A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5: The Wine-Shop

Outside Monsieur Defarge's wine-shop in Paris, a cask of wine is dropped and broken. The wine spills over the cobblestones, and people stop what they were doing to drink the wine off the street. When the wine runs out and people return to the activities of their daily lives, the mark of hunger is visible on all of them. Even the street signs reflect this hunger, with the butcher's sign painted with only a scrap of meat, the baker's with a tiny loaf. The only thing with the appearance of strength and robustness are weapons: axes, knives, guns.

Monsieur Defarge watches the incident with the wine cask, talking to Gaspard, who dips his finger in the wine and mud and writes "blood" on a wall. Defarge wipes this word away. When Defarge returns to his shop, his wife coughs slightly and gestures with her eyebrow that he should take a look around the store. He sees Mr. Lorry and Miss Manette seated in his store, as well as three men apparently named Jacques, which is also Monsieur Defarge's own name. He sends the three to view a room that they wish to see, and Mr. Lorry requests a word with him. He reveals his and Miss Manette's identities and asks to see Dr. Manette, and Defarge accordingly conducts them to the fifth-floor apartment.

Mr. Lorry is displeased both by the fact that Dr. Manette is locked in, and that they can see the three Jacqueses spying on him through chinks in the wall. Miss Manette enters although she is afraid. She finds her white-haired father in a garret, making shoes.

Chapter 6: The Shoemaker

Dr. Manette is absorbed in making shoes, and at first he hardly responds to the arrival of his visitors. When asked his name, Dr. Manette replies: "One Hundred and Five, North Tower." He claims to have learned shoemaking "here," illustrating that he believes he is still imprisoned.

Although he only partially recognizes Mr. Lorry, Dr. Manette is stricken by the sight of his daughter. He identifies her golden curls as the same hair that he wears in a rag around his neck as a forlorn souvenir of his infant daughter. She convinces him that she is indeed her daughter by emotionally commanding him to weep for the past wrongs that they have both undergone.

Preparations are made at his daughter's request to remove Dr. Manette immediately from Paris. As he is carried from the garret to the coach, he expresses confusion that he is not leaving the prison that he thought he was in, not finding a drawbridge where he has expected.

The first book ends with Mr. Lorry wondering what powers could be restored to a resurrected man, versus what was lost to him in his burial.


Chapter 5 is the first chapter in the novel to be set in France, and it introduces themes that will be associated with this country through the rest of the novel. The setting involves unutterable misery and filth, giving a motive for the class struggle that is later to take place at this location. Dickens dwells especially on the appalling condition of Defarge's apartment, a "foul nest" with refuse lying around, and a place where the atmosphere is generally dark and poisonous.

The spilled red wine is an obvious cipher for spilled blood, and Dickens uses the crowd's enthusiasm for its spillage as an indication of how they will greet the coming revolution. They are wine-thirsty and bloodthirsy. Their reaction to the spill is notable not only for its eagerness but also for the social ties that it creates among the lower class--who rarely, if ever, drink wine. Under its influence, they sing, dance, and drink further to one another's health. In this scene the reason for the revolution is clear, as Dickens artfully describes the conditions of the poor. Before the wine is spilled, and after the wine is gone, the people return to their states of hunger, to their brutal manual work for no pay, to their gloomy and lonely states of existence. The spilling of the wine is the one thing that gives these people spirit. Yet it also takes away a portion of their humanity. When they finish drinking the wine, they become animals, "acquiring a tigerish smear about the mouth." The very thing that brings them together also makes them bestial and dangerous.

All the men of this chapter are not actually named Jacques. Instead, the name serves as a code word that identifies all the followers of the coming revolution. Here the revolutionaries actually have an elaborate code that reveals itself in subtle ways. For instance, later Madame Defarge's coughs and hair ornaments mean that someone dangerous is in the shop. Because the underground movements can work in secret codes and ways, they become more dangerous.

Monsieur Defarge's character is evident in his face. For Dickens, the distance between the eyes is a crucial indicator of whether a man is a criminal or not. Monsieur Defarge's eyes are set a good distance apart, and it is later revealed that Madame Defarge encourages his criminal activities. Madame Defarge is a much more interesting and mysterious character than her husband. Her every gesture is watched by her husband and the other patrons of the bar, she is the one who gives him cues, and it is her initiative that guides the course of events.

Mr. Lorry's agitation at the breaches of convention in Dover increase multifold, since there is no social pattern for the extraordinary introduction that takes place in Paris. Monsieur Defarge takes care to follow social patterns, but he does so in a way that reveals his more sinister intentions. When he recognizes Miss Manette as his former master's daughter, Defarge bends on one knee, putting her hand to his lips. It is "a gentle action not at all gently done." In an ordered world, the gentility of an action reflects the gentility of its intention; here, Dickens shows that this balance is undermined. Mr. Lorry tries to reassure Miss Manette, repeating the words "courage" and "business"--which to him are related and reassuring concepts. His constant repetition of the word "business" is farcical, given the very un-businesslike role in which he once again finds himself.

Chapter 6 is concerned primarily with Dr. Manette's affliction. His is the first and clearest representation of resurrection, which continues to be a major theme in the novel. Miss Manette's fear that she was being brought to meet her father's ghost rather than her father is somewhat justified by his spectral appearance and voice, which had "lost the life and resonance of a human voice." The immediate reaction of those closest to him is one of surprise and horror rather than surprise and delight (compare the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels). The liveliest-looking part of Dr. Manette's face is that which the author has previously deemed the most important: his "exceedingly bright eyes." Here lie the seeds of recovery for the resurrected man.

Lightness overcoming darkness is a consistent pattern in this chapter, and it represents his daughter's role in his life from this point forward. In the previous chapter, the garret was described as extremely dark, but the entrance of the visitors now causes a "broad ray of light" to fall into the garret. Details of her father's person include his lead-colored (prison-colored) nails, which contrast with Miss Manette's "fair" and free visage. That she will remain impervious to his darkness, and that she will affect him with her own light rather than the reverse, is depicted in the passage: "His cold white head mingled with her radiant hair, which warmed and lighted it as though it were the light of Freedom shining on him." The very fact that Manette is alive is a great miracle, but his resurrection is not complete until he is exposed to the lightness of his daughter.

The touching scene between Doctor Manette and his daughter is typical of the sentimental novel. The genre of the sentimental novel was popular in Britain in the eighteenth century. It usually depicted virtue in affliction, which seldom fails to elicit emotional responses from readers. Some of the most famous sentimental novels prior to the explosion of literary Romanticism include Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey and Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield. A family reunited after years of suffering would be a typical theme of these novels, as would a beautiful but afflicted heroine.

Lucie's hair in particular will return as a common theme. As one will see through the novel, Lucie will be the one factor that links all the disparate lives together; this linkage is represented by the golden strands of her hair. Here the hair physically links her to her father and to the past. Upon seeing the strands of her hair, Dr. Manette believes that Lucie is actually her long dead mother, who also had long, golden hair.

Although Dickens has set part of Book One in France, the great majority of the Book has taken place in England. This is part of an overarching mirror image. Book Two will be the linking Book, with actions taking place in both England and France. In Book Three, all the action will take place in France. The relative peacefulness of England and all it represents in this Book can be compared to the wildness of France in the Third Book.