A Tale of Two Cities – Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 5–6

Summary: Chapter 5: The Jackal
Sydney Carton, the “idlest and most unpromising of men,”
makes his way from the tavern to Mr. Stryver’s apartment. The men
drink together and discuss the day’s court proceedings. Stryver,
nicknamed “the lion,” compliments his friend, “the jackal,” for
the “rare point” that he made regarding Darnay’s identification.
However, he laments Carton’s moodiness. Ever since their days in
school together, Stryver observes, Carton has fluctuated between
highs and lows, “now in spirits and now in despondency!” Carton
shrugs off Stryver’s accusation that his life lacks a unified direction.
Unable to match Stryver’s vaulting ambition, Carton claims that
he has no other choice but to live his life “in rust and repose.”
Attempting to change the subject, Stryver turns the conversation
to Lucie, praising her beauty. Carton dismisses her as a “golden-haired
doll,” but Stryver wonders about Carton’s true feelings for her.
Read a translation of
Chapter 5: The Jackal →
Summary: Chapter 6: Hundreds of People
Four months later, Mr. Lorry, now a trusted friend of
the Manette family, arrives at Doctor Manette’s home. Finding Manette
and his daughter not at home, he converses with Miss Pross. They
discuss why the doctor continues to keep his shoemaker’s bench.
Their conversation also touches on the number of suitors
who come to call on Lucie. Miss Pross complains that they come by
the dozen, by the hundred—all “people who are not at all worthy
of Ladybird.” In Miss Pross’s opinion, the only man worthy of Lucie
is her own brother, Solomon Pross, who, she laments, disqualified himself
by making a certain mistake. Lorry knows, however, that Solomon
is a scoundrel who robbed Miss Pross of her possessions and left
her in poverty. He goes on to ask if Manette ever returns to his
shoemaking, and Pross assures him that the doctor no longer thinks
about his dreadful imprisonment.
Lucie and Manette return, and soon Darnay joins
them. Darnay relates that a workman, making alterations to a cell
in the Tower of London, came upon a carving in the wall: “D I G.”
At first, the man mistook these for some prisoner’s initials, but
he soon enough realized that they spelled the word dig. Upon digging,
the man discovered the ashes of a scrap of paper on which the prisoner
must have written a message. The story startles Manette, but he
soon recovers.
Carton arrives and sits with the others near a window
in the drawing room. The footsteps on the street below make a terrific echo.
Lucie imagines that the footsteps belong to people that will eventually
enter into their lives. Carton comments that if Lucie’s speculation
is true, then a great crowd must be on its way.
Read a translation of
Chapter 6: Hundreds of People →
Analysis: Chapters 5–6
Dickens devotes Chapter 5 to the
character of Sydney Carton, whom he nicknames “the jackal.” Given
the secondary meaning of the term—an accomplice in the commission
of menial or disreputable acts—the name seems fitting. Alongside
his colleague Stryver, Carton seems little more than an assistant.
He lacks ambition; in the courtroom he spends his time staring at
the ceiling; outside of it, he spends his time getting drunk. Carton
accepts his pathetic state—he says to Stryver matter-of-factly,
“you have fallen into your rank, and I have fallen into mine.” Yet,
for all of his supposed indifference, he betrays his desire for
a better, more exalted life. Carton alludes several times to the
respectable life that he might have lived. At the end of Chapter 4,
he admits to hating Darnay because the man reminds him of what he
could have been. He echoes this sentiment in Chapter 5,
telling Stryver, “I thought I should have been much the same sort
of fellow [as Darnay], if I had had any luck.” These
feelings evidence his resentful awareness of Darnay as his double—a
successful and happy double, and thus a mocking one. Carton views
Darnay as a concrete manifestation of a life he might have led,
a life preferable to his own. The closing of the chapter alludes
to the secret longings of a man who will not admit to having any:
In the fair city of this vision, there were
airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him,
gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope
that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone. Climbing
to a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his
clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears.

A great gulf exists between the life that Carton leads
and the life that he imagines for himself, between the type of man
that he is and the type of man that he dreams of being. Carton’s
complex and conflicted inner life paves the way for his dramatic
development, which eventually elevates him out of his jackal status.
Dickens employs masterful foreshadowing in Chapter 6,
as he uses these scenes both to hint at Carton’s eventual ascendance
into glory and to anticipate two vital plot turns. The discovery
of the mysterious letter in the Tower of London, and Manette’s distress upon
hearing of it, foreshadows the moment when, during a later trial,
the prosecution will confront the doctor with a letter he wrote while
imprisoned in the Bastille. As the second trial forms the dramatic
core of the latter half of the novel, the discovery of this second letter
forms a crucial part of the plot and dictates the course of the characters’
lives. By introducing the story of a first and parallel letter,
Dickens prepares the reader for the discovery of the second. As soon
as the second letter surfaces, the reader will instantly recognize it
as important. The second event that Dickens foreshadows is the French
Revolution itself. The “hundreds of people” to which the title of
Chapter 6 owes its name refers not to Lucie’s
suitors (whose numbers Miss Pross clearly exaggerates) but to the
multitude of angry, mutinous revolutionaries who, as Lucie and Carton
foretell, will soon march into the characters’ lives.