A Tale of Two Cities

by: Charles Dickens

Book the Third: The Track of a Storm Chapters 1–5

Summary Book the Third: The Track of a Storm Chapters 1–5

Shadows constitute another symbol that permeates the entire novel, here providing the subheading for Chapter 3. Dickens uses light and dark much as a painter might, infusing his composition with a wide range of tone and depth. The reader can observe Dickens’s use of light and shadow at various instances in the novel. Notably, the chilling opening of the novel, in which the mail coach weaves its way through the darkness and fog, sets a tone of ominous mystery for the story; conversely, the sweet sunrise that opens Book the Second, Chapter 18, lends Lucie’s wedding day an air of promise and happiness. In the current section, Madame Defarge casts a menacing shadow:

The shadow attendant on Madame Defarge and her party seemed to fall so threatening and dark on the child, that her mother instinctively kneeled on the ground beside her, and held her to her breast. The shadow attendant on Madame Defarge and her party seemed then to fall, threatening and dark, on both the mother and the child.

The narrator’s focus on the looming presence of Madame Defarge and on Lucie’s inability to escape this woman’s shadow establishes a tension between the gentle and nurturing Lucie—the “golden-haired doll”—and the dark and cold Madame Defarge, an unrelenting instrument of the revolution. Indeed, the narrator implicitly likens Madame Defarge’s shadow, which “fall[s] . . . threatening and dark,” to the guillotine blade that she is so eager to see making its fatal descent.

In Chapter 5, Dickens furthers this tension between Lucie’s sweet goodness and the perverse malevolence of the revolution. The wood-sawyer who talks with Lucie in Chapter 5 possesses a grotesque zeal for decapitation, as evidenced by the religious nature of the moniker that he gives to his saw. He labels his imagined guillotine “Sainte”—that is, holy—illustrating his belief that the guillotine, in lopping off the heads of the aristocracy, is carrying out divine will. Similarly devoted but of opposite sympathy, Lucie waits steadfastly outside of her husband’s prison, merely on the off-chance that Darnay might catch a glimpse of her. Whereas the violent and rambunctious Carmagnole dance, in which the wood-sawyer participates, symbolizes the ruthlessness of the revolution, the white snow that falls “quietly and . . . soft” in the very same chapter symbolizes Lucie’s gentle soul and pure love for Darnay. When Madame Defarge passes by “like a shadow over the white road,” the reader again senses the threat she poses to Lucie’s happiness.