The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

Start Free Trial

Chapter 23 Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Summary

Benjamin, Tom, Ren, Dolly, Brom, and Ichy make their way to another cemetery in the marshes near North Umbrage. It had rained earlier, and frogs croak around them. Ichy asks Ren where they are going, and Ren says, “fishing.” He thinks about how far Brom and Ichy have from Saint Anthony’s and touches the old piece of his collar that he carries with him everywhere. It is “as if the three blue letters of his name could protect him from the rest of the world.” The wagon reaches a countryside divided by split fences, indicating boundary lines between each farm. The twins stare at Dolly while he sleeps, and Tom groans every time the wagon goes over a bump. He is hungover, and Benjamin reminds him that he is fully responsible for feeling so awful. He was so drunk after returning from Saint Anthony’s that it took almost an entire day and night before he sobered up. He curled up in Mrs. Sands’s garden, and even Brom and Ichy appeared to be worried about him.

They finally reach a churchyard. Unlike the cemetery where Dolly was buried, this one is in a field with no gate or lock. There is a stone wall around it, but it is low to the ground and easy to step over. The wind begins to blow as Benjamin stops the horse and Tom steps off of the wagon to grab a shovel. Brom and Ichy climb out of the back of the wagon and look from the cemetery to Ren. Benjamin tells Ren to wake up Dolly and then tells the giant that it is “time to pay [them] back.” Dolly seems displeased when a shovel is placed in his hand, but he cooperates when Ren implores him to help them work. Brom and Ichy begin to realize what is happening, and they ask Ren what they are doing in the cemetery. They accuse him of lying about how wonderful his life is. Ren says, “Now you know.”

Benjamin suddenly yells for Ren from the graveyard, and Ren sees that Dolly is holding him against a tree. Ren orders Dolly to release Benjamin, but he does not listen. Dolly tells Benjamin that he will not help him dig up dead bodies, and his hand goes for Benjamin’s throat. Ren throws his entire body onto Dolly’s arm, but it makes no difference. Tom emerges from the mist with a heavy spade and clobbers Dolly in the head. Dolly collapses, unconscious, and traps Benjamin under his body when he hits the ground. Tom, Ren, Brom, and Ichy roll Dolly away from Benjamin.

Ren tries to wake up Dolly by pinching his hand and calling his name, but Dolly does not respond. Ren listens close to Dolly’s mouth to see if he is breathing, and eventually he hears “a bit of air, a low sound, like the wind coming off the water.” Tom casually observes that Dolly’s “headache’s going to be worse than [his],” and Ren insists that Tom did not have to hit Dolly. Tom asks Ren if he has a better suggestion for stopping Dolly from strangling people. Ren, Brom, and Ichy prop Dolly up against the tree, and Benjamin complains that they will not be able to finish without his help. He grabs Dolly’s shovel and hands it to Ren. He tells the boys to look for the markers that he left at the base of the graves they will dig up. They must finish their work by sunrise.

Ren sees that Tom is already unearthing one of the graves. It is one...

(This entire section contains 2800 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 four freshly-turned plots, and Ren realizes that it is the bartender and his family. Benjamin tells Tom to begin with “the old man” and explains to Ren and the twins that they only need to uncover the head of each coffin so it can be pulled out. Ren walks to one of the graves and picks up the clear quartz stone that Benjamin left as a marker. He tells Brom and Ichy that they must start digging, but the twins do not want to help. Ren pushes the shovel into the soil, which is heavy from rain. He tries to ignore the headstone, which reads “Sarah, wife of Samuel.” He remembers Dolly saying that he could hear Benjamin and Tom digging for him.

Meanwhile, Tom bullies the twins into helping, and they begin taking turns shoveling. Finally, after a great deal of labor, they reach the head of the coffin. Benjamin walks over, carrying a spade with a long handle. He drives the spade into the wood until it breaks. Tom lowers two chains into the grave. At the end of each chain is a meat hook, which Tom procured from the butcher’s shop. Tom hooks the body beneath its arms and pulls it from the coffin and onto the ground. Sarah, wife of Samuel, is wearing her wedding dress and a pair of crocheted gloves. The dress is made of a stiff linen with a pink floral design around the neck and shoulders. The buttons are made of pearls. Ren tries to avoid looking at her face, “which was terrifying—her skin stiff and cold as wax, the hair like straw.” Tom unhooks her from the chains and drags her onto a patch of grass. Her dress leaves a trail of dirt behind it, and her white leather boots appear underneath her skirt “like two painted branches.”

Benjamin uses the bear knife to cut off the pearl buttons, which “sprang into the air like rice and scattered across the grass, turning to specks in the moonlight.” He tells Ren to remove the rest of her dress, predicting that it is worth “five dollars, at least.” With that, he joins Tom in digging up the next grave. Ren turns to Brom and Ichy, who desperately want to go back to Saint Anthony’s. Ren is angry—he “could have kicked them”—and says that they will not be leaving. He begins to pull the dress off of the dead woman, but her limbs are so stiff that her arms will not bend. Like Tom, he threatens the twins until they agree to help. They are “too panicked to do anything but follow,” and soon the three of them roll her onto her face in order to peel off the wedding dress from behind. Beneath the dress, she wears a white petticoat and corset. There are two brown moles on the back of her neck that look like “a tiny, tiny mouth.” Brom and Ichy, thoroughly traumatized, begin praying. Ren does not join them, however; he turns to face the next grave. The old man’s body is already lying naked on the ground.

After several hours, they finally finish digging up all four bodies. Benjamin walks back and forth from the cemetery to the road to make sure that no one is coming. Every time he returns, he seems more agitated and urges them to speed up. Finally, the last corpse is hoisted into the wagon and Tom drapes a blanket over all of the bodies. He pulls a flask out of his pocket and resumes drinking while the twins climb into the back of the wagon. Benjamin takes his place in the driver’s seat, and Ren asks about Dolly. Benjamin only tells him to get in the wagon. Ren runs toward Dolly, but Benjamin overtakes him and picks him up, holding onto him tightly as Ren fights to break free. He tells Ren that Dolly is “no help for us” and asks if Ren wants to be left with Dolly in the cemetery. Ren looks at where Dolly is sitting beneath the tree, looking like “a mountain of misplaced earth.” He decides that being left in the churchyard is worse than leaving Dolly. Benjamin releases him, saying, “I warned you.”

Ren watches Dolly as they leave, imagining his friend “calling for him in the gloom, the crosses and headstones standing close and silent.” Ren buries his head in his jacket, and Tom tries to cheer him up by reminding him that he has Brom and Ichy to keep him company now. The twins, however, just stare at the bodies. Tom calls for a song, asking if the boys know any. They have only been taught several Latin hymns, so Tom teaches them a more cheerful song. He begins singing about a young man who “met with a maid...and laid her down...under the shade.” He hands Benjamin his flask and continues singing “for you and I...now all are one...and we will lie...no more alone.” Ren sees that the song has cheered up Brom and Ichy, but the last line makes him anxious. The wind has died down and it seems like the trees around them are listening.

Soon, a “sense of uneasiness” extends to everyone in the wagon. Ren can make out shapes as they approach the signpost at the crossroads ahead. Five men on horseback approach, and Tom tosses another blanket over the bodies as Benjamin curses. The men look like “trees” against the moonlight, “their shadows stretching out before them.” Each of them wears a hat of a different size and shape: “a bowler, a straw hat, a watchman’s cap, a top hat, and one with a blood-red band.” The man at the center of the group wears a long, black riding coat. He addresses Benjamin as “Mister Nab.” Benjamin stops the wagon and surveys the men, saying that he does not recognize any of them.

The man in the riding coat reveals himself to be the man with the red gloves who cut off the bartender’s hand. He is holding onto a shotgun. Benjamin remains calm, saying that there “must be some kind of misunderstanding here.” The man with the red gloves disagrees, gesturing to the wagon. The Bowler and the Straw Hat ride their horses up to the side of the wagon. The Straw Hat uses the end of his shotgun to push back one of the blankets, uncovering the face of Sarah, wife of Samuel. Benjamin quickly tells them that the bodies are his “kin...the only ones I’ve got left.” He says that they were wrongfully “plopped into some beggars’ corner in the country” and that he is “bringing them home to bury them proper.”

The man with the red gloves responds that none of this matters—the bodies will not be carried any farther. Benjamin pauses before abruptly cracking the whip. The horse takes off, leaving the riders behind. The wagon jolts back and forth over the road, nearly throwing Ren and the twins out of the back. Benjamin stands on the driver’s seat, continuously whipping the horse. However, the riders advance on them, and two of them draw their pistols. Tom and Ren push one of the bodies out onto the road, into the path of the man with the watchman’s cap. His horse wavers, and he tumbles to the ground. They begin pushing another body as a gunshot rings overhead. Tom kicks the corpse out of the back of the wagon, but the riders’ horses easily jump over it.

The Straw Hat and the man with the red gloves disappear into the woods, only to emerge on the road ahead. They shoot the horse, causing her to lurch right and left before falling over. The wagon swings over her body, “and it felt like the earth had broken through beneath them and they were dropping into a chasm.” Ren is certain that the trees are after him; he can sense them “groaning beneath their bark, their branches reaching out.” He tries to yell out a warning, but he cannot speak. The Top Hat picks him up, “and every moment was another boot crushing down on upon him.”

As Ren relearns how to breathe, he notices that they landed in a bog and that the wagon is upside down in the water, its wheels shattered. Brom and Ichy are standing nearby, and the man with the watchman’s cap is pointing his gun at them. Tom is trapped under the wagon, and the Bowler and the Straw Hat are trying to dig him out. The Top Hat tells the man in the red gloves that he “found one more” and is ordered to leave Ren beside the twins. The man in the red gloves, who is called Pilot, turns to the horse, who is still alive and badly suffering. Ren thinks about the farmer who used to kiss her nose and felt “a crush of guilt.” Pilot shoots her in the head, looks at Benjamin, and says, “Should have been you.” Ren sees that Benjamin is in a ball on the ground near Pilot, his new jacket torn. Tom starts shrieking then, and the man in the bowler hat announces that Tom has a broken leg.

The Top Hat takes the bear knife from Ren’s jacket and leaves him with the twins, who are completely covered in mud. Ren cannot even tell them apart. Benjamin is talking to Pilot, and Ren knows that “it would have to be a magnificent story to get them out of this.” He imagines that each of Benjamin’s words are like the beads of a rosary, and he prays over them, “each repetition gaining strength and power, until the circle was closed.” However, Pilot does not seem impressed by whatever Benjamin is saying and smacks Benjamin in the head with his shotgun. He calls over the Bowler and the Top Hat, and they beat Benjamin until he collapses to the ground. Ren covers his ears so he cannot hear Benjamin’s screams, which “kept on, howling and echoing through the woods, until all of Ren’s prayers had stopped.”

Analysis

Part 2 ends with the novel’s emphasis on the dehumanizing influence of commerce and scientific advancement, which takes a gruesome turn when Hannah Tinti graphically depicts the act of unearthing a corpse from a churchyard. In this act, the human body transitions from that of a sacred individual to a material commodity as Tom pulls Sarah, wife of Samuel, from the ground. She is then robbed of her pearls and wedding gown, as if she were a machine being stripped for parts. Furthermore, the woman’s body would have been literally taken apart in the name of scientific research if it had reached Doctor Milton’s hospital.

Reverse anthropomorphism resurfaces again to suggest that, at least under a system of capitalism, the human body is not sacred or special; it is a material commodity that evolved in the natural world. Sarah, wife of Samuel, appears less like a person the more Ren looks at her—the skin on her face is like “wax,” her hair is like “straw,” and her legs are like “painted branches.” Brom and Ichy, thoroughly traumatized, sit like “dolls” in the wagon. The dangerous hat boys look like trees, which Ren find particularly threatening because they seem like sentient eavesdroppers.

The novel's themes suggest a reimagining of the human body’s place within the natural world with an overall withdrawal from religious theology and idealism. Though humans are superior animals, they are still part of nature—and nature is available to be conquered and commodified through science and technology. The body is therefore a machine, not a divine creation, and the churchyard is not a hallowed place for the dead to rest undisturbed but a quarry to mine. Ren seems reluctant to accept the implications of society’s transition away from the values he learned at Saint Anthony’s: either that God does not care, or that God simply does not exist.

The motif of color, in this case white and red, returns when the wagon reaches the churchyard. Benjamin leaves clear quartz, which has a translucent white appearance, to mark the graves of bodies to steal. Everything about Sarah, wife of Samuel, is white—her wedding dress, her pearls, her petticoat, her corset, her leather boots, and her waxy skin. Given that whiteness symbolizes mothers and motherhood in the novel, it seems that Ren, Brom, and Ichy participate in violating the maternal ideal when they strip the dead woman of her wedding dress. Together with the graphic depiction of three orphan boys digging up a woman’s grave, Tom’s song about a man who deflowers a virgin “under a shade” implies that something innocent and pure is being desecrated. The whiteness of the moon, however, seems to forecast impending punishment and retribution, which quickly follows the group’s departure from the cemetery and capture by the men in hats, led by the man with the red gloves.

Previous

Chapter 22 Summary and Analysis

Next

Chapter 24 Summary and Analysis