Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book II, Chapters 15-19
Chapter 15: Knitting
There is an unusual amount of early drinking in the Defarges' wine-shop, despite the fact that Monsieur Defarge is not in. Monsieur Defarge enters with a person who repairs roads and who is apparently named Jacques, whom he leads to the apartment that Doctor Manette used to occupy. Defarge introduces him to the other three men named Jacques. The road-mender recounts the story of how he saw a man hanging by the chain under Monseigneur's carriage. He says that although he had never seen this man before, he recognized him again because of his unusual height. When he was returning home from working on a hillside, he saw the man bound and led by six soldiers. He also claims that the captured man recognized him. The man is lame, and the soldiers drove him along with the butts of their guns through a village full of gawking people and to a prison gate. The road-mender saw him behind bars in the prison on his way to work the next morning. The man has been imprisoned for having allegedly killed Monseigneur, and soldiers have built a gallows for his execution.
The road-mender is asked to leave, and Defarge confers with the other Jacques characters. They decide to register the man as doomed to destruction. One Jacques expresses uncertainty about the safety and secrecy of their register, but Defarge claims that his wife knits it using symbols that no one but herself understands. The two Defarges take the road-mender to see Versailles, where he waves and shouts enthusiastically at royalty and aristocrats. When a man asks Madame Defarge what she is knitting, she answers that she is knitting shrouds. At the end of the spectacle, the Defarges express contempt for the upper classes.
Chapter 16: Still Knitting
A policeman tells Monsieur Defarge that there may be an English spy stationed in Saint Antoine named John Barsad, supplying a physical description of him. They return to the shop and Madame Defarge counts their money. Monsieur Defarge shows some signs of fatigue, and Madame Defarge encourages him, saying that they might not see the revolution in their lifetimes but that they need to help prepare it.
The next day, Madame Defarge recognizes Barsad when he enters the shop. A rose lies beside her on her table, and when he enters she puts it in her hair and everyone else leaves the shop. Barsad chats with her about the cognac he orders, and he tries to trick her into complaining about poverty or about Gaspard's execution. From this reference it becomes clear that Gaspard is the prisoner who was mentioned in the previous chapter. Monsieur Defarge enters the shop and also denies that the village sympathizes with Gaspard. The spy realizes that he is not meeting with much success, so he tries to get a rise out of the Defarges by telling them that he knows about Doctor Manette. He informs them that Lucie has married Darnay and then reveals that Darnay is the nephew of Monseigneur and as such is the new Marquis. They feign indifference, so he leaves.
Chapter 17: One Night
Lucie's father assures her that her relationship with Charles Darnay will not cause divisions between them. He assures her that by enriching her own life she will enrich his. He mentions his imprisonment for the first time, and he tells about how he used to imagine her remembering her father. She cries and says that she thought of him throughout her whole childhood.
The marriage is a small affair, with only Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross as guests, and it does not change Lucie's place of residence. Lucie remains worried about her father, and when she checks on him in the middle of the night she sees that he is sleeping peacefully.
Chapter 18: Nine Days
Everyone is happy on the wedding day, with the exception of Miss Pross, who still thinks that her brother, Solomon, should have been the groom. Mr. Lorry flirts with Miss Pross, reflecting that perhaps he made a mistake by being a bachelor.
Charles Darnay reveals his identity to Doctor Manette, who looks quite white afterward, but the marriage goes ahead. The couple marries and goes on a honeymoon to Wales for nine days, leaving Doctor Manette without his daughter for the first time since he was rescued from Paris. As soon as Lucie leaves, a change comes over her father, and he reverts to his shoemaking and does not recognize Miss Pross. Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross decide to not notify his daughter of the change in her father, and they watch him at night by turns.
Chapter 19: An Opinion
On the tenth morning, Mr. Lorry finds Doctor Manette behaving normally again. Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross decide to proceed as if nothing had happened, but Mr. Lorry presents the Doctor's own case to him as if it were someone else. The Doctor realizes that he has been shoemaking by looking at his own blackened hands, and he acknowledges that his shoemaking equipment should be taken away from him--but without his knowledge. He also explains to Mr. Lorry that "the patient" (himself) is not able to remember what happened during his relapses, and that continuing his professional activities will not affect his condition.
When Doctor Manette leaves the house to visit Lucie and her husband, Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross hack the shoemaking equipment to pieces in the middle of the night. They then burn the pieces in the kitchen fire.
A Tale of Two Cities is divided into three books of unequal length. Their structure is defined by geographical movements between the two cities. The first book is an escape from Paris, and the major arc of the second book is to set up the return to Paris. The third deals with a more difficult, second escape from Paris. An important factor in the emotional nature of Darnay's return to Paris at the end of the second book involves the connections that he has made in London. The name of the second book, "The Golden Thread," refers to Lucie's hold over them all, a pull which Darnay has to resist for the first time in his decision to return to Paris without her. Lucie's pull is outweighed by the loadstone of Darnay's responsibilities in France.
Allusion and symbolism are rife in the novel. There is a highly theatrical element to the way the Defarges give and receive symbols. When Defarge says that the weather is bad, all of the men know to get up and leave the wine-shop. This illustrates not only his power over the small community, but also the premeditated strategy in their plans. Madame Defarge keeps a register of those who have done wrong and those who are marked to be killed in her knitting, using patterns which are indecipherable to anyone else. The importance of symbols to the Defarges' interactions reflects a general preoccupation of the revolutionaries. To mark their difference from the previous regime, the revolutionaries began marking the years after the revolution as Year One, Year Two, Year Three (etc.) of the Republic.
Dickens reiterates several of his themes in this chapter, namely those of water, time, and the ferocious nature of the mob. Gaspard is killed over a fountain, as his son was; this will inspire the revolutionaries to create their own sea and reach out for fountains of blood. The execution of Gaspard has its own place and analogue in historical time - it reflects the execution of Damiens, who tried to overthrow his own king a few years ago. The Defarges take the road-mender to Versailles to show him exactly whom he should hate. The very crowd that wildly celebrates the king and queen will rip them apart in the future.
One of the characters who experiences the most growth is the mender of roads. We see him now in the first days of his revolutionary fervor. Right now he is still not fully involved in the revolutionary plot - he still wears the blue cap of pre-Revolutionary France, and he blindly follows the Jacques in their plots. Later we will see him change from this quiet, innocent man to one of the bloodthirsty leaders of the Revolution.
In Chapter 15, Dickens foreshadows the beginnings of revolution with an image of the accused man being dragged along the road. The language that the road-mender uses to describe the sight of the man is almost supernatural, describing the people as having long, giant-like shadows. The soldiers that make up the man's escort taunt him for being lame, and his face is bloodied. The man begins to take on a Christ-like character when he is dragged through the village with a crowd watching. His reluctance and victimhood strongly resemble Jesus bearing the cross on the way to crucifixion. The man symbolizes the sacrifice of the lower classes at the hands of French aristocrats.
Madame Defarge is the dominant character of Chapter 16, and she holds the same role in Paris that Lucie does in London - she is the center of everything, the thread that holds everyone together. As Lucie unites everyone with her threads of hair, Madame Defarge unites everyone with her woven threads. Yet the women serve as opposing forces. As Lucie binds everyone through her love, Madame Defarge binds everyone through her hatred of the nobility. Lucie is the nurturer and protecting woman, while Madame Defarge knits only to serve as a cover for the Revolution.
Dickens uses various literary allusions in elaborating Madame Defarge's story. The ties between Madame Defarge and Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth are very strong in this chapter, with the "frightfully grand woman" (as Defarge terms his wife) urging Defarge himself not to lose sight of his murderous goals. She demonstrates her violence by aggressively tying up her money in a piece of cloth as she describes how her husband should crush his enemies. This pattern echoes the scene in Macbeth when Lady Macbeth urges her husband to kill King Duncan, taunting him with his own uncertainty (which he experiences as cowardice).
Madame Defarge's knitting also invokes classical mythology. The patterns that she knits hold significance in terms of the future of the people around her. Dickens directly and repetitively compares her to the Fates. The Fates are three goddesses of Greek mythology who control human lives, and they too were often pictured knitting. They included Clotho, who spun the web of life, Lachesis, who measured the length of it, and Atropos who snipped it short. Because Madame Defarge is powerful in the revolutionary movement, she holds powers similar to those of the Fates.
In a novel full of conflict and turbulence, Chapter 17 provides a rare bit of restfulness. Even so, Dickens keeps his audience engaged through foreshadowing about something ominous about to happen to the family that has finally found happiness. The dominant image in the chapter is of the moon, with the Doctor and his daughter having their conversation outdoors in the moonlight. The narrator reflects that moonlight, like the passage of human life, is invariably sad. This brings the reader away from the increased sentimentalism of the chapter and back to the sad reality that there are still unresolved problems in the novel to threaten the Manettes.
The undefined threat in this chapter is so strong that it affects Lucie. When she goes to check on her father, she is "not free from unshaped fears." The fears remain nameless and shapeless, but they take form very quickly in the following chapters. The main plot element of Chapter 17, however, is that Lucie's father does not object to her marriage. This point clarifies the supposition that Darnay alone is not the threat that hangs over their family.
Lucie's importance as "the golden thread" is further demonstrated by her absence, moreso than in the previous sentimental scenes with her father. The change in Doctor Manette is made more painful by the earlier description of his rescue as a resurrection. His reversion to his jailtime behavior is therefore likened to a second death. The link to his prison days is so strong that he works on the very same woman's shoes that he had left unfinished.
In accordance with the religious imagery surrounding Doctor Manette's resurrection from the dead, he is described in biblical terms in Chapter 18. "Into his face, the bitter waters of captivity had worn" is a reference to Psalm 126, in which God is asked to "Turn again our captivity ... as the streams in the South," and Psalm 137, which reads: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." These Psalms are both considered to be written by a singer in exile, which highlights Doctor Manette's imprisonment as not merely an incarceration but an exile from his family.
In Chapter 19, the violence of the destruction of the shoemaking equipment, although it has a farcical character, foreshadows the later violence in the novel. That the Doctor's associates do the deed late in the night makes Miss Pross and Mr. Lorry feel like accomplices in a horrible crime, even though they are trying to help the Doctor. Their guilt pales beside the horrible brutality of a number of real crimes in this novel, but Dickens makes the comparison nevertheless, calling the bench "the body."
That this "crime" is upsetting for Miss Pross sheds light on how unprepared she will be to commit a real crime (albeit in self defense) at the close of the novel. Dickens readies his reader for this role for Miss Pross, describing her at the shoemaking bench "as if she were assisting a murder-for which, indeed, in her grimness, she was no unsuitable figure." Miss Pross is developed here again as a very moral character. She will prove, however, that she loves her Ladybird enough to engage in actions on the moral fringe in order to protect her.
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