The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 30 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren, Tom, Brom, and Ichy make their way back to Mrs. Sands’s boarding house in the middle of a storm. Ren guides the wagon off the road every time he hears a horse approaching, afraid that the hat boys will discover them. He repeatedly tells himself that he is not like Benjamin, and he thinks of Brother Joseph and The Lives of the Saints. He remembers the stories of all of the saints and martyrs and “the terrible things they had to endure in order to do what was right.” As they cross the bridge, Ren instructs Brom and Ichy to hide under the blankets with Tom, and he drapes another blanket around his own shoulders and face. He is thankful for the storm because most of North Umbrage’s citizens are huddled inside, so the streets are nearly deserted. He guides the donkey toward the boarding house, pursuing side streets in order to avoid the mousetrap factory. He can see the top of the factory “peering over the tops of houses, as if it were following his every move, the smokestack pumping black clouds that clung to the air, even through the rain.”

Mrs. Sands’s house is a mess. The mousetrap girls have consumed everything in the pantry, and the kitchen is cluttered with dirty dishes. The roof is leaking, and various pots and pans have been positioned around the room to catch rainwater. Ren, Brom, and Ichy lift Tom out of the wagon and help him to the bench. Brom and Ichy search for dry blankets and clothes while Ren shuts the donkey in the stable. Afterwards, he begins looking for Mrs. Sands’s money. He digs into the ground around the chicken coop until he finds a glass jar. A chicken sticks its head out of the door, pecking him on the hand before he can remove it. He blocks the little door with his arm while removing the jar, but he can feel the hens pecking at his elbow. There is a tight roll of bills inside the jar, enough to feed the dwarf and to help Ren, Tom, Brom, and Ichy escape North Umbrage. He returns to the house, where Brom and Ichy are waiting for him in the doorway.

Brom tells Ren that he and Ichy are going back to Saint Anthony’s and urges Ren to join them. Ren asks about Tom, and the twins say that they will tell people that he is dead. They are sure that someone will adopt them if they return to the orphanage, but Ren knows that they are certain to be sold into the army. He decides to tell them that, according to Brother Joseph, no one will want them because their mother committed suicide. Brom attacks Ren, punching him in the stomach. They fall through the doorway into the house, and the jar of money shatters on the floor. Something “broke loose” within Ren, and he savagely fights Brom until Ichy begins hitting him. Ichy is “strong, much stronger than Ren ever thought he could be.” The twins continue beating Ren until he screams, “with all kinds of furious sorrow.” Suddenly, Tom pours a bucket of icy rainwater over Ren’s head. Water flows everywhere, knocking dishes and wasted food all over the floor. Tom empties the entire bucket and then turns to smack Ren in the head with it. He yells at Ren, telling him to leave Brom and Ichy alone. Ren lays on the floor, his face stinging. He looks at the wooden wall before him, examining the knots and holes “that seemed like faces.”

(This entire section contains 1852 words.)

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Brom tells Ren that he and Ichy are going back to Saint Anthony’s and urges Ren to join them. Ren asks about Tom, and the twins say that they will tell people that he is dead. They are sure that someone will adopt them if they return to the orphanage, but Ren knows that they are certain to be sold into the army. He decides to tell them that, according to Brother Joseph, no one will want them because their mother committed suicide. Brom attacks Ren, punching him in the stomach. They fall through the doorway into the house, and the jar of money shatters on the floor. Something “broke loose” within Ren, and he savagely fights Brom until Ichy begins hitting him. Ichy is “strong, much stronger than Ren ever thought he could be.” The twins continue beating Ren until he screams, “with all kinds of furious sorrow.” Suddenly, Tom pours a bucket of icy rainwater over Ren’s head. Water flows everywhere, knocking dishes and wasted food all over the floor. Tom empties the entire bucket and then turns to smack Ren in the head with it. He yells at Ren, telling him to leave Brom and Ichy alone. Ren lays on the floor, his face stinging. He looks at the wooden wall before him, examining the knots and holes “that seemed like faces.”

Tom settles onto the bench again, calling the twins back to him. He cries as he hugs them both. Brom and Ichy stand uncomfortably as he kisses their foreheads. He orders them to fetch him a drink and after they leave he turns to Ren and yanks him to his feet. He holds him close, asking why he did not tell him that the twins’ mother killed herself. Ren replies that he “didn’t know it mattered” to Tom, but Tom insists that it does matter. Ren wrangles himself out of Tom’s grip and Tom topples over onto the floor. Brom walks into the kitchen again with a bottle of wine in hand. He looks at Tom and tells Ren that they must carry him upstairs. Ren responds that Tom is “your father,” and Brom kicks Ren in the leg, “just hard enough to let him know that they weren’t finished.” He walks over to Tom, opening the bottle of wine, and begins retying his splint before helping him into a chair. Ichy covers Tom’s shoulders with a blanket and then helps Brom carry logs from a wood basket by the pantry so that they can start a fire. They remove their wet coats, and then Tom’s, and lay them to dry on the mantel. Ren, meanwhile, watches them hatefully.

Tom drinks his wine and says that it is “time we got our bearings.” He asks what “that mousetrapper” wanted with them, and Ren says that McGinty believes that he is his nephew. Tom asks if he is correct, and Ren responds that it seems to be true. Tom concludes that Ren must hide until Benjamin returns. Ren, remembering how Benjamin looked when he said goodbye, says that Benjamin is not going to come back. Tom disagrees, saying that Benjamin always returns, and that he has “been through this a dozen times.” Ren objects, saying that the hat boys and McGinty could have killed him but Benjamin gave him up anyway and that Benjamin left Tom in the street with a broken leg. He points out that, if the twins had not found a way to get him to the hospital, he would have died. Tom does not respond, instead staring at the growing flames in the fireplace. The fire is finally heating up the room, causing steam “to rise from the man’s wet shoulders, as if his spirit were slowly evaporating.” He assures Ren that Benjamin will be knocking on the door in an hour, but Ren again disagrees. Tom does not respond, and instead he gestures for Brom and Ichy to help him up the stairs. He tells Ren that he will not leave until he hears from Benjamin. Ren insists that, if they remain in North Umbrage, McGinty will surely find him. He asks Tom what he is supposed to do, and Tom only responds that Ren is “the thief” and that he should “think of something.”

The storm continues raging as the night presses on. Tom, Brom, and Ichy are asleep upstairs while Ren searches for food. He finds some stale bread and after eating climbs into the potato basket so he can get some rest. He counts the time that passes between lightning flashes and thunder claps so he can determine how far away the storm is. It settles over the top of the boarding house, falling “down on the very top of him, as if it would split the building in two.” After it dies down, Ren hears a loud knocking on the door. It seemed like someone “was trying to push the wood aside with his shoulders” until the hinges of the door begin to loosen. The person calls Ren’s name and Ren opens the door to find Dolly. Ren opens his arms to receive him, but Dolly shoves him aside and walks into the house. His face “held the same dark calm from when he murdered the men beneath the streetlight.” He opens and closes his fists, over and over, until finally accusing Ren of leaving him. Ren insists that he did not mean to abandon Dolly, but still he feels “weak with regret.” He sits on the floor and leans against the bench as Dolly “towered” over him, “as if he were a judgment” as if “he were about to lift his foot and press Ren into the earth.” Ren continues by explaining that it was not his fault and tells Dolly everything that happened after Tom knocked him out with the shovel in the graveyard. Dolly does not appear to be convinced. Finally, with “the penance Ren had neglected to say for the past eight months,” he admits that Dolly is right. He abandoned him, and he is sorry. Dolly walks over to Ren and crouches beside him, covering his head “as if he would crush it.” Instead, he kisses Ren on the forehead and turns away. When he turns around, his expression has become “ragged and soft, a mountain already toppled and fallen.” He says that he and Ren are “friends again.”

Analysis

The threat of persecution, which until now was only explored in the context of evading arrest for one’s crimes, develops into a major theme when Ren risks his own capture in order to help his friends. For Ren, persecution not only means encountering McGinty’s hat boys in the street, but also of being tracked by the mousetrap factory itself—as though it is a sentient being “following his every move.” The factory, which operates on the backs of exploited laborers, represents the tyranny of institutional power. Though The Good Thief takes place in the 19th century, McGinty seems like a Big Brother figure from George Orwell’s 1984, a dystopian novel published in 1949 about a world overrun with war, propaganda, and government surveillance. McGinty’s hat boys seem to be like Orwell’s “Thought Police,” who prosecute individuals suspected of thoughtcrime, or personal and political thoughts that run counter to the government’s agenda. Though McGinty is not the leader of an established political party, his factory affords him the power to treat North Umbrage’s citizens as though they belong to him. Individuals lose agency, particularly as it relates to ownership of one’s body—the material form that can be commodified. Ren has lost ownership over his body by promising himself to the hospital in order to pay for Tom’s and Mrs. Sands’s medical care and by being traded for Benjamin’s safety as though he represents a type of currency.

Loyalty continues to be incredibly important to Ren as he copes with Benjamin’s abandonment of the group. By risking capture in order to help Mrs. Sands and her brother, the dwarf, Ren takes a stand against Benjamin’s philosophy of self-centeredness. He also seems to learn that loyalty extends to accountability, or holding oneself responsible for letting others down. He holds himself accountable for failing to tell Brom and Ichy about their mother and for failing to stay with Dolly when Benjamin convinced him to leave the graveyard. However, Ren learns that holding oneself accountable may bring mixed results. When he tells Brom and Ichy that he knew that they would never be adopted and that he should have told them sooner, he is met with violence. However, when he tells Dolly that he should have stayed by his side in the cemetery, he is met with forgiveness and friendship.

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Chapter 31 Summary and Analysis