The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Benjamin, Tom, and Ren visit a graveyard to dig up the four bodies ordered by Doctor Milton. Everyone is quiet, but finally Benjamin and Tom begin to walk around and make sure a nearby shed is empty. Ren sits in the wagon, staring at the church. He is terrified that they will be caught, but no one is around. Satisfied, Benjamin picks the lock at the gate of the cemetery, and he and Tom walk through with their shovels. Ren stays behind, still worried that someone will see them. The moon is so bright that his hand leaves a shadow when he holds it up to the light. He remembers the little cemetery at Saint Anthony’s; it was not surrounded by an iron gate—it was only a field where several monks and children were buried. Once, Ichy claimed he saw the ghost of a little boy named Michael, who died of a fever. Ren looks at the cemetery now and hopes that the gate can prevent ghosts from escaping.

Benjamin and Tom finally return, dragging a burlap sack containing a body so large that they have to pull one end and then the other in order to keep moving. They can barely hoist the body into the wagon. The horse begins to spook, and Ren can hardly keep her still. Benjamin and Tom return to the graveyard for the next body, and Ren thinks about the body in the wagon behind him. The night is almost entirely silent except for the sound of insects buzzing around. Ren imagines “that he could hear them eating through the bag, trying to get at whatever was inside.” Every time Ren looks at the burlap sack, it appears more human and he imagines God’s “eye” staring at him.

Benjamin and Tom swiftly haul three more bodies into the wagon, “each bag smell[ing] worse than the last.” Ren asks Benjamin what will happen if the families of the dead find out they are gone. Benjamin says that, if they do, it will be too late; “there’ll be nothing left.” Ren thinks of Doctor Milton’s surgical instruments. Benjamin and Tom return to the cemetery once more to fill in the graves. Ren notices that the horse is increasingly upset, “as if she was trying to shake something off.” Ren steps down from the driver’s seat to comfort her. He wonders if the farmer had replaced her yet. Suddenly, he hears something shift behind him and he sees the largest burlap sack—the first body Benjamin and Tom dug up—sitting straight up in the wagon. Ren tries to yell for Benjamin, but he cannot make a sound. He walks cautiously toward the cemetery gate and the head in the bag turns with him, “watching.” Benjamin returns, cheerfully walking through the cemetery gate. He sees the dead body sitting up and motions for Ren to stay where he is while pulling out a knife. Ren begins to scream, but Tom appears and covers his mouth. He rushes to the bag and cuts away the burlap, revealing a bald man with his eyes open. The man says that he is hungry, and Benjamin responds simply with, “Yes.” He removes the rest of the burlap and pulls it away from the body.

The man is wearing a purple, velvet suit. He has “brutish features,” including a large jaw and a nose that appeared to have been broken repeatedly. His broad shoulders “stretched from either side of his neck like a wall.” Sitting down, he is taller than Benjamin. Ren tries to approach the man, but he suddenly collapses against the...

(This entire section contains 1159 words.)

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side of the wagon. Benjamin checks for a pulse, and the man is still alive. Tom wants to put him back in his grave, but Benjamin says that there is no time to haul him back. They must take the man back with them. Tom grabs the reins and orders Ren to ride in the back with the bodies, which are covered by blankets. He looks at the dead man again and sees that he is naked under his purple suit, and that there are bruises all around his neck. As the wagon makes its way back to Mrs. Sands’s house, Benjamin periodically slaps the man in the face to see if he is still alive. The man always emits a small gurgle, and Benjamin says, “I guess you’re with us for good.”

Analysis

Hannah Tinti illustrates a quintessentially gothic scene when she depicts Benjamin, Tom, and Ren’s first experience with being resurrection men. While stealing corpses from a graveyard encourages discomfort in the reader, it is the foreboding nature of the environment—and Ren’s response to it—that creates the most suspense. The graveyard is surrounded by a formidable gate with a “tight curling black pattern of iron” that Ren hopes is “high enough to keep the ghosts from getting out.” His growing anxiety primes the reader's expectation for what might happen next; Ren's paranoia is palpable in the bright moonlight and it is easy to sympathize with his pity for the families who will discover that the bodies of their loved ones have been stolen. Tinti's scene also evokes dread when Ren notices that the largest burlap sack looks “more human” each time he looks at it. The reader is left horrified, though perhaps not surprised, when Ren finds the body sitting up on its own.

While the novel’s increasingly gothic characteristics encourage the reader to predict how the plot might progress, there is still a lack of explicit evidence that a supernatural event has occurred. It seems that Benjamin, Tom, and Ren have encountered an undead man, but this is not confirmed—only stoked, particularly when the man announces that he is hungry. The reader might expect that he hungers for human flesh or blood the way a zombie or vampire might, but it's possible that he was recently buried alive and only starves for regular food. The bruising on his neck could suggest a supernatural bite, such as from a vampire, but it may also have been the result of ordinary physical abuse or from the man's having been hanged or strangled.

Regardless of whether the man is alive or undead, he is yet another grotesque character. Like Ren and the unnamed dwarf who climbed down Mrs. Sands’s chimney, the “dead man” has an unusual body. His head is “square and short,” but the rest of him is “large and brutish”; his jaw “flared out below his ears,” and his shoulders “stretched from either side of his neck like a wall.” Sitting down, he is taller than Benjamin. He seems eerily similar to Victor Frankenstein’s Creature, who is also large and brutish. In combination with gothic hints, the presentation of a potentially undead grotesque character suggests that the novel is poised to subvert expectations of both genre and reality.

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