The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

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Back at the boarding house, Dolly and Ren go through Mrs. Sands’s drawers in search of the chimney man's socks. Ren is surprised at the number of nightgowns and undergarments Mrs. Sands owns. They find a light gray silk dress that Ren assumes is her wedding dress. While they continue to look for the socks, Ren considers what he will say to Benjamin and Tom about the murders and the money he used to pay for Mrs. Sands’s private room at the hospital. He worries that Benjamin and Tom will abandon Dolly if they find out that he killed two men. Meanwhile, Dolly finds a box of ribbons and, as he pulls them out one by one, notices a large pile of toys sitting on the crossbeam above. There are letter blocks, a monkey, tiny pigs, and more—all carved in the same style of the little wooden horse that Ren stole. Ren fetches the wooden horse and places it among the other toys. He is certain that the chimney man has carved all of them, and that he “could not be so bad...if he had made all of these things."

They finally find the socks beneath a bag of knitting supplies, under a chest at the foot of Mrs. Sands’s bed. The heels and the socks are worn, and Ren recognizes the patterns on them; they are the drowned boy’s clothes. Dolly pulls out a ball of yarn and darning needles from the knitting bag. They return to their room, and Dolly begins repairing one of the pairs of socks. He explains that his mother taught him how to knit, and Ren finds it difficult to believe that Dolly ever had a mother. Dolly continues to knit in “the same methodical way he’d killed the men beneath the streetlamp—with skill and without emotion.” Ren wonders aloud about why Mrs. Sands takes care of the dwarf, speculating that he probably did something horrible. Dolly does not agree, however, saying that the man is “only a dwarf...I don’t think he could have done much of anything.” He continues mending the socks, and Ren thinks about the horrific things Dolly has done and all of the horrific things he will do in the future. He asks Dolly if he intends to kill the man he was trying to kill right before he almost died. Dolly says that he should, given that he has already been paid for the job, and because the man expects him to follow through; “If I don’t get him, he’ll get me first.” However, Dolly says that he will likely do it tomorrow because he is too tired right now, and climbs under their bed. Ren asks him how he will murder the man, and Dolly explains that strangling is the easiest method—and that it is much quieter than using a gun. Ren asks what Dolly would do if he asked him not to kill the man, suggesting that Dolly instead accompany him, Benjamin, and Tom when they leave North Umbrage. Dolly says that he will consider it and then falls asleep. Ren wonders if he could convince Dolly to stop killing people, just as he convinced him to confess to killing the two men. If he can keep Dolly from murdering another person and if he prays a lot, “it might be like it had never happened at all.”

Ren waits until nearly midnight before walking downstairs to the kitchen to prepare dinner for the dwarf. He assembles a plate of dried sausage, stale bread, and a bruised apple and sets it beside the fireplace, draping a...

(This entire section contains 1996 words.)

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napkin over the food. He places the socks beside the dwarf’s dinner and climbs into the potato basket to hide. After nearly an hour, the dwarf climbs down the chimney and walks around the room before lifting the napkin from his plate. He disregards everything except the apple, which he “carves expertly” and eats from his blade. Afterwards, he begins inspecting the socks that Dolly had mended before wandering out of sight between the tables. Ren holds his breath, trying to listen, before being suddenly pulled by his hair from the potato basket. The dwarf demands to know where “Mary” is, and Ren soon learns that Mary is Mrs. Sands. Ren explains that she is in the hospital with influenza, but that she asked him to take care of the small man. The dwarf releases Ren and picks up his knife, asking if he looks like he needs to be taken care of. Without waiting for an answer, the dwarf grabs hold of the rope that dangles from the chimney and asks when Mary will return. Ren realizes that he is scared. Ren picks up the tray of food and urges him to eat something, but the dwarf instead asks if the pantry is unlocked. Ren says it is, so the dwarf begins eating jar after jar of canned food. Ren silently wonders why Mrs. Sands would have anything to do with such a person, but does not intervene. The dwarf finally stops eating and asks where the key to the pantry is, explaining that the mousetrap girls will “clean though this in an hour” if they do not lock it up.

Ren asks the dwarf if he lives in the chimney. He responds that he lives on the roof—and that the house belongs to him and Mrs. Sands because their mother left it to them. Ren is shocked but is only met with “a look that expected ridicule, a look that dared it to come.” Ren asks about what happened to their mother, but the dwarf only replies that she died and that dying is “what mothers do.” Ren observes that it must be cold on the roof in the winter, but the dwarf says that it is the safest place because he must hide “from the ones who hate people like [him]. Or [Ren].” He gestures towards Ren’s scar, and Ren “instinctively” hides it within his sleeve. The dwarf envies that Ren can hide his disability, and Ren realizes that “compared to the dwarf, it was not bad-looking.”

The dwarf then tells Ren that he has a house on the roof and asks if Ren would like to see it. Ren is curious but must find a way to climb up the chimney. The dwarf disappears up the chimney and onto the roof, but Ren gets stuck on his way up and almost falls. The dwarf pulls him onto the roof, assuring him that it is easier to go down the chimney. Ren looks out at the entire town, which is visible now that dawn has arrived. He realizes that “everything was better...when you looked down on it from above.” The dwarf shows Ren into his house, which is made out of rags and an abandoned pigeon cage. Inside, it is pleasant; there are animal hides on the walls and a small pot-bellied stove in which the dwarf begins building a fire. He retrieves a small bag of wormwood and makes a tea out of it for himself and for Ren, saying that he will put some of it in a jar for him to take to Mary. The dwarf explains that he never leaves the roof, other than to go to the kitchen for food. Ren asks if he ever feels lonely, but the dwarf replies that he never does. Ren does not believe him.

Ren notices piles of books in the corner of the house. There are also books on the shelves that hang above the dwarf’s bed. Some are in Greek and Latin, and some are written in languages that he does not recognize. He picks up a copy of Don Quixote and flips to the first chapter while the dwarf begins filling a jar with wormwood tea for his sister. He explains that most of his books came from a woman who once lived in North Umbrage. She was “always a bit off”; one day, she walked into the river and would have drowned if she had not been pulled out of the water by a group of men fishing nearby. He remembers how “her skirt dragged behind them” as she was carried home; “it left a long wet trail, all the way back from the river.” The woman was sent away to an institution after that. She was Mr. McGinty’s sister, Margaret. After she left, the dwarf saw all of her books on sale in the market and bought them. He could not understand why Mr. McGinty would sell his sister’s books, given that he had so much money. He treated her “like she was some kind of criminal.” Ren quietly puts the copy of Don Quixote back on its shelf. He recognizes now that the dwarf is afraid to lose his sister because he would be helpless without her.

A whistle sounds, and Ren and the dwarf watch as all of the mousetrap girls flock to the factory. The dwarf reminds Ren that they must find the pantry key because with Mrs. Sands gone, the mousetrap girls will eat everything. They watch as all of the mousetrap girls enter into the factory, whose door “closed behind them like a giant mouth.” Ren notices the river that winds around the town and feels the stitches of the coat that Mrs. Sands tailored for him. The dwarf gives him the jar of wormwood tea and tells him to remind Mrs. Sands that she promised their mother that she would care for him—and “a promise is a promise.” Ren momentarily wishes that he could trade lives with the dwarf and live on the roof. He looks down the chimney and notices that it is “just as steep as the well at Saint Anthony’s.” He holds the jar of tea tightly against him as he fastens the rope around his waist and hopes that it will not snap while he climbs down.


Ren recognizes for the first time that, though he is socially ostracized for his disability, he is privileged compared to those who cannot hide their perceived abnormalities like he can. The more learned about the dwarf’s character, the more obvious it is that he can care for himself but cannot do so because of society’s prejudice against him. Thus, he is entirely dependent on his sister for survival, which effectively traps brother and sister in an increasingly unsafe town.

Society’s discrimination runs so deep that Ren and Dolly are guilty of underestimating the dwarf, despite being rejected for their own appearances. Dolly, a murderous giant, thinks the dwarf is harmless because of his small size, and Ren, a disabled thief, assumes that the dwarf is living off of Mrs. Sands because he did something terrible to her. Ren’s and Dolly’s prejudices remind us that othered individuals are susceptible to absorbing and perpetuating the oppressive attitudes that endanger their own lives.

Finally, mothering as a theme resurfaces, especially through the problem of men feeling wounded and abandoned by their maternal caretakers. Women inhabit problematic roles throughout the novel; they exist to teach, to nurture, and ultimately to serve. Mothers are viewed as commodities, as reflected by the intensity with which the orphan boys at Saint Anthony’s covet having a mother—or even just a Sister of Charity—to look after them.

In Dickensian fashion, Hannah Tinti suggests that mothers are the “Golden threads” that weave their families together. However, the novel also clearly indicates that society does not tolerate women as self-actualized individuals with needs. The homely, unmarried mousetrap girls with their big appetites are apparently so detestable that all of the respectable people in North Umbrage leave. Furthermore, women who stop serving others are blamed, forgotten, or sent away—even if their inability to nurture is due to illness or death.


Chapter 20 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis