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 22, 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 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tale-of-Two-Cities/.

A Tale of Two Cities | Book 1, Chapter 5 : The Wine-Shop | Summary

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Summary

A cask of red wine has been broken outside a wine shop, and people have rushed to the scene to drink the spilled wine. It stains the street and the hands and faces of the people drinking it. A tall man dips his finger in the muddied wine and writes "blood" on a wall. The narrator comments, "The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there." He goes on to describe the conditions of the people who live there: hunger, filth, and despair. But, he says, despite all the signs that something bad was coming, "the birds, fine of song and feather, took no warning."

Mr. Jarvis Lorry and Lucie Manette have come to the wine shop of Monsieur Defarge and his wife. They note that the owner and others call one another Jacques. Lorry introduces himself, and Defarge immediately takes him and Lucie out of the shop, into a courtyard, and through an entryway into a building with five floors. The courtyard is filled with refuse and waste, and the stairway is even worse, as each person with a room in the house leaves their trash and the contents of their chamber pots either on the landing or tosses them out their windows. Lucie can barely breathe, and she is so nervous about meeting her father that Monsieur Defarge and Lorry each have to take an arm so she doesn't fall down.

Three men named Jacques are in the hallway, peeking through a door. Lorry asks if Monsieur Defarge is making a show of the poor doctor. Monsieur Defarge says he shows the doctor to people for whom it will do some good, and because Lorry is English, he wouldn't understand. He clears the men away, pulls out a key, and opens the door. Lucie is terrified. Lorry, who has up until this time been repeating the word "business" to keep himself and Lucie from being emotionally overwrought, suddenly has wet cheeks and becomes emotional. When they open the door, there is Dr. Manette, making shoes.

Analysis

In this chapter, the reader is introduced to Monsieur and Madame Defarge, the owners of the wine shop. Monsieur Defarge is Dr. Manette's former servant, who has taken him in after his release from prison. The reader is also introduced to the method by which this band of revolutionaries are able to spread information without incriminating themselves; they all refer to each other as "Jacques" and speak in a code that only they understand. (Dickens most likely used this code name to reference the Jacobin Club, which would become the best-known French revolutionary group, characterized by its adherence to the principle of equality but also its extreme violence.) Madame Defarge says nothing; her strongest reaction is to raise an eyebrow. She just keeps watching and knitting, but remains a noticeable presence.

In this chapter, too, readers first meet Gaspard, the "tall joker" who writes the word "blood" on the wall. All too soon, Gaspard will have his own encounter with blood and become an early casualty of the class war in France.

The poverty and terrible conditions of the peasants are described right down to the smells, so the reader gains an understanding of what it is like to be poor in 18th-century France before the revolution. Dickens is known for his vivid descriptions of poverty in cities, having experienced it himself, and he also did his research on revolutionary-era France to make sure that he got the setting and the place right. By understanding the reprehensible way the poor are treated and the squalor in which they live, readers will also be able to understand why, later in the novel, these same people turn to violence in their revolt against the aristocracy.

There is obviously some connection between the three Jacques and Dr. Manette that is decidedly French and only understandable by those who know what's happening in the streets. It is as if Dr. Manette is some kind of celebrity. Because Dr. Manette was in prison and it seems he's a hero with these commoners, readers may infer he was imprisoned by the aristocracy.

Poor Mr. Lorry reveals through his actions that he is, in fact, emotionally involved with this family. He tries to keep calm and hold Lucie up, but he is unable to control his tears when he sees the place where his friend and client is being kept. When he begins to understand what a shell of his former self Dr. Manette has become, there is "a moisture that [is] not of business shining on his cheek."

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