The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Characters

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Ren

Ren is the protagonist of The Good Thief. Shortly after birth, he was abandoned at St. Anthony’s orphanage without his left hand. Since then, he has had no idea about his background or identity aside from the letters R, E, and N, which were stitched into his collar. Ren dreams of living with a family, especially with a mother to take care of him. Because of this lack of identity, Ren is quite a moldable twelve-year-old child when Benjamin Nab adopts him.

Unfortunately, Ren is exposed to a great deal of bad behavior. Benjamin and his partner, Tom, are thieves. They are willing to take care of Ren because they feel that Ren’s missing hand will better enable them to con people out of their money. Although Benjamin and Tom promote a lifestyle free from personal attachments and obligations, guilt and regrets, or upright contributions to society, Ren seems to effortlessly form emotional attachments and friendships throughout the text. When he meets Mrs. Sands, she immediately begins to care for Ren and he returns her loyalty, particularly when she falls ill with fever. Ironically, it is Ren’s ability to bring out the tenderness in others that helps Benjamin con people.

Ren has the ability to find the good in people that society perhaps otherwise deems as useless. At St. Anthony’s, Ren’s best friends are the twins Brom and Ichy, who are considered bad luck and are unlikely to be adopted. Outside the orphanage, Ren finds a surrogate mother in Mrs. Sands, a woman who can only speak in a yell. He takes care of Mrs. Sands’s brother, a dwarf who lives on the roof of her boarding house. Ren befriends a murderous giant who agrees to stop killing people to please Ren. Finally, Ren befriends a girl known as “Harelip” who later reveals that her name is Jenny. Ren’s compassion helps these people find their own sense of worth and often allows them to lead happier lives.

Although he is surrounded by terrible behavior and morally bankrupt actions, Ren remains a “good thief.” He is rewarded for this by the end of the novel in several ways. Thanks to Benjamin, he inherits Silas McGinty’s fortune and factory. He also discovers the identity of his mother (Silas’s sister) and his father (Benjamin Nab). By the end of the novel, it is revealed that the REN stitched into his shirt collar was not his name but rather his initials (the N was in fact an incomplete M). Ren’s real name is revealed to be Reginald Edward McGinty. Ren forms a new family with Mrs. Sands.

Benjamin Nab

When Benjamin Nab is first introduced, his character is morally ambiguous. He is a charming man who tells lies to get ahead, and although he claims to be Ren’s lost brother at St. Anthony’s orphanage, he immediately reveals the lie to Ren once they have made their escape. Benjamin’s illicit activities—which are extensive—may not be helping him get ahead as much as he would like. He and his partner, Tom, are always scheming, but they often spend or drink away their profits. Benjamin in particular realizes this while polishing his decrepit boots, which is why he agrees to take up grave robbing for Doctor Milton.

Although Benjamin seems uncaring, he is actually trying to help Ren. Benjamin spends much of the novel playing a father’s role for Ren, and in the end it is revealed that he is actually Ren’s biological father. It is also revealed that Benjamin has orchestrated events so that Ren can inherit Silas McGinty’s fortune....

(This entire section contains 859 words.)

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Still, Benjamin has committed a number of crimes, including desertion and impersonating an officer of the law, and he is forced to go into hiding at the end of the novel. The novel’s title certainly applies to Ren, but it is not until the end of the novel that readers learn that it may apply to Benjamin as well.

Mrs. Sands

Benjamin Nab spends most of The Good Thief teaching Ren to steal and to reject bonds of affection and obligation. If Nab spends most of the novel as an immoral surrogate father to Ren, Mrs. Sands is Ren’s caring surrogate mother. Ren meets Mrs. Sands when he, Benjamin, and Tom first arrive in North Umbrage at Mrs. Sands’s boarding house. Although she at first decides not to take in Benjamin and Tom, she relents when she sees Ren.

Mrs. Sands immediately begins to care for Ren, bathing him and providing him with new clothing that fits him. Although Mrs. Sands has a lot of compassion, she is not to be trifled with. Armed with her broom and her powerful voice, she often attacks guests that disrupt the cleanliness and order of her house. But she takes care of her guests, including a dwarf (her brother) who lives on the roof. When Mrs. Sands falls ill with fever, Ren immediately decides to take her to the hospital and uses all of Benjamin’s grave digging money to pay for her care and treatment.

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