The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren does not think about being afraid until after leaving the monastery. He and Benjamin Nab walk along the road in the afternoon sun, past the furthest point that Ren has ever been since arriving at Saint Anthony’s as a baby. They ascend a hill, and Benjamin Nab surveys the valley of orange and red trees below as though he owns all of it. He inspects Ren’s arm once again, but he seems more intrigued than disgusted by his missing hand.

They walk down into the valley and arrive at a farmhouse just after dark. Before knocking on the door, Benjamin Nab tells Ren to be quiet and learn from him. A farmer answers the door and points a shotgun at Benjamin Nab, who nonchalantly explains that they lost their way and wish to spend the night in the farmer’s barn. Benjamin Nab even kicks Ren behind the knees so he stumbles and appears unable to continue walking. The farmer’s wife takes pity on Ren, so they are invited inside.

Ren realizes that the farmer is the man who passed him over at Saint Anthony’s just days beforehand. The farmer recognizes Ren and seems embarrassed, but he lowers his shotgun and observes that Ren “found someone to take [him] after all.” The farmer’s wife, who is exactly as Ren imagined her, distributes coffee and cold meat pie. Benjamin Nab tells the farmer about his history, which includes traveling to China and India. He explains that he and Ren are traveling to his uncle’s farm. When the farmer argues that Ren will be useless to a farmer because he is “damaged,” Benjamin Nab insists that Ren has other skills and that the farmer wants a “companion, not a laborer.” Ren whistles a hymn for them, and the farmer seems impressed.

After retiring to the farmer’s barn for the night, Ren begins asking Benjamin Nab about his adventures abroad. Benjamin Nab tells Ren that he has never been to India before and only said those things because he wanted to convince the farmer to let them sleep in his barn. Ren asks to see the scalps of his parents again, and Benjamin Nab tosses them to Ren. Ren examines them and realizes that they are not real—the hair, which looks like boar’s hair, has been glued onto leather. Benjamin Nab explains that he lied to Father John to convince him to give up Ren, and that he lied to Ren because he knew that Ren would not want to know the grisly truth about what really happened to their parents. He tells Ren that they were murdered by their uncle, “a terrible man,” who loved their mother so much that he did not allow anyone else to love her. When she became pregnant after an affair with their father, who was a soldier, her brother was furious and dismembered her—cutting off “every part of her that our father had loved“—after she gave birth. Benjamin Nab then orders Ren to give him his arm, and he begins running his finger over the scar where his hand was removed. Ren says he does not want to hear anymore. Benjamin Nab says that, if this was not what Ren wanted to hear, then Ren should know that he is telling the truth.

Analysis

Benjamin Nab reveals himself to be a dishonest man who manipulates others to get what he wants. His intentions with Ren are still unclear, though his particular interest in Ren’s missing hand suggests that he has a plan for benefiting in some way from the boy’s disability. Furthermore, his skillful storytelling...

(This entire section contains 850 words.)

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becomes so exaggerated and sensational that it borders on ridiculous. He even uses a popular literary technique called ablazon when telling Ren about how his mother was killed. A blazon, which was first popularized by Petrarch and used copiously by Elizabethan poets, involves cataloguing a person’s attractive or desirable qualities—usually a woman’s physical attributes. Benjamin Nab uses this technique to figuratively dismember Ren’s mother when he tells Ren that her brother cut off “every part of her that our father had loved.” He does not seem concerned about telling a convincing story, however, because his account only covers the birth of one child and not both himself and Ren.

Hannah Tinti builds suspense in several ways as Ren begins to realize that Benjamin Nab is likely not who he says he is. After four chapters full of the colorred, it is difficult to mistake the significance of the fiery orange, red, vermillion, and gold colors of the trees that cover “every inch” of the valley into which they descend. Tinti may even allude to a fateful evening in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, in which the corrupt Marquis St. Evrémonde is bathed in the brilliant crimson light of the sunset before being murdered by a peasant whose child he killed. This foreshadowing effectively prepares the reader for the plot to turn in a potentially sinister direction.

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Chapters 6 & 7 Summary and Analysis