A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 6 : Hundreds of People | Summary

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Summary

Four months after the trial, the Manettes are living in Soho, a quiet, still somewhat rural area of London, where Dr. Manette has set up his practice. Mr. Jarvis Lorry has become a regular visitor. One Sunday afternoon, he arrives to find that the Manettes are out, and strolls through the rooms. In the doctor's bedroom, he notices "the disused shoemaker's bench and tray of tools" and wonders "that [the doctor] keeps that reminder of his sufferings about him."

He is interrupted by the brusque Miss Pross, who tells Lorry she is worried that dozens of people might look in on her "Ladybird"—the nickname she uses for Lucie Manette—none of whom are worth Lucie's attention. Then she upgrades that statement to "hundreds." Eventually, Miss Pross confides that "There never was, nor will be, but one man worthy of Ladybird, ... my brother Solomon, if he hadn't made a mistake in life." Lorry knows, though, that Solomon stole everything from his sister and gambled it away; her continuing devotion fuels his good opinion of her. Lorry asks Miss Pross if Dr. Manette has given up his shoemaking obsession. Miss Pross says she believes he has but that he thinks of it often. Lorry wonders whether the doctor "has any theory ... relative to the cause of his being so oppressed; perhaps, even to the name of his oppressor." Miss Pross confides that Lucie "thinks he has," but that she herself believes "he is afraid of the whole subject." She says he "lost himself" in prison and might not regain his sanity if he does anything that reminds him of his incarceration.

The doctor and Lucie return, and the four of them sit down to eat a delicious dinner prepared by Miss Pross. After dinner, as they are drinking wine in the garden, rather than the predicted "hundreds," only Charles Darnay arrives. He tells a story about a prisoner in the Tower of London. The prisoner had scratched the word "DIG" on the stone in his cell; workmen dug up the floor and found the ashes of a letter and of a small bag. The prisoner had buried whatever he burned so that no one would find it while he was there. The doctor suddenly looks very ill. He claims a sudden rain has startled him, and they go inside.

Sidney Carton arrives, and they all sit by the open windows, listening to raindrops on the pavement. Darnay says that the sounds bring to mind the echoes of footsteps. Because they live in a secluded corner, they can hear the footsteps of people running to get out of the rain but can't see anyone. Lucie suggests they might "be the echoes of all the footsteps that are coming ... into our lives." Carton says in that case, "there is a great crowd coming."

At 1:00 a.m., Jerry Cruncher arrives to walk Lorry home, and Lorry says it has been a night "to bring the dead out of their graves." Jerry claims never to have seen a night that would do that. Lorry bids goodnight to Darnay and Carton, wondering if they will "ever see such a night again, together." The narrator comments, "Perhaps, see the great crowd of people with its rush and roar, bearing down upon them, too."

Analysis

From Dr. Manette's expression, it seems he has knowledge—or at least a suspicion—about Charles Darnay that no one else has. His extreme reaction to Darnay's story hints at the notion that something belonging to Dr. Manette, some piece of writing, may be found in his own cell later in the novel. The doctor was compelling enough to get someone to give him implements to make shoes in prison, so it's not a stretch to imagine that he also kept a written record of his thoughts in prison and perhaps of the reasons he is there. Because he was under guard all the time, he would have had to hide anything he wrote, or it would have been confiscated and his punishment perhaps increased.

The talk of crowds of people is also an interesting turn of events. Dickens suggests what will happen later in the novel by saying that crowds of people might swoop in to bear down on the Manettes, Darnay, Carton, and Lorry. He has the narrator wonder if a "great crowd of people with its rush and roar" would descend upon them. Who might that crowd be? In revolutionary France, it can only be one group of people: the revolutionaries themselves, who have become bloodthirsty in their misery and desperation.

Mr. Jarvis Lorry's words to Jerry Cruncher that it has been a night "to bring the dead out of their graves" returns to the theme of resurrection. Jerry is a bit taken aback by this idea, which seems to allude to his nighttime activities: As the reader learns later, he moonlights as a body snatcher, digging bodies out of fresh graves. If the dead did come out of their graves, Jerry would be out of a job, and he certainly doesn't want to contemplate that possibility.

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