The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

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Ren finds Dolly sleeping under a maple tree, looking “almost peaceful.” He waits patiently while Dolly sleeps, checking every so often to make sure he is still breathing. Ren counts seventeen links in Dolly’s tattooed chain and, remembering that each link represents a murder, wonders what it is like “to have that many ghosts behind him.” Dolly wakes up just as the day is ending, and the streets are already dark when they set off to Mrs. Sands’s boarding house. They find the door unlocked when they try the handle. No fire is burning in the kitchen, and Mrs. Sands is nowhere to be found. Ren searches the rooms upstairs, including the mousetrap girls’ room, before climbing the stairs to the attic. Mrs. Sands is lying on a bed, her collar unbuttoned, and her face flushed with fever. Ren touches her shoulder, and she begins to shake—at first only lightly, but soon so violently that she almost falls off of the bed. Ren covers her with a blanket and tries to restrain her, but she yells that he is murdering her. Though delirious and barely conscious, she recognizes him and calls him “THE DROWNED BOY.” She says she has “NEVER SEEN ANYONE SO HUNGRY.” She tries to stand up, declaring that she must make supper, but begins to cough, “her body folding in half.” She begins to weep, and Ren notices blood trickling from her mouth onto the rug. He screams for Dolly, who thunders up the stairs and kneels to the floor. They roll Mrs. Sands up in a blanket, and Dolly carries her downstairs. Ren remembers when some of the children at Saint Anthony’s came down with a “fever” like this and knows that Mrs. Sands will die if they do not take her to a doctor soon. He retrieves all of the money that Benjamin hid in the bedpost in their room so they can pay for Mrs. Sands’s care.

Dolly and Ren put Mrs. Sands in the wagon and take off. Ren cannot remember exactly how to get to the hospital, so it takes them nearly an hour to find the bridge out of town. Ren imagines the drowned bow as they cross the river and wonders if his spirit can tell that his old clothes are passing over the water. He bargains with God, promising to say ten rosaries if they make it over the river safely and twenty if they make it to the hospital. He then notices two men standing under a streetlight up ahead. He realizes that they are the dangerous “hat boys” that Dolly pointed out when they were outside O’Sullivan’s. Nevertheless, he urges the horse to continue over the bridge. One of the men pulls out a spherical, flat disk that expands into a top hat when he smacks it against his wrist. He places it on his head and leaps in front of the wagon, grabbing onto the horse’s bridle. Addressing Dolly, who is still dressed as a monk, he asks if it is not too late for a catechism. The other man, who wears a “porkpie” hat, produces a chain from his pocket. Dolly replies that he is a monk, but the “Top Hat” insists that he does not remember him to be a monk—“I remember a purple suit.” Dolly climbs out of the wagon and orders the men to release the horse, but the Top Hat assures him that they only want a “blessing.” Dolly begins to sign the cross with his fingers, but the man in the porkpie hat forcefully wraps his chain around Dolly’s...

(This entire section contains 1716 words.)

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neck. Dolly is unaffected, however. He calmly turns around, grabs the man’s throat, and crushes it. The man drops his chain, and Dolly slams him against the streetlight, “bash[ing] his skull against it, over and over, until the man’s hat fell onto the sidewalk.” The Top Hat pulls Ren down from the wagon, screaming in his ear and holding a knife to his cheek. Dolly intervenes, attacking the Top Hat while Ren frantically rolls himself off the sidewalk and into the gutter. The fighting finally stops, and Ren notices he is surrounded by dead and rotting fish.

Dolly’s robe is spattered with blood, and the man in the top hat is lying on the sidewalk. One of his eyes was put out in the fight, and “a slick trail of red ran from his lashes to his ear.” Dolly pulls Ren to his feet. Ren understands that Dolly does not feel bad about killing the men, and that “he could kill a dozen more like this.” Ren tries to imagine what Benjamin would do in this situation and decides to take the bodies with them. They lift the bodies into the wagon before anyone sees them. Mrs. Sands, who is now sandwiched between the two bloodied bodies, yells “THEY’RE ALWAYS STEALING MY BACON!” Ren covers the bodies with blankets, and Mrs. Sands says that it “SERVES THEM RIGHT.” Ren pulls her blanket up to her chin and then grabs hold of Dolly’s hand, saying that it is time to go. Ren can feel “a bit of something left—hair, or skin” on Dolly’s palm. He tries to believe that Dolly did not mean to kill the men, but he knows that Dolly feels no remorse. They take off once more, and Ren finally realizes that he is in the company of a murderer. He cannot bargain with God anymore—he will certainly be sent to hell. He feels even more panicked as he imagines what will happen when law enforcement catches them; however, no one overtakes them as they cross North Umbrage’s city limits.

Ren finally speaks, reminding Dolly that he just killed two people. Dolly responds that they deserved it, but Ren insists “that doesn’t make it right.” Ren feels the trees watching them as though they were aware of the murders, and before long he begins to repent his sins out loud. He tells Dolly that he must confess, too, for everything he has done. Dolly responds that it would take years for him to confess all of his sins. Ren protests, insisting that he will not be saved if he does not repent. He explains that, when Christ returns, He will decide who is sent to heaven and who is sent to hell. Dolly only says that he has “already been there” and came back. Ren then explains that Dolly should confess his sins because murder is against the law and he will be hanged. Dolly is unconcerned, saying that he was “made for killing.” Ren falls quiet, but suddenly feels anxious that the men in the back of the wagon are still alive—just like Dolly was after Benjamin and Tom dug him up. Ren checks on the bodies but finds that they are indeed dead. The skull of the man who wore the porkpie hat is split, and the face of the man who wore the top hat is a mask of blood. Ren decides that Doctor Milton was wrong to say that the insides of bodies are beautiful. Finally, the hospital comes into view, looking like “a giant waiting to be fed.” Ren covers up the bodies again and urges the horse forward. He remembers Father John's saying that the Day of Judgment would arrive in his lifetime, but Ren sees that “no judgment seemed at hand.”


The novel’s underlying preoccupation with hunger—especially in relation to commerce and scientific advancement—is reinforced when Mrs. Sands looks at Ren and declares that she has “NEVER SEEN ANYONE SO HUNGRY.” Hunger primarily exists as a representation of intense greed; Doctor Milton, who nonchalantly amputates a man’s leg even as the man begs for mercy, is hungry for fame and perhaps domination over nature by exposing the mysteries of the human body. His hospital, which resembles “a giant waiting to be fed,” is hungry for patients that, as far as is known, are never healed and do not leave. The Good Thief seems to suggest that scientific and technological advancement, as well as capitalism and commerce, produce a figurative hunger that encourages dehumanization. Though Mrs. Sands’s feverish delirium means that we cannot entirely trust her assessment of Ren's being “HUNGRY,” it is possible that the hunger she perceives represents Ren’s assimilation into a world that is dominated by the effects of capitalism and scientific progress.

Aside from featuring the frequently brutal treatment of bodies, the novel represents dehumanization through reverse anthropomorphism. Like Charles Dickens, Hannah Tinti continuously refers to characters—or depicts characters referring to each other—as though they were material objects and not humans. The man in the top hat becomes “the Top Hat,” just as Dolly was either “the dead man” or “the purple suit.” The Top Hat even seems to define Dolly’s identity according to his clothes: though Dolly is disguised as a monk, he is recalled as being a “purple suit.” Though we do not yet know what the purple suit represents, the novel’s repeated reference to Dolly as “the purple suit” suggests that it indicates something significant about his character.

Finally, The Good Thief’s use of gothic conventions continues to ultimately separate the novel from the gothic genre itself. Imagined ghosts and spirits continue to appear in Ren’s imagination, but they never literally materialize. And though Ren initially perceives Dolly as a dead man who inexplicably wakes up, it seems that Dolly is just an eccentric murderer who was buried alive. The novel therefore encourages the reader to question personal perceptions of reality by looking for the ways in which gothic influences actually penetrate daily life. Ren’s relationship with the abstract world of religious thought, which features an omnipotent but invisible God, saints, ghosts, and spirits, underscores the ways in which the gothic is brought into reality. It seems that, in The Good Thief, the gothic becomes a representation of religious thought—or archaic thought—processes that are unraveled by reason and logic. Superstition and religious rationalization ultimately produce gothic interpretations of reality, and it is this reality that Ren systematically unlearns as he assimilates into society.


Chapter 18 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis