The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

Ren and Benjamin visit Mr. Jefferson’s New, Used, & Rare bookstore to sell The Lives of the Saints. While Benjamin negotiates a price for the book, Ren feels cheated because the book belongs to him, and he does not want to sell it. He wanders over to a nearby table and notices a book called The Deerslayer.

Jefferson agrees to buy The Lives of the Saints for five cents. While he counts out the pennies, Ren walks up to him and says that the book belongs to him and that he wants to keep it. Before Jefferson can respond, Benjamin interrupts to say that Ren is his nephew and that his mother dropped him on his head when he was a baby. As a result, Ren has “never been right since” and does not know what he is talking about. Jefferson does not seem to believe Benjamin, but Benjamin threatens to burn the book if Jefferson does not buy it. Jefferson appears disgusted by this and counts out the pennies while Benjamin glares at Ren.

Since Ren cannot get his book back, he decides to steal something from the store. He knocks over a stack of books, which falls into the stack next to it, and that stack falls into the next one. All of Jefferson’s books are jumbled together in a mess on the floor. Jefferson pays Benjamin for The Lives of the Saints and tells him that he should leave. Ren tells Benjamin that he did not mean to knock over all of Jefferson’s books, but Benjamin does not believe him. However, he is not angry that Ren made such a mess in the bookstore—he is irritated that Ren did not tell him about his plan first, and he smacks Ren on the back of the neck. Ren almost drops The Deerslayer, which he is hiding under his coat. Benjamin does not know that Ren stole the book.

Benjamin and Ren walk past many merchants and shops until Ren notices that they are walking in circles and that Benjamin is carefully examining people’s faces. They finally stop before a church just as the Sunday service is ending. Well-dressed families pour out into the street, and someone suddenly shoves Ren into a pile of manure in a nearby gutter.

The parishioners stare at Ren, and Benjamin appears in the middle of the crowd. Ren notices that he is wearing his spectacles and that his hair is neat. He helps Ren out of the gutter but grabs his left arm and pulls back the sleeve so everyone can see the “cold and lonely nub” where his hand should be. Benjamin turns to the watching families, wearing a look of shock and sympathy. He makes a show of giving money to Ren—the same five cents that Jefferson gave him for The Lives of the Saints. An elderly woman follows suit, dropping a big coin in one of Ren’s coat pockets. A little girl with perfectly curled black hair approaches, saying she wants to “give money to the cripple.” She reaches out to him with a coin in her hand, but he does not want to let go of the book under his coat. He sticks out his tongue and the girl places the coin—“like a communion wafer”—upon it. Others follow suit, dropping coins in Ren’s pockets.

Analysis

The theme of the abstract world versus the tangible world continues to develop as Ren struggles to cope with losing The Lives of the Saints . The book represents the world of religious idealism from which Ren came, but...

(This entire section contains 937 words.)

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it is no longer the invaluable moral guide that it once was. Instead, it is a material commodity to be haggled over—and it is a commodity that rightfully belongs to Ren. Ren feels that he deserves a book to replace the one he is being forced to give up, so he knocks over all of Jefferson’s books in order to obtain one.

Ren’s grasp of the tangible world of material goods further solidifies in the scene outside of the church. He reflects that today is Sunday, and that he is missing Mass for the first time since he was a child. As he watches the families emerge from Sunday service, he notes their cleanliness, neatness, and cheerfulness—all qualities that starkly contrast with his hard life. This is the abstract family love that he cannot have, and the ideals of safety and belongingness that remain out of his reach. Benjamin, however, understands that money is within everyone’s reach, and he exploits Ren’s disability to manipulate the parishioners into giving up their coins.

An important transition from the world of religious idealism to the world of commercial materialism takes place in the final scene, when Ren receives a coin on his tongue “like a communion wafer.” In the Catholic Church, taking Communion involves sacramentally receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ by receiving a small wafer on the tongue, followed by drinking a sip of red wine. In doing so, Catholics believe that they can better assimilate into the body of Christ, and this bolsters unity within the church. When Ren’s usual Sunday Mass is superseded by receiving a coin on his tongue while he stands covered in manure, he steps outside the world of religious ideals that he came from. He steps into the reality of his current situation, which is governed by material needs: food, a bath, and shelter. He now does what Benjamin does: whatever he needs to do in order to survive.

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Chapters 6 & 7 Summary and Analysis

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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis