The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapters 3 & 4 Summary and Analysis

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Ren waits for his punishment in Father John’s study. Father John, who found Ren bruised and bloody by the well, reads quietly from a book called The Lives of the Saints for 30 minutes—he does this to all of the boys before he beats them, and Ren feels that being made to wait is worse than the beating itself. Father John tells Ren a story from the book about a boy named Leonardo who kicks his mother and then confesses his sin to Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony advises Leonardo to cut off his foot as penance. Leonardo obeys, but Saint Anthony mercifully reattaches his foot afterward. Father John tells Ren that he might benefit from hearing this particular story, and then he orders him to bend over the whipping stool. While beating Ren with his switch, Father John demands to know who bruised him. Ren will not reveal that Brom and Ichy hurt him, though he is still angry with them. Instead, he takes his punishment and quickly hides The Lives of the Saints under his shirt when Father John finishes beating him.

That night, Ren lies awake in bed. He remembers the night that Brom and Ichy arrived at the monastery, shivering with cold because their clothes were soaked through with rain. Their mother had recently drowned herself and the brothers were put in Ren’s bed to get warm. He imagined her standing before him, drenched in river water with branches tangled in her blonde hair. Now, the boys sleep in the bed next to Ren’s. Ren pulls out The Lives of the Saints and reads other stories about Saint Anthony. Other boys in the room begin crying, however, and Ren puts the book away so he will not be caught. As he falls asleep, he feels glad that he threw away the wishing stone, because no one will be able to wish on it ever again.

A strange man named Benjamin Nab arrives at the monastery. Father John explains that he is searching for a brother he parted with eleven years ago. Benjamin Nab inspects some of the boys until reaching Ren. He notices Ren’s missing hand, but instead of being repulsed, he picks Ren up and hugs him, announcing that Ren is his long lost brother. When Ren realizes that he will be leaving the monastery, he throws up from excitement.

Father John invites Benjamin Nab to tea and Benjamin Nab tells the story of how Ren lost his hand. When Ren was an infant, he and his family lived near Fort Wagaponick out west. Ren’s father, who was “all dreams,” found life in the wilderness exciting, and his mother took great care of her children. One day, a group of Native Americans attacked the family. One of them was pulling Ren away from his mother when she swung an ax down on Ren’s arm—Benjamin Nab explains to Ren that he believes “she was aiming for the Indian”—and chopped off his hand. Benjamin Nab escaped with Ren by floating down the icy river and sent him back east with a wagon full of people, asking that they find him a home with a nice family who will give him an education. He concludes the story by pulling out pieces of the remaining scalps of their parents, saying that he found the men responsible for their deaths. Father John is convinced and agrees to send Ren, who feels increasingly uneasy, away with Benjamin Nab.

Brother Joseph, who helps Ren gather his things in the attic, discovers that Ren stole The Lives of the Saints from Father John....

(This entire section contains 972 words.)

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Though Ren knows he will never see Brother Joseph again, he prays with him for forgiveness. Brother Joseph hands the book to Ren and says he can keep it because “it’s not stolen anymore.” Before leaving, Ren promises Brom and Ichy that he will come back to visit. However, just like the other boys who leave, he knows he never will.


Water—especially moving water—emerges as a motif at the beginning of chapter 3, when Ren’s experience with prayer is likened to the feeling of wanting to be “carried on to a deeper place” when holding his hand in the current of a stream. The transportive power of the river is especially evident; the river can carry someone to safety, as it did when Benjamin Nab allegedly rescued an infant Ren from hostile Native Americans, or to death, as it did when Brom and Ichy’s mother drowned herself.

The power of moving water merges with another importanttheme: motherhood, and the potentially fatal consequences of losing one’s mother. Ren is preoccupied with mothers. When he is passed over for adoption at the beginning of the novel, he sees not only a lost opportunity to leave Saint Anthony’s but also another lost mother. He fixates so intently on Brom and Ichy’s dead mother that she seems to appear before him in the attic, dripping with water from the river wherein she drowned. And, if the scalp with tangled blonde curls in fact belongs to Ren’s mother, it seems that Ren has been unconsciously projecting his own mother’s image onto the mothers of other boys.

The first major event we witness in Ren’s life is marked by the introduction of Benjamin Nab, who claims to be Ren’s long lost brother. Benjamin Nab is charming but not necessarily trustworthy, as implied by Ren’s immediate feelings of uneasiness. He smiles in an unusually disarming manner, which suggests that he is perfectly capable of being manipulative and dishonest. Furthermore, his storytelling borders on the drama one might expect of a chivalric tale in which he is a courageous hero who saves Ren from certain and brutal death.


Chapters 1 & 2 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis