The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren returns through the chimney and finds that Benjamin has returned. He is sitting in the kitchen with the harelip girl on his lap. She spoons fruit preserves into his mouth and his hand is under her skirt. She sees Ren standing in the fireplace and quickly leaves, sticking out her tongue at Ren as she walks out the door. Ren cannot tell if she is ashamed or irritated with his sudden appearance. Ren begins untying the rope around his waist as Benjamin exclaims, “Father Christmas!”

Ren notices that Benjamin is wearing a new coat and new boots and asks him where he was all night. Benjamin responds that he was “following the bartender” and learned that his entire family died of a fever. He then asks Ren why he was in the chimney. Ren cannot think of a convincing story, so he tells Benjamin the truth—including the murders and using all of their money to pay for Mrs. Sands’s care. Benjamin is very unhappy that Ren used their money to help Mrs. Sands and begins throwing logs into the fireplace, though it is too warm for a fire. Ren explains that Mrs. Sands was going to die if he did not help her, but Benjamin responds that Ren is “supposed to steal from other people...not me.” Ren insists that he was not stealing, saying—in Benjamin’s own words—that he was “borrowing, with good intent.” Benjamin only says that Ren should not take care of other people because they will become dependent on him and then he will be unable to leave them behind. He lights the fire and Ren is reminded of “the same scent of ashes [that] had filled the farmer’s kitchen when his wife stirred the fire, trying to bring it to life enough so that she could serve them dinner.”

Ren tells Benjamin he does not want to leave either Mrs. Sands or Dolly. Benjamin regrets leaving Ren with Dolly because Ren has become attached. He tries to explain that Dolly is a murderer, not Ren’s friend; he will probably kill them if he “gets it in his mind” to do so. Ren does not believe this, but Benjamin continues by saying that he has seen men like Dolly before: “one minute they buy you a drink, and the next they slit your throat, or cut open a woman beside you, or saw off a person’s hand for no reason at all.” Ren is reminded of the man with the red gloves who cut off the bartender’s hand in O’Sullivan’s bar. Benjamin firmly believes that Dolly’s value is only in “what he can do for [them],” and that Ren only endangers himself by becoming attached. Ren realizes that Benjamin is waiting for him to say what he wants to hear: he is “not in danger of anything.”

Benjamin and Ren go looking for Tom, who has yet to resurface after they met at O’Sullivan’s. Benjamin is worried but calmly reassures Ren that Tom will arrive soon. They check on Dolly, who is still asleep upstairs. Benjamin wonders aloud why Dolly needs so much sleep, saying that “if I had a second chance at life, I’d live it.” They assemble what is left in the pantry for dinner, finding that the mousetrap girls had made “short work” of the preserves, just like the dwarf had warned. Benjamin fries pieces of salted pork and slices of potatoes in lard and then cracks half a dozen eggs into the pan before throwing the entire thing in the oven. When the dish is cooked enough that it hardens, he slices...

(This entire section contains 1801 words.)

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it up like a pie. He tells Ren that the recipe is something he learned in Mexico. Ren asks if Mexico is “very terrible,” and Benjamin responds that though it “wasn’t good...some men took to it.” Ren realizes that those men were likely a lot like Dolly. He asks if Benjamin knew that he was going to be sent into the army, and Benjamin replies that “Father John may have mentioned that.” The fact that Ren was headed for the army was one of the reasons Benjamin chose him. Ren thanks Benjamin for taking him away from Saint Anthony’s, and for the first time, Benjamin does not know what to say. He picks up the dinner dishes and places them on the pile of dirty dishes that have built up since Mrs. Sands was taken to the hospital.

Someone knocks on the window, and Benjamin says, “That’ll be Tom.” Ren meets him at the door and is stunned to see Brom and Ichy, standing before him “wet, shivering, and frightened nearly out of their minds.” Tom shoves the twins into the house, declaring that “we’re a family at last.” The boys frantically hurry away from Tom, and Ren reflects that “they looked like beggars, their shirts torn, their pants too small, their jackets threadbare and full of holes.” Benjamin is yelling at Tom, asking what he was thinking. Tom, who is drunk, falls into a chair. Ren begins to wonder how Father John could have let the twins go with such a person, but remembers that no family would ever adopt them because everyone believes twins bring bad luck. Father John gave up Brom and Ichy with as much ease as he had given up Ren. Tom tells Benjamin that he brought the twins because they are Ren’s fellows, and “a boy needs his fellows.” Benjamin wants to send them back immediately, but Tom says that he is their father. Benjamin walks over to Brom and Ichy and seems to realize for the first time that they are twin brothers. He says that bad luck will surely follow them now. Ren takes Brom and Ichy into the bedroom. They have been crying, and he believes that they look even younger than when he last saw them. Brom says that Tom told them that he was bringing them to Ren, and that he ordered them to call him papa, saying that he would strangle them if they did not. Ichy asks Ren if he believes that Tom would actually strangle them. Ren thinks about what Mrs. Sands would do in a situation like this. He brings them water so they can wash up and retrieves some nightgowns and quilts from her bedroom. After the boys are clean and in bed, they continue telling him about what Tom did. He took away their rocks and told them that Father John was “a cheat” and that God does not really exist. Suddenly, the mattress begins to shake and shift as Dolly rolls over in his sleep.

The boys look under the bed and ask where Dolly came from, but Ren only says they found him “on the road.” The boys can hear Benjamin and Tom fighting downstairs, and the twins tell Ren that “this isn’t what we thought it would be like at all.” They wonder if Tom might take them back to Saint Anthony’s and if Ren could go with them. Ren thinks about his old life at Saint Anthony’s and then remembers the letter he wrote but did not send to Brom and Ichy. He realizes that the letter is exactly what the boys need right now—“good news.” He shows off his clothes and brags about how well Mrs. Sands takes care of him, including giving him as many helpings of food as he can eat. He tells them about going to bars, drinking whiskey, and staying up all night if he wants to. He brings in some of the wooden toys from Mrs. Sands’s room and the boys are delighted as “all the fear and exhaustion left [their] faces.” Ren watches them play make-believe with the toys, but does not join in. He thinks about the broken toy soldier they used to share at Saint Anthony’s. It is still at the bottom of the well, and no one knows about it except the three of them. Ichy puts on an oversized moon mask, straining to look at himself in the mirror while Brom pretends to sail the little Viking ships across the quilts that he had arranged so they are like ocean waves. There is “a storm ahead, a tidal wave coming,” and he lifts the edge of the sheet “and sent all the ships rolling.”

Analysis

Benjamin’s character continues to develop as he tries to teach Ren about the dangers of helping others. He inadvertently reveals his personal reasons for treating people like commodities from which to extract value; “men who don’t feel anything anymore” seem to have caused him personal harm, as suggested by the specific list of horrific offenses that these types of men are capable of committing. Benjamin reveals that he cares about Ren, though he does not appear willing to admit that compassion may have factored into his decision to adopt him from Saint Anthony’s. Benjamin’s continued character development subtly complicates the novel’s theme of commodified bodies by implying that some people who are guilty of dehumanizing others for personal gain do so for survival and not greed.

The novel’s concern with family, particularly the mother’s role as chief caretaker, takes center stage when Tom impulsively adopts Brom and Ichy. While Tom explains that he brought the twins because Ren needs his “fellows,” it is clear that Tom also wants to assemble a family for himself. He forces the boys to call him papa by threatening to strangle them if they do not obey, and he explicitly tells Benjamin that they are a “family now” after Benjamin demands the boys be returned to Saint Anthony’s.

By piecing together a motherless family, Tom excludes women from the domestic sphere in the way 19th-century American society excluded women from the public sphere: by devaluing their roles and making them irrelevant. The Good Thief depicts a newly-industrialized Western world that tolerates women only insofar as they can further the agendas of enterprising men. Mr. McGinty’s mousetrap factory, which appears to be operated solely by homely unmarried girls, reflects this quasi-tolerance, as does Doctor Milton’s hospital that is run by the overworked Sisters of Charity. Women who appear to earn money from their own enterprises, whether prostitution or boarding houses, are still chained to their work by men. Even Mrs. Sands cannot leave, because she must take care of her brother, whose inability to work is entirely due to social prejudice and hatred. The backbreaking labor of women is rarely valued in a society that prioritizes commerce, efficiency, and mass production over the domestic spheres in which women were trapped for centuries.

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