The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 26 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren returns to the storage room, Pilot gives him a lamp for the night, and he is locked within. As soon as he is alone, Ren hears mice run across the floor. He sees a mother and her babies eating a bar of chocolate. He builds a fire in the pot-bellied stove, using wood from the crate of broken mousetraps. He looks around the room again, noting the piles of boxes, the caving ceiling, and the scurrying mice—it is a “forgotten room.” He pictures himself spending the rest of his days here and pulls out the watch he took from McGinty. He examines Margaret's photo and touches his face, trying to determine whether it matches hers in any way. He has only seen his reflection a few times, usually in Father John’s study while he awaited punishment. Ren takes out the collar with the letters of his name embroidered upon it. He runs his fingers over the stitching and realizes that the N in his name is not actually an N—it is an M, and the embroiderer ran out of space before reaching a hole that sits just below the tip of the letter. Ren thinks about how long he spent wondering who he was and who left him at Saint Anthony’s, but he does not care anymore. Now, he knows his name and who his mother is. He also has McGinty for an uncle.

The door opens and the Top Hat and the Bowler enter with a wooden rocking horse with glass eyes and a tail made of real hair. Ren asks why he is being kept in the storage room, but they only exchange glances and the Top Hat laughs. They leave Ren alone to inspect the horse, which is too small for him to ride. He thinks it resembles the horse that the dwarf carved and begins traces the inside of its nostrils with one of his fingers. McGinty walks into the room, his coat removed and his white shirt speckled with a small amount of blood. Ren notices that his knuckles are cut, and his collar is open and off-center. McGinty asks if Ren likes the horse. Ren nods, looking at the blood on McGinty’s shirt. McGinty tells him to ride it, and Ren climbs on top of the horse, but his feet are too large for the stirrups. McGinty orders him to ride the horse again, and Ren fits the tips of his toes into the small stirrups while trying not to fall off. McGinty nudges the horse, which begins to rock against the boxes piled next to it. Ren sees that McGinty has the same chin as his sister, but his eyes are gray instead of blue and his neck “seemed to fall down between his shoulders.”

McGinty asks if the “fellow that brought yah heah,” ever murdered anyone. Ren feels deeply disappointed in Benjamin again, but he says that he does not think he ever killed anyone. McGinty remarks that Benjamin would likely have sold Ren, but Ren disagrees, saying that Benjamin told him he “wasn’t worth anything.” McGinty asks if Ren believes this, but Ren says he does not—and McGinty agrees, saying that he “bettah believe it” and that “my sistah did.” Ren remembers the quality linen and thread of the initials on his collar. It seems that Margaret took great care to make something that would last, even though she died before she could finish. She had intended to give Ren a name, and that meant someone was supposed to find him. Ren asks how his mother died, and McGinty...

(This entire section contains 1486 words.)

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says that she died of a fever only days after giving birth to him. Ren asks what she was like. McGinty picks up a fire poker, using it to open the gate of the pot-bellied stove. He responds that she had a birthmark on the side of her face and that she tried to hide it with her bonnet because it “made hah feel different, like she’d been mahked fah something.” Their father belittled Margaret, calling her ugly, but McGinty remembers hearing him “bothah hah at night,” and one day McGinty “came home and he was inta hah something awful,” but McGinty “put a stop ta it.” Later on, he found Margaret in the river, washing blood off of her dress. She washed the blood off of McGinty’s clothes too, and they lugged their father’s body into the woods.

Life improved after McGinty killed their father, but Margaret seemed unhappy. She did not like living in North Umbrage, even though her brother was finally making enough money to open the factory and buy her “all tha things she evah wanted.” She would disappear by herself, and McGinty would send his hat boys to find her. On one occasion, she was missing for days. She found the old mine and entered a cave, holding a torch that she fashioned out of a piece of her silk dress. McGinty was very upset by this because the fabric was so expensive. She went on about a group of dead men that she found, all skeletons huddled together as though they had found each other and were trying to keep warm. After the hat boys brought her back, Margaret changed, and McGinty thought his sister had “finally come tah hah senses.” She began attending church and stopped running off to the woods to be alone. She visited the market every day and wore a fancy coat with ribbons, a feather hat, and fur muffler to church on Sundays—McGinty remembers that she “looked bettah than fine.” However, she abruptly tried to drown herself in the river one day and was carried back by a group of old men, “all wet and crying like it was tha end a tha world.” McGinty continued to think of her as a child, “washing hah hands in that rivah watah.” Ren was born several days later, but she would not tell her brother “who’d done it.”

Suddenly, Ren realizes McGinty’s reason for locking him in the storage room and giving him candy and the rocking horse. He tells McGinty that he does not know who his father his, but McGinty says that he will. Ren asks what will happen if McGinty finds his father, and McGinty responds that he will “ansah fah what he’s done.” Ren asks what will happen if McGinty cannot find his father, but McGinty does not answer. Ren understands that if McGinty does not find Ren’s father, then Ren has to answer for what he did to Margaret. Ren observes that his mother must have hated him. McGinty set the poker on the floor and begins adjusting his clothes so that “he was ready for business again.” He says that he “wouldn’t know...But [he] did.”

Analysis

As Ren learns more about his origins, more is revealed about the characters of Margaret and McGinty—specifically, that Margaret likely struggled with mental illness and was marked by her birthmark, suggesting that having a skin abnormality invited inevitable harassment, and that McGinty is controlling and likely an unreliable source of information. The reader is encouraged to question McGinty’s account and to predict what truly might have happened to Margaret. First, given McGinty’s story about their father's sexually assaulting Margaret, it is possible that their father is Ren’s father. Furthermore, both Mrs. Sands and her brother, the dwarf, said that McGinty was thought to have sent Margaret away to an institution. Also, McGinty earlier claimed that his sister assured him that Ren had died after losing his hand. If Margaret had died of fever only days after giving birth, it seems unlikely that she would have been lucid enough to arrange for Ren’s rescue and lie to her brother to save his life. Finally, Mrs. Sands and her brother also remember that McGinty seemed ashamed of his sister for being “a bit off,” according to the dwarf, and that he sold her belongings in the street “like she was some kind of criminal.” Therefore, McGinty’s story is highly questionable, as is his plan to hold Ren responsible for being born.

Ren’s sudden understanding of McGinty’s purpose for locking him away subtly indicates that, despite finding his family, he does not belong. He is placed on the level of all of the “forgotten things” in the storage room, from the crates of broken mousetraps to the family of mice who clandestinely feast on a forgotten bar of chocolate. He is only valuable because McGinty intends to hold him accountable for his unwanted existence. McGinty’s intentions perpetuate the novel’s association of grotesque characters with small prey—they must hide or die. Ren is just as marked as his mother was, because his physical abnormality seems to have inevitably sealed his fate.

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