Summary: Chapter 10: The Idiot, sections i.–xvii.

Several months after the dinner party at the Barbours, Theo and Kitsey become engaged, mostly to make Mrs. Barbour happy. They shop for dishes and apartments, and Theo gifts Kitsey his mother’s emerald earrings. He wants to overcome his obsession with Pippa, so he begins taking antidepressants but still feels lost and depressed. Mrs. Barbour tells him that she’s always considered him one of her children. Theo knows he doesn’t love Kitsey, but he does enjoy her company. He often wonders why she shows no sadness about her father’s and brother’s deaths. For months, Theo has ignored letters from Reeve, but worries about the man’s threats. Grisha, the furniture mover, confides to Theo that someone is watching him. One night, Theo lies to Kitsey about being busy and instead goes walking around New York to think through everything on his mind. He decides to call a dealer and buy drugs.

On the street, Theo hears a familiar voice shout. When Theo turns around, he finds Boris. The two friends meet in a bar later and toast to their reunion. Boris reveals he has a wife and two children in Sweden, runs a front cleaning business to cover his illegal activities, travels the world, and has a girlfriend named Myriam. Boris relates that after Theo left Las Vegas, he moved in with Xandra and started taking Larry’s opiates. He sold cocaine, became addicted, but has since recovered. Theo takes Boris to Hobie’s, where he is happy to see Popper. Boris has his driver, Gyuri, take them to a club in Queens. While there, Boris confesses that he stole the painting from Theo one night after Theo showed it to him during a drunken blackout. Boris credits Theo for funding his entire operation because he’s used the painting as collateral for his drug deals. Theo is shocked as he never unwrapped the painting after leaving Las Vegas. He had no idea it was missing. Boris promises to help Theo retrieve the painting. Numb with disbelief, Theo goes to the storage facility and finds a civics workbook, not the painting, wrapped up. Later, Boris tells Theo that he’s sure the painting is in Europe.

Theo is heartsick over everything. He goes to meet Kitsey at the Barbours, where he talks with Mrs. Barbour about Andy and how he was bullied by their classmates, including Tom Cable. Several days later, Boris calls and asks Theo to come with him to meet Horst, an addict and a seller of black-market paintings. Horst lives with other people in a house filled with authentic and fake works of art. Theo and Horst talk about art, and Horst testifies to having seen The Goldfinch, which he calls the most remarkable painting he’s ever held. Boris and Theo leave when one of the young housemates overdoses and needs a shot of Narcan. Boris feels confident that they will find the painting because of his connections with other dealers. 

Summary: Chapter 10: The Idiot, sections xviii.–xxv.

Theo goes to Kitsey’s apartment, but her roommates won’t let him in. He’s upset with them, so he goes walking. On the street, he sees Kitsey kissing Tom Cable. The next day, Boris comes to the shop to tell Theo that he has a good line on the painting but that Theo should steer clear of Reeve. Theo confesses to Boris that he is not in love with Kitsey. That evening, Theo confronts Kitsey about Tom. Kitsey admits that she’s in love with Tom and accuses Theo of being a drug user. They agree to marry anyway as they “work” as a couple and it will make Mrs. Barbour happy. The next day, Theo wakes to find Pippa. She’s come to attend his engagement party the following night. Theo invites her to a movie that night. After the film, they talk in a bar for hours. They talk about Everett, Welty, and how time stopped on the day of the bombing. For Theo, the evening is unreal and perfect.

Anne de Larmessin, Kitsey’s godmother, has arranged the lavish engagement party. Theo arrives drunk, with an Oxy in his pocket, expecting to be unnerved by so many people. One guest, Havistock Irving, pulls Theo aside to tell him that Reeve has information about several pieces that Theo has sold and that Theo should get in touch with Reeve to avoid trouble. Theo then asks Hobie he knows Irving. Hobie explains that he knows him as “Sloane Griscam.” Griscam and his partner, Lucian Race, were “knockers”—people in the trade who cheat and rob the elderly. Welty once testified against them, and Race went to jail. Theo realizes that Race is now Reeve. Theo meets other people at the party, and Boris, who has suddenly shown up, meets Pippa. Boris tells Theo that he must quickly go home and get his passport, for they are leaving for Europe to find the painting. Theo tells Kitsey he must leave on business, that she should cover for him, and that she should keep Irving away from her mother’s house. Theo and Boris leave.

Analysis: Chapter 10

The pace of the action picks up in this, the longest chapter in the novel, as the parts and pieces of the narrative begin to coalesce. The catalyst is Boris, who appears suddenly on a New York City street. The moment when he shouts and Theo recognizes his voice is one of the novel’s big turning points, for it is at this moment that Theo begins to make his peace with The Goldfinch. First, from Boris, Theo learns of the painting’s possible whereabouts, breaking the illusion of it being in his possession. Next, he and Boris research what has happened to the painting through other dealers of black-market art, including the well-informed yet mysterious Horst. The novel begins to come full circle when Boris tells Theo that The Goldfinch is in Europe, maybe in Holland. At the end of the chapter, they are off to Amsterdam, where Chapter 1 began.

The chapter’s title comes from Theo telling Boris that he read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in his Russian literature class, but it is also a metaphor for Theo’s complete misunderstanding about the location of the painting. In the Russian novel, the main character is simple and innocent, yet others think of him as unintelligent. In The Goldfinch, the main character, Theo, is guilty and criminal, yet others think of him as innocent. Again, Tartt uses literature to signal something true about a character. She surrounds her characters and events with props, like artwork hanging on the walls, that clue readers about underlying realities.

Theo’s awareness of things around him grows significantly in this chapter, including the painting, his fiancée, Lucius Reeve, his love for Pippa, his relationship with Hobie, and his understanding of the world. Even Mrs. Barbour reveals something of herself when she tells Theo that she always considered him another son, a sentiment that touches Theo’s heart. For Theo in this chapter, everything is beginning to fall apart—and come together. In section xxiii, he muses that a focus on a small part of the world can help a person understand the whole world, but it is a philosophy hard to stay engaged with for it seems that Theo has lost his focus. Without the painting to ground him, he feels even more untethered than before. The painting, in his words, is his support, vindication, and keystone. Theo uses the words drowned and extinguished to describe how he feels without it, words that recall Andy's, Mr. Barbour’s, both his parents’, and Welty’s sudden deaths. It is this feeling of abject loss that leads Theo back to using drugs.

Similarly, Theo discovers the sham of his relationship with Kitsey Barbour. He has always known that he doesn’t love her the way he loves Pippa, and his date with Pippa after the movie only confirms this. During those few hours, he is as happy and fulfilled as he’s been since his mother’s death. He can be completely honest with Pippa, and she with him. However, being jilted by Kitsey unnerves Theo as he realizes that the shallowness goes both ways. They both harbor secrets from each other, but they go through with the engagement party despite their newly confessed ambivalence. This situation highlights the dichotomy of surface appearances and underlying authenticities. Like the fake furniture that Theo has illicitly sold, there is an appearance that most people accept. However, beneath the exterior is a reality that is solid and undeniable, if only one takes the time and effort to look and understand. The black-market art in Horst’s house is authentic, but there are fake reproductions sold worldwide. Theo’s engagement to Kitsey is fake. His love for Pippa is real. He is not sure yet when it comes to his friendship with Boris.

With the conclusion of this chapter, the novel takes a turn toward the genre of crime thriller set in the underworld of stolen fine art. There are disguises and intrigues. Lucius Reeve is really Lucian Race. Havistock Irving is really Sloane Griscam. And it’s possible, for everything is, as hinted in Chapter 9’s title, that none of these names are real. After all, what Theo believed for years was The Goldfinch, wrapped in a bundle, is really Boris’s old civics book. As Theo and Boris head to Europe, the plot adds another dimension: international whodunnit. Boris has always represented this world to Theo, and now Theo will fly into it too. The painting, Theo’s emotional and physical connection to his mother and his life before the explosion, is lost and needs to be found. Theo couldn’t save his mother, but he hopes to rescue and save The Goldfinch.

Throughout this chapter, the most stable dimension of Theo’s life is his relationship with Hobie, who continues to act as father figure and stalwart friend. Hobie reveals all that he knows about the past and about shady art and antique dealers. Through Hobie, readers learn about what is likely Lucius Reeve’s underlying motivation: revenge against the ones who sent him to jail. When Theo tells Hobie he is leaving for a bit, Hobie reminds him that if Theo ever needs anything, he can always ask. Hobie’s love for Theo is unconditional.