This entire section contains 1097 words.)

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before the boy he punched and asking for forgiveness. He then prays “with a face of genuine gratitude” because the opium has begun dulling the pain from his bruised ribs and split lip. Finally convinced, some of the farmers’ wives purchase the tonic and administer it to their children. As Ren begins to feel more subdued, his eyes “opening and closing against his will,” a man confronts Benjamin about recognizing him from a poster claiming that he is wanted for armed robbery. A woman screams and mothers rush to their children, who are unresponsive. Benjamin hops over a fence and runs away. Farmers chase him with their shotguns while Tom and Ren walk to the wagon. Ren, though pretending to be sick, feels wonderful. He walks up to the mare and suddenly feels bad for stealing her from the farmer who loved her so much. He tries to kiss her nose, but she resists. He continues trying to force her head still until she finally bucks. They finally take off and, when they are a half mile away, Benjamin emerges from behind the driver’s seat with three oranges. He feeds pieces of one to Ren “until the sky turned the same glorious color as the fruit and Ren’s jaw ached with happiness.”

Analysis

In chapter 11, the role of free will in living a life of crime is directly addressed through the character development of Benjamin and Tom. Though Ren can be excused from the responsibility of choosing a better living, neither Benjamin nor Tom seem to have been forced into criminal professions. Benjamin appears to be savvy enough to pick up an honest trade, given his diligent research on becoming a resurrection man, and Tom voluntarily abandoned his teaching career after the suicide of his best friend. Hannah Tinti seems to encourage the reader to question whether a life of crime is necessary or whether it is the result of social inequality and hardship. Tom himself seems to inadvertently question his chosen livelihood when he asks Ren what he wants to be when he grows up, arguing that he—and, presumably, Tom—does not want to “spend the rest of his life living in a basement.” Benjamin, however conflicted he may appear to be about moving to North Umbrage, does not seem troubled by his career.

A growing theme addressing ambivalence around the influence of science and technology is palpable when Benjamin begins researching the tasks associated with being a resurrection man. The key function of a resurrection man, or body-snatcher, is to exhume corpses from graveyards and to sell them to teaching hospitals or medical schools for dissection or anatomy lessons. Given the novel’s preoccupation with body parts, whether missing or artificial, Benjamin and Tom’s new science-centered profession carries a sinister implication: scientific and technological advancement, which are tied to the rise of industrialism and commercialism, dehumanize society as a whole.

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Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis