The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 32 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren waits for McGinty in his office. He watches as the mousetrap girls flood into the factory and take their places among the rows. The floor manager walks between the aisles, jabbing one girl in the back with his finger and smacking another girl on the behind. Ren notices Jenny sawing away at pieces of wood. She does not look up, but he knows that she has already seen him. He can feel the floor vibrating from the machines. The glass shakes, and the fox-hunt paintings tremble on the walls. Suddenly, the door opens and McGinty walks inside with two hat boys. One of them is the Bowler, and his nose is broken. The other wears a top hat, but it is a different man—“as if the hat had grown a new body, straight up from the ground.”

McGinty shoves Ren against the window and begins rifling through his pockets, throwing everything to the ground until he finds the gold watch. He opens it and looks relieved to see that Margaret’s portrait is still inside. He calls Ren a thief, though not an intelligent one because he has been caught two times. He drops the watch inside his waistcoat and removes the same knife that Pilot used to cut off the bartender’s hand. He places it in front of Ren and says that he knows that there was a man with Ren, and that this man killed Pilot and three other hat boys. The man tried to kill McGinty nearly a month previously, and McGinty sent him men “ta get rid a him” but concludes that he must have killed the men instead. McGinty picks up the knife and says that this man might be “tha man I’ve been looking foah” and that he may be “ready ta do some ansahring.” Without mentioning Dolly’s name, Ren says that the man is not his father. McGinty orders Ren to tell him who his father is. Ren insists that he does not know.

McGinty says that he will force Ren to remember. He pulls out a little silk bag with black thread embroidered into it, and black tassels tying it closed. He removes a small glass cube with a tiny hand “suspended like a fracture breaking out in five different directions.” It is Ren’s left hand. McGinty tells him that he kept the hand as a “souveneah,” leaning in close to add that “all she had ta do was give me tha fathah’s name,” but would not do it even when “I had yah on tha table,” and even after “tha knife was going in.” Ren shoves McGinty away and tries to run for the door, but the Top Hat and the Bowler grab him and pull him onto the desk. He struggles, but they easily stretch his arms out on either side. McGinty picks up Pilot’s knife and grabs Ren’s left arm to examine the scar. He looks at Ren and moves to his right side, using the knife to cut a thin line around his right wrist. McGinty explains that he likes “ta have a mahk...A place ta aim fah.” He places the blade against Ren’s wrist, lining it up with the thin cut he made. Ren imagines himself with no hands—“nothing but two empty ends of arms”—and screams. McGinty demands his father’s name again, saying that he wants to “know everything about ‘im.”

Suddenly, the air in the office changes, “heavy and tasting of metal” as though a storm is about to erupt. Thunder seems to build up, and all Ren needs is “a crack to release it...A...

(This entire section contains 1674 words.)

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glittering vein set against the dark.” He thinks about the floor beneath him and how his mother once stood upon it, and that she used to sit in the desk chair and lean her elbows against the very desk he is lying on. He thinks about how the office once “held” his mother, just as it holds him now, and he believes he can feel the love that she once felt for him. He begins telling McGinty all of the stories Benjamin told him throughout their time together, adding embellishments here and there.

He says that his father was raised by Native Americans, and that his parents were unknown. He was rumored to have been kidnapped by gypsies and traded to the Native Americans, but he was “white for sure” and learned how to speak English from a visiting schoolteacher who “took a shine to him and to the Indian life and stayed on and married a squaw named Happy Feather.” McGinty removes the knife from Ren’s wrist and nods at the Top Hat and the Bowler so that they will release Ren’s wrists. Ren says that his father built a business tracking down the scalps of people murdered by Native American tribes. Given that he was raised by Native Americans, he could determine based on the body of the victim which tribe had committed the murder and occasionally even the warrior who had done it. He would travel, hunting for the missing scalps, but he always returned with them so the families could dig up the graves of their loved ones and add these missing pieces.

Ren continues, saying that his father became restless and decided to join a merchant ship on its voyages around the world—to places “where people live high on mountain peaks that no one can reach, in glass boxes suspended under lake water, and in giant castles made of ivory and gold.” He joined a whaling ship, “chasing down monsters in the sea,” fighting pirates, and discovering uninhabited islands. He became famous for battling “strange sea creatures” while his fellow crewmates watched and gambled on his success. One night, a violent storm shattered the boat and killed everyone except Ren’s father, who swam thousands of miles until reaching North America again. A fisherman rescued him and, when he was healthy again, sold him to the army in order to settle a gambling debt. His commander, an “angry dwarf” who “barked orders” and “ate as much as ten men” but nevertheless inspired courage because he looked “splendid” atop his white pony, gave him a short leave of absence to visit his family. However, Ren’s father left for “the countryside” and found North Umbrage’s old mine. This, Ren says, is where his father met his mother. She showed him where the bodies of the miners were huddled together in one of the tunnels and told him that, “when death comes...all that matters is...to be next to one another.” Ren’s father fell in love with her because she helped him to forget his troubles, so he “opened his arms, and she stepped inside.”

Ren tells McGinty that, after meeting his mother, his father rejoined his troop and journeyed further west. He wrote to Ren’s mother daily “and nearly lost his senses over worry and fear and desire for her.” She finally wrote to him, announcing that she was pregnant and asking if he would return “to take her away from North Umbrage, to give her and the baby his name.” He deserted the army that day and, to evade arrest, traveled only at night. However, he was caught by soldiers, who “starved him and beat him until he became not a man anymore, but a living skeleton.” He forgot his identity and everything from his life except the image of Ren’s mother’s face, though he could not remember who she was. His jailers threw a murderer in his cell, “a man with giant hands,” and the two men became friends. The murderer killed the soldiers and helped Ren’s father escape. However, by the time he finally reached North Umbrage, Ren’s mother had already died. Ren’s father “turned his back on the world” by drinking, spending time with “the lowliest of people” and completing “the lowliest of tasks” for survival. He began to hear gossip that his son was alive, however, so he applied all of his skills from his days as an adventurer in order to find him. Ren tells McGinty that his father came to him through dreams, wherein he would say that he was on his way to find him. Finally, one day, he “looked over a group of a thousand children and picked me out in an instant.” Ren explains that he recognized his father because he had seen him in his dreams, and the two left together, knowing that “we’d never be parted again.”

McGinty interrupts, pounding his fist onto the desk and declaring that he does not want to hear more. He demands to know Ren’s father’s name, and Ren tells him that it is Benjamin Nab.

Analysis

The interchangeability of McGinty’s hat boys further emphasizes how impermissible individuality is in North Umbrage, or at least in McGinty’s North Umbrage. Like the mousetrap girls whose labor is vital for the operation of the factory, the hat boys are nothing more than easily replaceable tools with a specific utility. Interestingly, McGinty’s attitude towards his workers resembles Benjamin’s attitude towards anyone he meets. However, while Benjamin’s lack of empathy seems advantageous for survival, McGinty’s lack of empathy seems advantageous for acquiring more wealth. The novel thus encourages the reader to question judgment of Benjamin by offering a comparison between his and McGinty’s treatment of Ren.

Perhaps the novel suggests a value judgment of Benjamin when, to avoid McGinty’s violent threat of dismemberment, Ren must resort to one of Benjamin’s classic survivalist strategies: telling people what they want to hear. He imitates Benjamin so closely that he weaves together an epic tale that draws upon Benjamin’s stories, as well as real-life events. He quickly learns that despite the outrageousness and implausibility of his story, McGinty seems so desperate for revenge that he is willing to be convinced.

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Chapter 33 Summary and Analysis