The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 27 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren watches as the fire slowly dies out. He packs pieces of paper into his pockets, trying to stay warm as he listens to the mice darting across the floor. He thinks about everything McGinty has told him: he has a dead mother and an uncle who despises him. All of the potential origin stories he entertained over the years disappear; he does not come from royalty, an affair between a nun and a priest, or a frontiersman who was killed by Native Americans. However, Ren does not feel disappointed. He feels the same as before—the truth “hadn’t made him stronger or more courageous, or given him peace of mind.” He imagines reversing the steps that led him to the mousetrap factory. He thinks about his friends and begins bargaining with God, promising to look for Dolly, to be kind to Brom and Ichy, and to forgive Benjamin for abandoning him. He stares into the darkness, unable to sleep.

Midnight passes, and suddenly Ren hears a key turning in the lock. He expects McGinty to be standing in the doorway but is surprised to see the girl with the harelip. She is still in her blue dress, her apron disheveled, her boots “hastily tied.” She is holding a small bundle. Ren asks why she is there, and she explains that she has “come to get you out...Not that it matters to me.” Ren sees that the bundle she brought is a blue mousetrap dress, and he declares that he cannot wear it. She responds that he can stay, “if [he's] so happy here.” She walks to the door, gripping the handle but not turning it. They hear the sound of footsteps in the hall. Ren suddenly understands how much danger she has put herself in by coming to rescue him. They look at each other as the footsteps stop outside the door before proceeding down the hall. She looks “triumphant,” despite her fingers trembling as she removes her hand from the doorknob. Ren observes that “for a moment she was almost not ugly.” He begins to put on the mousetrap dress. She helps him with the buttons, the bonnet, and the bloomers that slip over his pants. The dress is too small for him, almost tearing across his back.

Ren asks her why she is rescuing him, and she explains that Benjamin proposed to her and that they are waiting until she turns eighteen to get married. Ren says that she is “not even fifteen,” and she looks at him angrily. He thinks no one will ever marry her because of her appearance. She seems to recognize what he is thinking and, pulling his wrist behind his back, proceeds to beat him in the ear. She stops and kisses where she hit him, “her lip sucking his ear, leaving a horrible, slimy wetness.” Ren tries to escape her grip on his wrist. She pushes him away, sneering as he quickly wipes his face. She opens the door, and they walk down the hallway. They walk by many rooms, all of which are filled with crates. They see the Top Hat standing in one of the doorways. He does not recognize Ren, however, and begins to whistle at them. The girl with the harelip turns to him, and he stops when he sees her face.

Ren and the girl walk across the dimly-lit factory floor. They stop in a dark corner of one row and join the girls working there. The girl with the harelip instructs Ren to keep his head down, “no matter what happens,” and they begin cutting...

(This entire section contains 1266 words.)

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wooden boards. Some of the girls glance at them and look away, and Ren suspects that they know who he is. However, everyone works diligently to make mousetraps while the floor manager sleeps on the other side of the floor. Hours pass, and Ren is terrified that someone will discover him. At one point, he fails to steady a board with his stump and it snaps, sending slivers of wood across the table. The girl with the harelip hastily grabs another board, and the floor manager only stirs before falling back asleep. Ren begins to empathize with her as they continue working. He realizes that every day is like this for her, and that she believes rescuing him will secure a “way out” for her, because Benjamin will marry her. He does not want to tell her that Benjamin has already left North Umbrage.

Finally, the factory whistle sounds. The workers clear their tables, and the girl with the harelip takes Ren’s hand as the girls begin to exit the factory together. They smell like oil, sawdust, and “cheap perfume and powder.” The floor manager is counting the girls as they leave. Ren is terrified, certain that he will be noticed. Suddenly, one of the workers stands before the floor manager and begins talking and giggling as she unbuttons the collar of her uniform. Ren passes by, unnoticed, and mimics the girls by pulling his wool shawl over his face as they pass some of the hat boys. When the group turns the corner, the girl with the harelip breaks away, pulling Ren into an alley. They stand against the wall of one of the buildings, underneath lines of sheets, towels, pants, and undergarments that were hung out to dry. Ren says that he does not know her name, and she responds that it is Jenny. Ren takes Jenny’s hand and kisses it, but quickly feels embarrassed and pushes her hand away. She touches where she kissed him before, saying, “Don’t ever come back.”

Analysis

After Ren’s idealistic views about belongingness and family are shattered, he returns to religious idealism by bargaining with God, saying that if he escapes, he will find Dolly, be nicer to the twins, and forgive Benjamin. Shortly thereafter, Ren is rescued by Jenny, “the Harelip,” who risks her life to save him because she believes that Benjamin will marry her. Though it remains to be seen whether he will fulfill his promises to God, Ren begins to treat Jenny with more kindness when he realizes that she has endangered herself by helping him. When he finally understands the grim reality of her daily life, he treats her like a real person—though he is quickly ashamed when he kisses her hand, suggesting that he still feels conflicted about showing affection.

The theme of exploiting bodies resurfaces when Jenny uses her appearance to repulse the Top Hat, who responds by turning his attention away from her and Ren as they pass by. Furthermore, the group of highly oppressed, despised, and exploited mousetrap girls exploit their socially imposed inferiority in order to help Jenny save Ren. One of the girls even unbuttons her collar in an attempt to distract the floor manager, an act that puts her body at great risk. However, the novel continues to position this type of exploitation—using one’s perceived abnormalities and low social position to achieve a goal—as an exploitation of society’s prejudice. If Jenny were respected as a person, the Top Hat would likely have paid more attention to her and Ren. If the floor manager were not receptive to the advances of a girl he likely considers to be little more than an object—and if he treated his factory workers like individuals worthy of notice—he would likely have noticed that Ren was exiting with them. The girls are fully aware of how society perceives them and collectively choose to take advantage of social prejudice.

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