Free Study Guide: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Free BookNotes|
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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY / BOOK REVIEW
Dickens successfully compares authoritarian France with lawless England, showing
one as semi-totalitarian and the other as semi-anarchic. In both locations,
the conditions cause unhappiness, especially among the common people.
Chapter one, therefore, sets the stage for the action of the novel where
the common people will rise up against the cruelties that prevail against
them. It also sets the troubled tone that is strengthened throughout the
novel. Finally, it reveals that the author is more concerned with the
plight of the common people living during these troubled times than with
the politics of the period.
The Dover mail coach makes its way laboriously up Shooter's Hill on a wet
Friday night in November, 1775. Tired horses are dragging the coach while
the passengers trudge alongside. Because of the general state of affairs
in England, the passengers are suspicious of the driver, of the guard,
and of one another; they are also afraid of ambush from the outside. A
messenger arrives with a message for Mr. Jarvis Lorry, who is an agent
of Tellson’s Bank and one of the passengers. The message is that Mr. Lorry
needs to wait in Dover to meet a young lady. Mr. Lorry sends a return
message to the bank that states only, "recalled to life." The
messenger thinks the message is very strange, but agrees to deliver it.
Mr. Lorry goes back into the coach.
The second chapter of the book serves several purposes. It introduces Mr. Lorry, who will help the Manettes throughout the novel. It also introduces two of the main characters of the book, although they remain unnamed. The young lady that Lorry is to meet in Dover is Lucie Manette; the man who has been all but buried alive is her father, Dr. Manette.
The chapter also gives a reflection of the times through the isolated passengers who are wary of one another and fearful of ambush from the outside. As a group, they serve as a metaphor for everyone in England who is fearful of the anarchy that is rampant all around them. Through these symbolic passengers, the theme of human alienation is introduced. Since all people suffer some sense of isolation, Dickens philosophically concludes that at a basic level all people are equal, despite differences in class and status.
The chapter also sets the predominant moods of the novel. The times are dark and troubled, and the setting here is in the blackness of night with passengers who are troubled about their safety. The horses pulling the coach and the people travelling alongside are both very tired. There is fog overhead and mud underfoot, causing great discomfort for the travelers. In spite of the predominantly dark and troubled mood, Dickens' inevitable humor finds a place in this chapter. He paints a comic picture of the coachman and the guard as they ponder over the strange message that Lorry receives.
Finally, the chapter introduces an element of suspense. The reader is made
to wonder who the young lady in Dover is and why Lorry needs to meet her.
There is also curiosity about the man who has been buried away in prison
for eighteen years. Finally, there is mystery in the cryptic message that
Lorry sends back to the bank; the words “recalled to life” seem to suggest
that someone is being resurrected from the dead.
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. 09 May 2017