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A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

Book the First: Recalled to Life Chapters 5–6

Summary Book the First: Recalled to Life Chapters 5–6

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!”