A Tale of Two Cities – Book the First: Recalled to Life Chapters 5–6

Summary: Chapter 5: The Wine-shop

The wine was red wine, and had stained
the ground of the narrow street. . . .
(See Important Quotations Explained)

The setting shifts from Dover, England to Saint Antoine,
a poor suburb of Paris. A wine cask falls to the pavement in the
street and everyone rushes to it. Men kneel and scoop up the wine
that has pooled in the paving stones, while women sop up the liquid
with handkerchiefs and wring them into the mouths of their babies.
One man dips his finger into the “muddy wine-lees” and scrawls the word blood on
a wall.
The wine shop is owned by Monsieur Defarge, a “bull-necked, martial-looking
man of thirty.” His wife, Madame Defarge, sits solemnly behind the
counter, watchful of everything that goes on around her. She signals
to her husband as he enters the wine shop, alerting him to the presence
of an elderly gentleman and a young lady. Defarge eyes the strangers
(they are Lorry and Lucie) but pretends not to notice them, speaking
instead with three familiar customers, each of whom refers to the
other two as “Jacques” (a code name that identifies themselves to
one another as revolutionaries). After Defarge directs the men to
a chamber on the fifth floor and sends them out, Mr. Lorry approaches
from the corner and begs a word with Defarge. The men have a brief
conversation, and soon Defarge leads Lorry and Lucie up a steep,
dangerous rise of stairs. They come to a filthy landing, where the
three men from the wine shop stand staring through chinks in the
wall. Stating that he makes a show of Doctor Manette to a chosen
few “to whom the sight is likely to do good,” Defarge opens the
door to reveal a white-haired man busily making shoes.
Read a translation of
Chapter 5: The Wine-shop →
Chapter 6: The Shoemaker
Manette reports, in a voice gone faint with “solitude
and disuse,” that he is making a lady’s shoe in the “present mode,”
or fashion, even though he has never seen the present fashion. When
asked his name, he responds, “One Hundred and Five, North Tower.”
Lucie approaches. Noticing her radiant golden hair, Manette opens
a knot of rag that he wears around his neck, in which he keeps a
strand of similarly golden curls.
At first, Manette mistakes Lucie for his wife and recalls
that, on the first day of his imprisonment, he begged to be allowed
to keep these few stray hairs of his wife’s as a means of escaping
his circumstances “in the spirit.” Lucie delivers an impassioned
speech, imploring her father to weep if her voice or her hair recalls
a loved one whom he once knew. She hints to him of the home that
awaits him and assures him that his “agony is over.” Manette collapses under
a storm of emotion; Lucie urges that arrangements be made for his
immediate departure for England. Fearing for Manette’s health, Lorry
protests, but Lucie insists that travel guarantees more safety than
a continued stay in Paris. Defarge agrees and ushers the group into
a coach.
Read a translation of
Chapter 6: The Shoemaker →
Analysis: Chapters 5–6
In Chapters 5 and 6,
Dickens introduces the reader to the first of the novel’s two principal
cities: Paris. The scramble for the leaking wine that opens “The
Wine-shop” remains one of the most remembered (and frequently referenced)
passages in the novel. In it, Dickens prepares the sweeping historical
backdrop against which the tale of Lucie and Doctor Manette plays
out. Although the French Revolution will not erupt for another fourteen
years, the broken wine cask conveys the suffering and rage that
will lead the French peasantry to revolt. The scene surrounding
the wine cask contains a nightmarish quality. In clambering to feed
on the dregs, the members of the mob stain themselves with wine.
The liquid smears the peasants’ hands, feet, and faces, foreshadowing
the approaching chaos during which the blood of aristocrats and
political dissidents will run as freely. The ominous scrawling of
the word blood on the wall similarly prefigures the violence.
Dickens here betrays his conflicted ideas regarding the revolution.
While he acknowledges, throughout the novel, the horrible conditions
that led the peasantry to violence, he never condones the peasants’
actions. In his text the mob remains a frightening beast, manifesting
a threat of danger rather than the promise of freedom: “Those who
had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish
smear about the mouth.”
Dickens uses several techniques to criticize the corrupt
circumstances of the peasants’ oppression. He proves a master of
irony and sarcasm, as becomes clear in his many biting commentaries;
thus we read, “[France] entertained herself . . . with such humane
achievements as sentencing a youth to have . . . his body burned
alive”(Book the First, Chapter 1). Dickens
also makes great use of anaphora, a rhetorical device wherein a
word or phrase appears repeated in successive clauses or sentences.
His meditation on hunger, which he cites as a defining impetus behind
the peasants’ imminent uprising, serves as a perfect example of
how the author uses repetition to emphasize his point:
Hunger was pushed out of the tall houses . . . Hunger
was patched into them with straw and rag and wood and paper; Hunger was
repeated in every fragment of the small modicum of firewood that
the man sawed off; Hunger stared down the smokeless chimneys . .
. Hunger was the inscription on the baker’s shelves . . . Hunger
rattled its dry bones among the roasting chestnuts in the turned cylinder;
Hunger was shred into atomies in every farthing porringer of husky
chips of potato. . . . (Chapter 5)
With this repetition, Dickens demonstrates that hunger
dominates every aspect of these peasants’ lives—they cannot do anything without
being reminded of their hunger. The presence of the word hunger at the opening of each clause reflects the fact that hunger is the
peasants’ first thought and first word—they have no means to escape
it. Reading the passage aloud, we become paralleled with the poor.
We encounter “Hunger” at each breath.
In addition to setting the stage for revolution—both the
historical upheaval in France and the more private but no less momentous changes
in his characters’ lives—Dickens establishes the unabashedly sentimental
tone that characterizes many of the relationships in the novel,
especially that between Doctor Manette and Lucie. As she coaxes
her father into consciousness of his previous life and identity, Lucie
emerges as a caricature of an innocent, pure-hearted, and loving
woman. Most modern readers find her speech and gestures rather saccharine:
“And if . . . I have to kneel to my honoured father, and implore
his pardon for having never for his sake striven all day and lain
awake and wept all night . . . weep for it, weep for it!” Indeed,
as a realistically imagined woman grieving over a family tragedy,
Lucie proves unconvincing. Her emotions, her speech, and even her
physical beauty belong to the realm of hyperbole. But Dickens does
not aim for realism: he employs these sorts of exaggerations for
the sake of emphasis and dramatic effect.
The Parisian revolutionaries first began addressing each
of other as “Jacques” during the Jacquerie, a 1358 peasant
uprising against French nobility. The nobles contemptuously referred
to the peasants by the extremely common name of “Jacques” in order
to accentuate their inferiority and deny their individuality. The
peasants adopted the name as a war name. Just as the fourteenth-century
peasants rallied around their shared low birth, so too do Dickens’s
revolutionaries fight as a unified machine of war. For example,
at the storming of the Bastille in Book the Second, Chapter 21,
Defarge cries out, “Work, comrades all, work! Work, Jacques One,
Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques Two Thousand, Jacques
Five-and-Twenty Thousand . . . work!”