A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 1, Chapter 6 : The Shoemaker | Summary



Dr. Manette is a ragged, gaunt old man, with crazy white hair and a choppy white beard, huddled over the work of making a lady's shoe. Monsieur Defarge asks him about his shoemaking, and the doctor says he asked to be allowed to teach himself and has been making shoes ever since. Defarge points out he has visitors, but Dr. Manette has a hard time pulling himself away from his shoemaking. Monsieur Defarge asks him his name, but the doctor gives the location of his cell instead: "One Hundred and Five, North Tower."

Mr. Jarvis Lorry asks Dr. Manette if he recognizes him and if he knows that Defarge is his old servant. Dr. Manette exhibits fleeting recognition, but goes back to making the shoe. Suddenly, he sees the bottom of Lucie Manette's skirt and looks up to see her face. He is shocked. As she sits down next to him, he pulls out a scrap of cloth on a string around his neck. He has been allowed to carry with him a few long golden hairs from his wife's head that he found on his shirt the day he was imprisoned. He compares it to Lucie's hair, and it is the same. He asks her who she is, and she won't tell him, but holds him and promises she will take him to London and take care of him. She orders everyone out of the room to prepare food, clothing, and transportation out of France. Once her father has been fed and all has been prepared, Lucie, Lorry, and Dr. Manette get into their coach. Dr. Manette calls "for his shoemaking tools and the unfinished shoes," and Madame Defarge fetches them. They leave for London, and Lorry again hears the question "I hope you care to be recalled to life?" and the familiar answer "I can't say."


At the beginning of the chapter, readers receive their first impression of Dr. Manette. He is doing complicated handiwork in the dark, oblivious to the fact that people have entered his room. Why is he in darkness? Why doesn't he keep the doors open to let in some light? He may be so used to being in darkness in his cell that he can't tolerate any other environment. His garret duplicates a prison-like atmosphere: a tiny space with almost no light. He is also unused to seeing people and has lost the ability to react normally when people come into the room. The reader receives a clear picture of just how emotionally damaged a person can be by spending so many years in prison.

Dickens would likely have read the works of Charles Lucas, who was the inspector general of French prisons from 1830 to 1865. Lucas was an advocate of abolishing the death penalty, as well as a proponent of using solitary confinement only for prisoners who were waiting for trial or whose sentences were a year or less in duration. He wrote more than 100 works on the prison systems in Europe and the United States. Lucas knew that prisoners in earlier times who were put in solitary confinement for their entire sentences, like Dr. Manette, would lose their sanity, having nothing to do and no one to talk to. Guards in French prisons were also corrupt and would use corporal punishment at random on prisoners. The reaction of prisoners to long sentences was often insanity or suicide, or both. In addition, sanitary conditions in prisons were not optimal, and prisoners were likely to catch any number of infectious diseases and die before they could be released.

Despite her earlier fears, as soon as she meets her father, Lucie Manette takes charge. She has a calming effect on the old doctor, and her sudden change from a fainting flower to a strong, confident woman is remarkable. She has always been taken care of and sheltered by her governess, but now she has someone to take care of and assumes the role quite easily. Dr. Manette's fragile state is a perfect foil for Lucie's newfound strength.

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