Skip over navigation

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 5–6

Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 1–4

Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 7–9

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.

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.

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.

Are you ready for the test?
Quick Quiz   →

More Help

Previous Next
Doubles

by Scrapycoco, December 18, 2012

Charles Darnay= Charles Dickens
Jerry Cruncher= Jesus Christ

8 Comments

68 out of 284 people found this helpful

Paradox

by kaykay2016, February 25, 2013

Book the First: Chapter 1: The first sentence is an amazing paradox!!!

2 Comments

18 out of 34 people found this helpful

Trailer

by whathastheworldcometo, March 25, 2013

I found a great summary trailer of A Tale of Two Cities on Youtube! >> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA10a83qY6A

0 Comments

6 out of 12 people found this helpful

See all 12 readers' notes   →

Follow Us