The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 34 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Benjamin and Ren make their way along the streets of North Umbrage, which are unusually clean after the rain. Ren walks in his socks and his face is covered with cuts from the window glass. He holds onto Benjamin’s hand as they walk. They had managed to sneak out of the factory after McGinty died, and the hat boys did not notice because they were busy looting the office. They managed to walk across the factory floor and exited through a side door, which Jenny held open for them. Her face was “anxious and smiling” as they walked through. They made it past a cluster of soldiers, who only looked at them for a moment but did not pursue them. Now, they run towards Mrs. Sands’s boarding house.

Ren notices that Benjamin is able to keep up with him and observes that he is not hurt. Benjamin assures him that he is, but “not as bad as they thought.” Ren points out that his teeth are broken, but Benjamin only says that he will need to see Mister Bowers. Suddenly, the factory bell begins to repeatedly ring behind them, until North Umbrage’s citizens take notice. Doors and windows open, and fishermen remove their lines from the water. The drinkers at O’Sullivan’s bar walk outside to see what is happening. Benjamin and Ren rush past two soldiers, who strap on their rifles as Benjamin yanks Ren into the same alley that Ren hid in with Jenny. They hide beside a garbage bin, waiting as the soldiers march by.

Ren tells Benjamin that he had thought that McGinty had let him leave, but Benjamin says that McGinty knew he was Ren’s father right away—“I think he just wanted to hear you say it.” Ren waits for Benjamin to reveal that he was lying about being Ren’s father, but Benjamin says nothing. He takes his will from his coat pocket and gives it to Ren, saying that he should give it to Tom and not let any other person have it. Ren asks Benjamin if he is leaving, and Benjamin says that he must because soldiers and hat boys are already looking for him. He must hide, at least for a while. Ren objects, saying that Benjamin did not kill McGinty, and begins to cry. He wants to go with Benjamin, but Benjamin says that he is only “trying to do what’s right” and tells Ren not to “make it any harder.” He reaches for a shirt, a pair of overalls, and a jacket from the clothes line above them and changes out of his torn clothes. When he finishes dressing, he looks completely different, like “a man with worries. A father.” Ren asks him why he did not tell him that he was his father before, and Benjamin responds that he did not think that Ren would believe him.

Ren tries to laugh, but he begins shivering in the cold. Benjamin pulls a large sweater from the line and helps Ren put it on. It is too big for him, but it is warm. Benjamin plucks one of the pieces of glass from Ren’s face and holds it up “as if he were waiting for Ren to make a wish.” He asks what Ren wants most in the world, and before he can answer he places the small square glass that holds the tiny hand that was taken from him as a baby. The fingers are spread out like a “frozen greeting.” The glass grows warm in his hand, “as if the tips” of the fingers “were bending into his own,”...

(This entire section contains 1450 words.)

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like it “had been simply waiting until they were together again, to close back into a fist.”

Ren returns to the boarding house. The door is locked, and he pounds his fist against the wood, shouting until the twins answer. Ren hugs them, and they say that they heard the fighting and thought Ren had been taken away to be killed. Tom had been woken up by the fighting, but by the time he got his gun and the twins helped him downstairs Ren had disappeared. They stored the dead bodies of the hat boys in the stable. Ren asks where Dolly is, and Ichy replies that the hat boys “shot him so many times he couldn’t get up.” Ren finds Dolly in the stall that had housed their horse, his body covered with a quilt and his head resting on a pillow from Mrs. Sands’s parlor. A bandage covers his neck and his limbs and chest “were plugged and oozing.” His monk’s costume is soaked with blood, and the ground beneath him is turning red. The hat boys’ bodies are piled outside of Dolly’s stall, covered in blankets. Beside them, the donkey quietly eats from a mass of hay. Tom is sitting on a stool nearby, watching the donkey. He seems relieved to see Ren.

Ren touches the bandage on Dolly’s neck. Tom asks him if Dolly really helped Ren climb up the chimney, saying that they thought that he was out of his mind. Ren says yes, and he presses his ear against Dolly’s chest. Tom tells him that Dolly is gone, but Ren continues to listen for a heartbeat. Tom urges Ren to go inside, but Ren refuses. Tom sighs and leaves the stable. Ren can hear him walk across the yard and into the house. Ren spends the rest of the afternoon talking to Dolly about everything that had happened, talking “until he could think of nothing to say, and then he talked some more.” The donkey seems to listen, as if it were interested in what Ren has to say. Night falls, and the twins bring out a candle and a quilt that Ren pulls over his shoulders.

Ren stays with Dolly all through the night and opens a window when dawn breaks so Dolly can hear the birds. Ren is tired, but he believes that Dolly will eventually hear him if he keeps talking, as though “the right words could make anything happen.” He thinks about Saint Anthony’s statue, “and all the empty prayers he had said before it, wishing for things that had never been lost.” He tells Dolly about living at Saint Anthony’s and about the stories he had read about Saint Anthony himself. He talks about Saint Anthony's preaching to fish, and about how he reattached Leonardo’s foot, and about how he resurrected a little boy to clear his father’s name. Ren tells Dolly that, before he died, Saint Anthony moved into a walnut tree in order to be “as close to heaven as he could.” Ren takes hold of Dolly’s giant, stiff hand, and listens as the air continues to fill with the sounds of birds peeping. The entire stable seems to come alive with the chirping. Ren props himself against Dolly’s pillow and listens again for a sign of life. He continues to talk about Saint Anthony “leaving the world of men” and living out the rest of his life among the leaves of the tree, and about how when he died, “Christ had come to him, and miracles had happened in the branches.”

Analysis

The revelation about Benjamin’s relationship to Ren further complicates the novel’s juxtaposition of loyalty and pragmatic survivalism. Assuming that Benjamin is telling the truth, it seems that he is acting out of genuine care for Ren by “trying to do the right thing.” Given everything known about Benjamin at this point, however, the reader must still question whether he is telling the truth and whether he is indeed doing what is best for Ren. He may look like “a man with worries,” but he is still a skilled manipulator.

Furthermore, we cannot forget that Benjamin apparently lived with the knowledge that he is Ren’s father throughout their time together and never changed his behavior. He exploited Ren’s disability and dehumanized him in order to make money. He left him, potentially to die, in McGinty’s office. He subjected Ren to poverty, to crime, and to pain. Benjamin’s profession of loyalty is most questionable, however, when contrasted with Dolly’s actual performance of loyalty. After all, Dolly gave his life so that Ren might be able to escape. Benjamin would never allow himself to be harmed in order to save another person—he even expressly discouraged Ren from doing the same because he might suffer a fate similar to Dolly’s. The novel therefore seems to suggest that true loyalty must involve self-sacrifice in order to be genuine.

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