A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Course Hero. "A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide." September 15, 2016. Accessed July 19, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tale-of-Two-Cities/.

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Course Hero, "A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide," September 15, 2016, accessed July 19, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tale-of-Two-Cities/.

A Tale of Two Cities | Book 1, Chapter 3 : The Night Shadows | Summary

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Summary

Stopping at various pubs along the way, Jerry Cruncher considers the message he carries and finds himself "perplexed" by it. Jerry suspects Mr. Jarvis Lorry may have been drinking. As he returns to Tellson's Bank that night, his uneasiness over the message has him jumping at shadows.

Meanwhile, Lorry is dozing in the mail carriage, dreaming throughout the night that he is speaking to a 45-year-old man who has been imprisoned for 18 years. The face changes in each dream, but each time it is a man in some stage of despair and lethargic confusion. Lorry asks the man, "I hope you care to live?" and the answer is always "I can't say." The reader is told that Lorry is going to dig up a prisoner who has been "buried alive" for 18 years.

Analysis

In the first paragraph, Dickens breaks through to address readers directly with a reflection on the separateness of individuals and how each is a mystery to the others. He uses the first person:

A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

Such an interruption in the narration is known as authorial intrusion and was typical of Dickens's style.

This chapter gives the reader insight into what it must be like to be held prisoner in the late 18th century, not only separated from one's family, but locked up so securely that it's like stepping into a grave. The emotional wear and tear that such a long prison term inflicts on the prisoner makes him question whether he even wants to live. But this particular prisoner is about to be freed from the "grave" of his prison cell, bringing back the theme of resurrection from the dead. Because he has been gone for 18 years, it is possible that people in his life will have assumed he's dead. After all, prisons in France at the time were not places where people were well taken care of, and it was not unusual for prisoners to die in their cells.

Jarvis Lorry's dreams about this prisoner reveal a little more about his character. Supposedly all business, he still can't stop thinking about what it will be like to go rescue a man who has been "buried alive for 18 years." By describing his fitful dreams, the narrator shows the reader that Lorry has a caring heart underneath his stuffy banker exterior.

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