A Tale of Two Cities
Book the Second: The Golden Thread Chapters 14–17
Summary: Chapter 14: The Honest Tradesman
One morning outside Tellson’s Bank, Jerry Cruncher sees a funeral pass by. Jerry asks a few questions and learns that the crowd is preparing to bury Roger Cly, a convicted spy and one of the men who testified against Darnay in his court case. Cruncher joins the motley procession, which includes a chimney-sweep, a bear-leader and his mangy bear, and a pieman. After much drinking and carousing, the mob buries Cly and, for sport, decides to accuse passers-by of espionage in order to wreak “vengeance on them.” At home that night, Cruncher once again harangues his wife for her prayers. He then announces that he is going “fishing.” In reality, he goes to dig up Cly’s body in order to sell it to scientists. Unbeknownst to Cruncher, his son follows him to the cemetery, but runs away terrified, believing that the coffin is chasing him. The next day, he asks his father the definition of a “Resurrection-Man”—the term describes men like Cruncher, who dig up bodies to sell to science. He announces his intentions to have this job as an adult.
Summary: Chapter 15: Knitting
In Paris, Defarge enters his wine shop with a mender of roads whom he calls “Jacques.” Three men file out of the shop individually. Eventually, Defarge and the mender of roads climb up to the garret where Doctor Manette had been hidden. There they join the three men who recently exited the shop, and whom Defarge also calls “Jacques.” The mender of roads reports that, a year ago, he saw a man hanging by a chain underneath the Marquis’ carriage. Several months later, he says, he saw the man again, being marched along the road by soldiers. The soldiers led the man to prison, where he remained “in his iron cage” for several days. Accused of killing the Marquis, he stood to be executed as a parricide (one who murders a close relative). According to rumor, petitions soon arrived in Paris begging that the prisoner’s life be spared. However, workmen built a gallows in the middle of town, and soon the man was hanged.
When the mender of roads finishes his recollection, Defarge asks him to wait outside a moment. The other Jacques call for the extermination of the entire aristocracy. One points to the knitting work of Madame Defarge, which, in its stitching, contains an elaborate registry of the names of those whom the revolutionaries aim to kill. He asks if the woman will always be able to decipher the names that appear there. Later that week, Defarge and his wife take the mender of roads to Versailles to see King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. When the royal couple appears, the mender of roads cries “Long live the King!” and becomes so excited that Defarge must “restrain him from flying at the objects of his brief devotion and tearing them to pieces.” This performance pleases the Defarges, who see that their efforts will prove easier if the aristocrats continue to believe in the peasantry’s allegiance.
Summary: Chapter 16: Still Knitting
The Defarges return to Saint Antoine later that evening. A policeman friend warns Defarge that a spy by the name of John Barsad has been sent to their neighborhood. Madame Defarge resolves to knit his name into the register. That night, Defarge admits his fear that the revolution will not come in his lifetime. Madame Defarge dismisses his impatience and compares the revolution to lightning and an earthquake: it strikes quickly and with great force, but no one knows how long it will take to form. The next day, Barsad visits the wine shop. He masquerades as a sympathizer with the revolutionaries and comments on the horrible treatment of the peasants. Knowing that Defarge once worked as Doctor Manette’s servant, he reports that Lucie Manette plans to marry, and that her husband is to be the Marquis’ nephew, Darnay. After Barsad leaves, Madame Defarge adds Darnay’s name to her registry, unsettling Defarge, the once loyal servant of Manette.
Summary: Chapter 17: One Night
It is the eve of Lucie’s marriage to Darnay. Lucie and her father have enjoyed long days of happiness together. Doctor Manette finally has begun to put his imprisonment behind him. For the first time since his release, Manette speaks of his days in the Bastille. In prison, he passed much time imagining what sort of person Lucie would grow up to be. He is very happy now, thanks to Lucie, who has brought him “consolation and restoration.” Later that night, Lucie sneaks down to her father’s room and finds him sleeping soundly.
Analysis: Chapters 14–17
Of the many shadows throughout the novel, that of death looms most largely. Given the novel’s concern with resurrection, death acquires an inevitable presence. Although young Jerry Cruncher’s aborted trip to the cemetery at the heels of his grave-robbing father serves little dramatic purpose, it functions as an important tableau. As the boy runs home with visions in his head of Roger Cly’s coffin chasing behind him, Dickens creates a suggestive symbol of the death that overshadows and pursues everyone.
As critic G. Robert Stange has noted, “the tableau technique” plays an important role in the novel. “Dickens tends throughout to make important episodes into set-pieces that are more visual than strictly dramatic.” Chapter 14 opens with such a tableau—that of Cly’s funeral scene. In the scene’s emphasis on bizarre and freakish imagery, we see a clear example of Dickens’s characteristic sense of the grotesque. The scene’s importance also lies in its depiction of the throng attending Cly’s funeral. Here, Dickens continues his criticism of mob mentality. Although Dickens intends the scene as largely comic, he also prepares the reader for his later, darker scenes of mindless frenzy and group violence in Paris. For example, as Cruncher participates in the burial of a man he does not know, his spirited condemnation of the deceased testifies to the contagious nature of the crowd’s anger and excitement. Indeed, once the body is interred, the mob’s energy remains unexhausted. Thus the group sets off to harass casual passers-by. Dickens later taps into the same frightening group psychology in the tableau that portray the French revolutionaries as they gather around the grindstone (in Book the Third, Chapter 2) and dance the Carmagnole (in Book the Third, Chapter 5).
The comedic atmosphere effected by Cruncher quickly lapses into a tone of ominous danger as the story comes to focus on Madame Defarge. For this woman possesses a vengeance and hatred that exceed all bounds. Indeed, the preceding scene presages her vindictive nature: the funeral-goers’ boisterous accusations of espionage against innocent passers-by, which they voice for the sake of “vengeance,” foreshadow the sweeping tide of hatred that consumes the revolutionaries, and Madame Defarge in particular. Two of the chapters in this section center around her knitting, her symbolic hatred of the aristocracy. When one of the Jacques inquires as to whether Madame Defarge will always be able to decipher this register, his query presages a time in which the woman will seek death even for those objectively innocent of any oppressive behaviors, a time in which her monomaniacal bloodlust will drive her to murder without heed of her scrupulous register.
Dickens derived his knitting motif from historical record: many scholars have recorded that women of the period would often knit as they stood and watched the daily executions. In the hands of Madame Defarge, however, the pastime takes on symbolic significance. In Greek mythology, the Fates were three sisters who controlled human life: one sister spun the web of life, one measured it, and the last cut it. Dickens employs a similar metaphor. As Madame Defarge weaves the names of the condemned into shrouds, her knitting becomes a symbol of her victims’ fate, their death at the hands of a vengeful peasantry.
by Scrapycoco, December 18, 2012
Charles Darnay= Charles Dickens
Jerry Cruncher= Jesus Christ
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by kaykay2016, February 25, 2013
Book the First: Chapter 1: The first sentence is an amazing paradox!!!
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