A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 1, Chapter 2 : The Mail | Summary

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Summary

The chapter opens with a description of just how tenuous one's safety is on any given road in England in 1775. Several passengers are on a mail carriage going from London to Dover, and everyone suspects everyone else of being a thief. The coachman and the guard hear the galloping hooves of a horse behind them and are prepared to fight, but the person on the horse is a messenger from Tellson's Bank in London, asking for a Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Mr. Lorry is in the carriage, and the messenger, Jerry, hands him a note. The note reads, "Wait at Dover for Mam'selle." Lorry tells Jerry to take back the message "Recalled to Life." Jerry is thoroughly confused, but agrees to take the message back to the bank.

Analysis

In this chapter, the reader is introduced to Jarvis Lorry, a banker, and Jerry Cruncher, his messenger. Lorry's demeanor, as the coach is stopped for Jerry, is calm, though everyone else in the carriage is terrified that they're going to be robbed. Jerry's demeanor is blustery and befuddled by the message he has to carry back to the bank, but he does it anyway, showing that he's a loyal employee.

Usually, if there is a message passed to a character in a novel and the message doesn't make a lot of sense, readers can safely assume that this message is going to resurface later. It may even become a very important part of the novel. Through the message that Jerry takes back to the bank, the narrator alludes to a major event that begins the novel's plot: A client of Lorry's has been released from prison after a very long time. The note also introduces the theme of resurrection—coming back to life, in the metaphorical sense. This theme will later resurface in related subplots. In this chapter, it is Lorry's client who is being recalled to life after having been gone from it for so long.

The wording of the note is mysterious, rousing curiosity in the reader. Referred to as a cliffhanger because it leaves out important details to heighten suspense, this well-known technique was used by Dickens and other writers of his time to get people to purchase the next installment of their novels. Most novels in Dickens's era were serialized chapter by chapter in magazines or pamphlets, so writers had to keep their readers coming back for more. Because each chapter ended with a little mystery, the reader bought the next chapter to find out what happened.

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