The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis

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Summary

That night, Benjamin and Tom leave Ren alone while they go fishing. They make him promise not to answer the door. He sits at the table in the cellar, chewing on a piece of bread leftover from the meal they bought with the parishioners’ donations. He takes a sip of Tom’s whiskey, but it burns his throat so badly that he spits it on the floor. He thinks back to when he, Brom, and Ichy shared a bottle of wine that he stole from Saint Anthony’s. It did not go well: Brom hurt his ankle, Ichy vomited, and Ren had hiccups for days.

Ren decides to write Brom and Ichy a letter. He finds a pen and a bottle of ink and begins to write on the back of an advertisement for Dr. Faust’s Medical Salts for Pleasant Dreams. He begins his letter by telling them that he is drunk, having just consumed an entire bottle of whiskey, and that he is accompanying Benjamin to India “to see the elephants.” He tells them that he has his own room and that Benjamin does not make him go to church. He finishes by saying that he hopes they both find families soon and are not forced to join the army. Ren realizes that he needs money for an envelope and a stamp, but as he folds up the letter he feels less inclined to send it. He suspects that Brom and Ichy will know that he is lying—and suddenly realizes that all of the other boys who sent cheerful letters after leaving the orphanage were probably lying, too. Ren sets the letter aside and pulls out The Deerslayer. He is immediately taken into a different world, “[making] his way through the dense forest with Deerslayer, chopping down trees and turning them into canoes, hunting and fishing and saving Indian maidens.” Ren loves the book and thinks it is even better than The Lives of the Saints. He reads until his eyes are red and the candle burns out.

Benjamin and Tom return right before dawn, their clothes filthy and their pockets full of jewels, gems, and watches. Ren observes that the valuables, which are covered with grime, look like they were dug up from the ground. Tom tells Ren that they were and tosses him a handkerchief full of loose teeth, some with pieces of pink gums still stuck to them. Ren finally understands: Benjamin and Tom steal from dead bodies. Ren is horrified, imagining the grim punishment they will receive from God for robbing a graveyard. Benjamin and Tom do not look worried or guilty, though. Instead, they begin sorting the stolen goods according to value. Benjamin holds up a bracelet and a gold watch and asks Ren to guess which is worth more. Ren holds the bracelet, thinking of the “lifeless arm that it had adorned.” Benjamin interrupts his thoughts to tell him to thoroughly inspect both items before deciding. Then, he says to “always take the watch.”

Benjamin notices The Deerslayer , which Ren forgot to hide, lying on the table. This is the first time Ren has ever been caught stealing. Benjamin and Tom are not angry, though; instead, they seem delighted. Benjamin is surprised that he did not notice Ren steal the book from Jefferson’s store, and he orders Ren to steal something else so he can see how the boy got away with it. Ren presents Benjamin with a ring that he had already stolen from the table. Benjamin and Tom find this hilarious. Tom says that Ren does not need any...

(This entire section contains 851 words.)

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training. Benjamin agrees, saying that Ren is “already one of us.”

Analysis

The theme of commodifying bodies takes a disturbing turn when Benjamin and Tom return with pockets full of jewelry, gems, watches, and teeth that they took from dead people. While they sort through the stolen valuables, the line between human and object begins to blur: the loose teeth look like “tiny headless porcelain dolls,” and the newly-polished pearls shine “like new skin in the lamplight.” For Benjamin and Tom, bodies are just another type of material object to sell or exploit for profit.

While Ren’s exposure to materialism continues to increase under Benjamin’s guardianship, his transition from abstract, religious idealism can be seen in his changing literary tastes. The Lives of the Saints gave him comfort and guidance at Saint Anthony’s, but his life with Benjamin seems better matched to The Deerslayer. Ren’s new enthusiasm for adventurous, entertaining storytelling also comes at a time when the foundation of his religious upbringing is being challenged regularly. Ren expects Benjamin and Tom to be immediately punished by God for digging up dead bodies and stealing from them, but he quickly sees that there are no consequences. Furthermore, Ren now understands that he can win praise and approval for stealing instead of being harshly punished like he was at Saint Anthony’s. Though he is not yet as materialistic as Benjamin and Tom, Ren seems less convinced by the moral ideals he learned at the orphanage.

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Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis