The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapters 6 & 7 Summary and Analysis

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Ren awakens to the sound of Benjamin Nab's attaching a cart to the farmer’s horse. He realizes that Benjamin is stealing from the farmer and notices that he feels the same “quickening of blood” that he used to feel when he stole from Saint Anthony’s. However, Ren only stole small things from the monastery and expects to be punished far worse for stealing a man’s horse and cart. He wishes he could stay behind and live with the farmer and his wife, but he knows that they will not want him. Benjamin and Ren speed away, and Ren catches a glimpse of the farmer’s wife as she walks to the barn to milk the cow.

The sun begins to rise. Ren, who was usually forced to say ten Our Fathers and fifteen Hail Marys when he was caught stealing, begins praying. Benjamin Nab tells him that they are not stealing; they are “borrowing, with good intent.” He explains to Ren that praying will not help and that, though Ren was “raised with a certain set of rules,” he will “be forced to break them” if he wants to survive. He then tells Ren that he is not his brother and pulls out a gun, though he assures Ren that he will not hurt him. Benjamin reveals that he chose Ren for a reason: the boy’s missing hand will “open wallets faster than any gun.” Benjamins offers Ren the option of jumping out of the cart, but then he asks Ren what he wants more than anything. Ren replies that he wants a family, but Benjamin tells him to stop being “simple minded.” Ren decides that he wants an orange, and Benjamin assures him that he can get him one. Benjamin offers Ren his hand, and Ren notices a freckle in the middle of his palm that is a “mark of good fortune.” Ren shakes his hand.

Benjamin and Ren finally reach Granston, a busy harbor town. They weave through crowds on the docks, where fishermen bring their catches and merchants unload goods from their ships. Benjamin walks the horse away from the water and towards the temporary housing where fishermen, sailors, and soldiers stay. Ren, who has never seen the ocean or anything like Granston before, notices two women in low-cut bodices and painted faces talking to a soldier. Benjamin stops at a building that looks like it has been deserted after a fire. A portly man with a thick red beard lets them inside, and they walk down to a cellar where he has been living. The man—whose name is Tom—is unhappy that Benjamin brought Ren, but Benjamin insists that Ren is a “gold mine” because people will let their guards down out of pity for a boy who is missing a hand.

While Benjamin unhitches the horse, Tom empties Ren’s pockets and finds The Secret Lives of the Saints , which he wants to sell. He directs Ren to open a suitcase that is sitting in the corner of the room. Ren finds that it is full of small glass bottles with labels that say “Doctor Faust’s Medical Salts for Pleasant Dreams.” Benjamin, who has just returned, asks if there are any left, and Tom says that the rest of the bottles—which contain high concentrations of opium—belong to the state of New Hampshire. Benjamin suggests diluting the bottles, but Tom does not want to resume selling them yet. However, everyone is hungry, so Benjamin suggests that they go fishing. Tom confesses that he sold their shovel in order to buy whiskey. Ren asks why they need a...

(This entire section contains 956 words.)

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shovel to go fishing, and both men become uncomfortable. Benjamin only responds that they need a shovel to dig up worms.


It is now clear that Benjamin Nab intends to profit from Ren’s disability, but Ren has no viable alternative to staying with his new guardian. No one will adopt him because he is not useful. Furthermore, returning to Saint Anthony’s likely means Ren will be forced into the army in a few years. He has been rejected by a society that does not value him, so he is forced into a life of crime in order to survive.

The importance of physicality in a society built around commodification is solidified in the large-scale commerce that Benjamin and Ren encounter in Granston. Granston is a harbor town built for the primary purpose of selling goods and services; fishermen haul in their catches, merchants arrive from exotic lands with goods, and prostitutes advertise their bodies to interested customers. Every person is reduced to the role of buyer or seller, employer or laborer. Benjamin can read many of them, as though they show physical marks indicating their respective roles. Benjamin and Ren are also marked in literal and unmistakably symbolic ways: Benjamin, who seems to have a talent for making money, has a freckle or “coin” in the middle of his palm, and Ren, who has been stealing things for years, is missing a hand.

The current dynamic between Benjamin and Ren uncovers a major conflict between staunch pragmatism and social idealism. Benjamin, who gradually reveals his true nature when it suits him to do so, seems entirely invested in survival and will do anything to obtain what he needs in the moment. Ren is idealistic, though only because of the religious values instilled in him by Saint Anthony’s. When Benjamin chides Ren for wanting a family more than anything in the world, he exposes another important theme linked to idealism and pragmatism: the abstract versus the tangible world. Benjamin cannot buy family love for Ren, but he can buy or steal an orange.


Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis