The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Benjamin returns just after dawn, smelling like his clothes “had been soaked in spirits.” He asks where “the purple suit” is, and Ren shows him that Dolly is sleeping under the bed. Ren thinks his eyes hurt, so he does not want to be in the daylight. Benjamin shows Ren the money Doctor Milton paid them for the corpses they stole. Ren has never seen so much money before, and Benjamin says that he wishes that he had “picked [Ren] up sooner.” They spread the money across the bed and Ren, who knows how to multiply on his fingers, helps count the bills and coins. Benjamin is impressed that Ren can count so well and gives him several dollars before hiding the rest of the money inside one of the bedposts. He declares that he will buy himself a new pair of shoes and asks if Ren would like another orange. Ren does not answer; instead, he smells the dollar bills he holds in his hand and imagines everything they have been used to buy—“new clothes and peaches and horseshoes and lumber and books and robbins and frying pans.” Benjamin pulls out his knife and hands it to Ren, saying that he can keep the knife while he decides. Ren examines the knife; its handle depicts a bear whose paws reach around it “as if it were climbing a tree.” He places his finger on the tip of the blade: “it was sharp and gleaming and threw a small bright spot of light onto his face.” He smiles, and Benjamin realizes that he has never seen Ren smile before. The mousetrap factory whistle sounds, and Ren watches hordes of mousetrap girls in their blue dresses make their way to work in the rain. Dolly shifts in his sleep, lifting the bed off of its feet. Ren asks what they are going to do about him, and Benjamin says that they may need him because Tom is on a “bender” at the bar and will likely not return for weeks. Ren tells Benjamin that he thinks Dolly is a “killer,” and Benjamin only says that it might be useful “as long as he doesn’t kill us.”

Later, Ren wakes up and the sun is high in the sky. He was supposed to stay awake and watch Dolly while Benjamin slept, but he accidentally fell asleep and Dolly is gone. Ren frantically searches the room, but the giant man is nowhere. He rushes downstairs and hears a “small scraping sound” and “a series of muffled knocks” coming from the kitchen. He finds Dolly sitting on a chest near the fireplace, scooping spoonfuls of porridge into his mouth. He asks Ren if he is looking for “the woman,” and when Ren nods, knocks his hand on the chest to indicate that she is inside. Ren is horrified and orders him to release Mrs. Sands, who emerges with a sock stuffed in her mouth and her throat “covered with blotches of red.” She demands to know who Dolly is, but before anyone can answer she begins to cough—“deep, shaking coughs turning over something wet and heavy inside her chest.” She grabs the fireplace poker and proceeds to bludgeon Dolly in the leg with it. He does not seem to feel it, however. Ren grabs at the poker, but Mrs. Sands continues to cough and beat Dolly. The giant man effortlessly pins her arms and covers her mouth, explaining that this is “why [he] put her in the box.”

Just as Ren tries to intervene again, Benjamin runs into the room with a King...

(This entire section contains 1767 words.)

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James Bible in hand. He reprimands Dolly “as if he were a child” for accosting their landlady and explains to Mrs. Sands that there is a “perfectly good reason” why Dolly trapped her in the chest. He explains that Dolly is his and Ren’s cousin, and that he is a traveling preacher who came to find them after learning that Benjamin’s sister died. Mrs. Sands sniffs at Dolly’s suit and complains that he smells “LIKE MANURE.” Benjamin explains that Dolly “passed through every kind of manure” as he made his way to North Umbrage, Bible in hand, “while converting the heathens of the forest.” It was during this journey that he fell in love with a Native American princess named Happy Feather, but she did not “take to Jesus” and ran off with a doctor from a neighboring tribe.

While Benjamin is telling this story, Ren wonders if Mrs. Sands will notice that the Bible he handed to Dolly is actually hers. Benjamin continues, saying that “our cousin” was so moved by Mrs. Sands’s beauty that he locked her in the chest so she would not run away like Happy Feather. Mrs. Sands grabs the Bible from Dolly and examines the pages, eyeing Dolly suspiciously. She then lays down the Bible and begins to beat all of them with the handle of her broom, catching Ren in the back of the legs. She drives them from her house, yelling that they are “ALL THE WORST OF ANY KIND!”

They stand in the gutter outside, and Benjamin introduces himself to Dolly. His hand disappears “up to the wrist” within Dolly’s hand. Dolly seems uncomfortable in the busy street and edges closer to Ren. Benjamin notices, saying that Dolly “seems to like” Ren, who is embarrassed but agrees. Dolly is out of place among the townsfolk, who begin to stare. Benjamin says they must leave, but Dolly refuses. Ren realizes Benjamin will abandon them if they do not obey him, so he begs Dolly to get up—even wrapping his arms around Dolly’s shoulder until he agrees. They retreat behind an abandoned church and dump buckets of rain water over Dolly until he is clean. They force him to throw away his purple suit, which he does not seem to want to do. Benjamin uses the bear knife to shave Dolly’s face, and soon he looks “as if he had never been dead.” Ren finds a brown shepherd’s robe for Dolly to wear as a disguise while they remain in North Umbrage, saying that he can pretend to be a monk. Ren remembers a group of Capuchin monks who visited Saint Anthony’s once and slept outside without blankets, looking “like fallen angels in the moonlight.” He and Benjamin help Dolly learn how to sign the cross until they are satisfied that his disguise is convincing.

Benjamin tells Dolly that he is lucky that Benjamin and Tom dug him up; otherwise, he would still be trapped underground. Dolly stops signing the cross and regards Benjamin with hostility, asking if he expects to be paid. Benjamin only wants to “talk business” because he believes that Dolly owes them a debt for saving him. Dolly insists that unless they need someone killed, he will not be useful. Benjamin objects, saying that they need someone who can dig with them. He explains that they can make a lot of money, “more than you’ll probably see in a year.” Dolly seems undecided, but Benjamin suddenly smiles, “bright and beaming and beautiful.” He offers to buy Dolly a drink, and finally Dolly is won over. They walk through the central common toward a tavern, but Dolly stops and tells them that he recognizes two young men smoking outside of the tavern. Dolly calls them “hat boys” and says that “if they see me, there’ll be trouble.” Benjamin throws the hood of the shepherd’s robe over Dolly’s head and hides him behind a huge oak tree, telling him to wait. Benjamin and Ren disappear inside the tavern, which is called O’Sullivan’s.

Analysis

Commerce resurfaces as a central theme when, for the first time, Benjamin pays Ren for his labor. Ren does not imagine what he will buy, however; he thinks about all of the material goods that were bought and sold with the bills in his hand. Perhaps more importantly, Ren understands that he has earned the money and the right to Benjamin’s “bear knife”; they are not gifts. The novel’s preoccupation with the relationship between commerce and the human body takes another sinister turn when Benjamin insists that Dolly owes them a debt for saving him. Given that Benjamin values human life in terms of currency, it's likely that he believes Dolly has deprived them of profit by being alive. They cannot sell Dolly’s body to Doctor Milton, so Benjamin tries to transform Dolly’s body into a commodity through physical labor. Benjamin may also suggest that they could have killed him instead of taking him back to Mrs. Sands’s house, so Dolly also owes them a debt for letting him live.

Many synchronistic patterns rapidly emerge alongside Dolly’s character development, beginning with similarities between the “blotches of red,” another instance of the red color motif, on Mrs. Sands’s neck and the purple marks left on Dolly’s neck when he was strangled. He and Mrs. Sands also emit deep sounds that originate from their lungs; Dolly’s sobbing creates “a heavy kind of moan [in his chest] that bends people over,” and Mrs. Sands’s severe coughing seems to “turn over something wet and heavy inside her chest.” It is Dolly’s affinity for Ren, however, that uncovers the synchronistic resemblances that guide the perception of Dolly. He and Ren are both grotesque characters with unusual bodies that receive either disgust or pity from society.

Their grotesque qualities also represent unique opportunities for profit, which Benjamin exploits. Ren’s missing hand helps Benjamin manipulate his victims into giving up their valuables, while Dolly’s incredible size and strength will be useful in efficiently digging up corpses. The similarities Hannah Tinti establishes between Dolly and Ren ultimately encourage empathy with Dolly even if he is a murderer. Standing in the gutter covered in manure, just like Ren did in Granston, Dolly cannot easily be classified as a villain or as a supernatural creature. He kills because he is “made for it”; he cannot imagine being helpful in any other way. It is very possible that Dolly was forced into a life of crime; like Victor Frankenstein’s Creature, Dolly assumes the role of the fallen angel because society has abandoned him. Ren seems to recognize this in some way when he declares that Dolly will be disguised as a monk, thinking of the monks who looked like fallen angels as they slept under the moonlight in Saint Anthony’s stone courtyard.

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