The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

Start Free Trial

Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Sister Agnes meets Ren and Dolly at the gate, as if she knew they were going to visit. Ren becomes anxious when he notices that she is standing close to the basement, where Benjamin and Tom deposited the corpses they sold to Doctor Milton. He thinks again about what Benjamin would say and decides to tell her that their landlady is sick. Sister Agnes investigates the back of the wagon before Ren can stop her and notices the dead bodies.

However, she is not alarmed; she only shoves them aside in order to examine Mrs. Sands. She lists her symptoms: “Fever...Dilation...Swelling.” Ren asks if Mrs. Sands will recover, and Sister Agnes tells him to be quiet as Mrs. Sands yells, “MURDERERS!” Ren is worried that Sister Agnes will realize that the two dead men were murdered, but she disregards Mrs. Sands and concludes that she has influenza and will need to be given a private room so as not to infect the other patients. A private room costs money, however, so Ren hands over all of the bills that he took from the bedpost. Sister Agnes counts the money before turning to Dolly, who has said nothing the entire time. She addresses him as “Brother” and asks if he came from Saint Anthony’s. Ren answers for him, saying that he is indeed from Saint Anthony’s. To prove it, Dolly makes the sign of the cross as Sister Agnes stares. She asks where the dead bodies came from. The question is accusatory, and Ren can tell that Dolly is “sizing her up, calculating the risk.” Ren intervenes, explaining that they discovered the bodies on the road. Sister Agnes does not seem convinced, but she tells them that they can slide the bodies into the “depository” and that they will likely receive “the proper compensation.” Dolly and Ren wrap the dead men up in blankets and push them into the depository.

Sister Agnes leads them to a private ward as dawn breaks. Dolly carries Mrs. Sands in his arms as they walk up the stairs. They can hear patients stirring in the public wards, whispering to each other. Sister Agnes guides them through a passageway on the second floor. There is a Sister of Charity positioned outside of every room, some of them doing needlework and some of them nodding off. Sister Agnes wakes up those who are dozing, explaining that each sister is charged with the care of two patients and are available around the clock. She says that Mrs. Sands may ring for Sister Josephine if she needs anything. Sister Josephine is a woman of about seventy who appears to be sleeping against the wall. Sister Agnes announces the arrival of a new patient and orders Sister Josephine to bring a tub and water so Mrs. Sands can be “deloused.” Mrs. Sands begins to yell that she is “NOT A LOUSE,” and Sister Agnes tries to silence her, saying that she will wake the rest of the patients. Ren explains that Mrs. Sands cannot help yelling and asks her to quiet down. Mrs. Sands tells Ren that he “MUST MAKE HIS DINNER” and “BRING HIM HIS SOCKS.” Ren understands that she means that he must make supper for the chimney man and make sure his socks are left by the fireplace. Mrs. Sands knows that Ren saw the man and that he stole the wooden horse that was left for her as a gift.

Sister Agnes produces a small bottle; its contents make Mrs. Sands sneeze when placed beneath her nose. Sister Josephine enters the room with a basin...

(This entire section contains 1843 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

of water for Mrs. Sands’s bath, and Sister Agnes tells Ren that Mrs. Sands needs to sleep and that they should leave. Ren looks at Mrs. Sands. Her mouth is open, and Ren can see that she has a gold molar. Ren tells her that he will be back soon, and he and Dolly leave her room. Dolly tells Ren that he hates the hospital, and Ren asks if he has ever been sick. Dolly shows Ren a bullet wound in his thigh. Ren asks why someone shot him, and Dolly explains that he was strangling the man. Ren can tell that Dolly is boasting as he shows him the other side of his thigh where the bullet emerged. Suddenly, Doctor Milton appears below them on the landing, saying that the bullet barely missed Dolly’s bone. He tells Ren that he did not expect his visit, and Ren explains again that their landlady is ill. Doctor Milton asks if she has a fever, saying that someone died from a fever in the hospital the previous night. He joins Dolly and Ren on the stairs and observes that the bullet wound “must have been exceedingly painful.” Dolly appears embarrassed and looks the other way. Doctor Milton continues to look him over. He tells Dolly that he “must lead a fascinating life” and tells them that he would like to speak to them in the observatory.

Dolly and Ren follow Doctor Milton into the operating room. He tells them that he received their “delivery,” but that it is clear that the men were murdered and that he is required to report it. Ren tries to think of an excuse, but Dolly explains that he killed them and does not regret it. He looks at Ren “as though he’d just done something wonderful.” Doctor Milton only says that the situation is interesting, and Ren blames himself for urging Dolly to confess his sins, because he confessed them to the wrong person. Ren expects Doctor Milton to turn them in, but Doctor Milton asks Dolly if he can examine him. Dolly lies down on the operating table, “stretching out as if he were preparing to take a nap.” Doctor Milton begins measuring Dolly’s head, eventually “running his thumb along the center, as if the seam there bound the man together.” Doctor Milton says that he met a giant once before and that he asked the man to sell his body to him after learning that the man was ill. The giant refused and asked his friends to seal his body into a coffin and dispose of it in the ocean so Doctor Milton could not steal him away after he died. Doctor Milton brags that he bribed the undertaker to let him take the body and fill the coffin with rocks—and the man “made a wonderful addition to [his] collection.” He asks Dolly if he would donate his body to him in order to “further [his] study of phrenology.” Though it takes a moment for Dolly to understand his meaning, his eyes begin to fill with the “dark fog” and he grabs the doctor’s arm. Doctor Milton yells and tries to escape as Dolly twists his arm. He begins to scream, but Dolly covers his mouth. Ren waits for a moment before telling Dolly to release the doctor, who stumbles away from the stage and accuses Dolly of breaking his arm. Ren calmly explains that Dolly was frightened, and that he is sorry. However, Dolly is not sorry at all. Doctor Milton complains that he will not be able to operate for a week or more.

Doctor Milton clarifies that he only intended to learn about how Dolly’s history as a murderer might have impacted the growth of his body. He stands over his box of surgical instruments “as if they offered some kind of protection.” He begins wrapping a bandage around his sprained arm until reaching his wrist. Dolly insists that he is just like everyone else, but Doctor Milton says that he is different because he is a murderer. Ren points out that the men they deposited were also murderers, and Doctor Milton asks if they have relatives or friends that might search for them. Ren assures him that they do not, and Doctor Milton agrees to pay for the bodies—though not the usual price. He tells Dolly to leave. Dolly reluctantly complies, and Doctor Milton turns to Ren and asks why he is spending time with a man like Dolly. Ren says that Dolly is his friend, but Doctor Milton urges Ren to go to school and get a “respectable” job. Ren imagines what it might be like to go to school and pursue a different profession, but all of the opportunities that “fanned out before [him] like cards on a table” only come together to reveal one option: his current path in life. He decides he is “tired of trying to be good” and that “the best he could do was follow the path that Benjamin showed him.” Doctor Milton continues, saying that Dolly can never come back to the hospital unless he is being deposited for Doctor Milton’s collection. Ren says that he does not think Dolly would want such a thing, but Doctor Milton says that Dolly does not have to like it; “he only has to die.”


The novel continues to expand upon the theme of commodified bodies, this time within the context of the medical field—an extension of science and technology. Doctor Milton’s hospital is like a factory that receives bodies, both of sick people and corpses, and commodifies them. Capitalizing on illness is a high priority, given that access to care is contingent on one’s ability to pay, and patients do not seem to heal so they can leave. While it's unknown if Mrs. Sands will recover or how she will be treated, it is evident that patient care is not at the center of the hospital’s operations. Furthermore, the more sickly, disordered, or disabled a body is, the more Doctor Milton seems intrigued by it. The death of a feverish patient is “interesting,” but not tragic. The murder of two men, however awful they were, is not an abomination; it is an opportunity to coerce Dolly into an examination that ends with a proposal that he sell his body to further Doctor Milton’s study of phrenology. This particular scene depicts the unity of the themes of commodified bodies and the grotesque because grotesque bodies seem to command an even higher price. Dolly’s unusual stature, in Doctor Milton’s eyes, makes him a trophy worthy of display.

It is important that Dolly’s attack on Doctor Milton, however justified, is reminiscent of Doctor Milton’s treatment of the patient he tortured in his operating room. Though he screams in pain, Doctor Milton is just as unmoved by human suffering as Dolly is; he did not stop amputating his patient’s leg, despite the man's begging for mercy. The juxtaposition of brutish murderer and esteemed surgeon strongly suggests that they are not as different as they may seem. The novel seems to suggest that the labels assigned to people are influenced by social endorsement and not by reality; the lower-class murderer can be captured and hanged while the surgeon is free to torture people in plain sight without retribution.


Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis