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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: SYNOPSIS / BOOK SUMMARY
The suburb of Saint Antoine in Paris is covered with the gloom of winter, casting a brooding look over everything; there is also filth, sickness, ignorance, and need everywhere. A cask of wine has just shattered outside the wine shop. The nearby people, not wanting to miss this opportunity for a free drink, rush over to the broken cask and use almost anything to hold some of the liquid. As a crowd gathers around the cask, laughter and amused voices echo in the streets. The merriment is broken when one man, whose finger is dripping with wine, scrawls the word “blood” on the wall. His action meets with disapproval from Ernest Defarge, the keeper of the wine shop. Monsieur Defarge, a bull-necked man of thirty, has a dark appearance, a good humor, and a strong determination. Madame Defarge, his wife, is a stout woman of the same age. She has a watchful eye, large hand, steady face, strong features, and great composure. With a mere shake of her head, she directs Monsieur Defarge and the activities of the wine shop.
Monsieur Defarge sees an elderly gentleman and a young woman seated in the corner of the shop, amidst others who are playing games and drinking wine. He pretends not to notice the two strangers, but the elderly gentleman, Mr. Jarvis Lorry, approaches. The two men converse briefly, for little more than a minute, and then part ways. Madame Defarge knits away, pretending to have seen nothing.
After emerging from the wine shop, Mr. Lorry and Miss Manette join Monsieur Defarge at a doorway a short distance away. Defarge's manner is secretive and his mood seems angry. It is learned that he had been a servant of Dr. Manette before his imprisonment. After the doctor is freed from prison, the Defarges have sheltered him and allowed glimpses of him to their associates in order to fan the flames of revolutionary fire in them. These associates, who have a hatred of the upper class, are incensed at the cruel sight of Dr. Manette, who has lost his memory and desire to live after being the victim of aristocratic oppression for eighteen years.
Defarge escorts Mr. Lorry and Miss Manette to where Dr. Manette lives in hiding,
behind a locked door. As they enter, Miss Manette is shaking with emotion
and looks terrorized. Mr. Lorry attempts to comfort her and asks her to
have courage. Monsieur Defarge takes them to the garret, where there is
a dingy, dark little room. Facing the window with his back towards them,
an old white-haired man sits on a bench making shoes.
The setting and attendant mood of this chapter continues to be dark and gloomy. Winter casts a brooding mood on everything, and in the suburb of St. Antoine, there is sickness and filth everywhere. The scene where the wine cask breaks in the streets is pitiful and prophetic, for it shows that people have been reduced by poverty to an almost bestial existence. The impoverished peasants slink up to the cask to gather wine in all types of containers. As they walk away, their hands are stained red from the wine, much like they will have them stained red with the blood of the nobility, and the streets will run with the blood of a revolution as it does with wine.
The theme of revolution is clearly introduced in this chapter through the characters of Monsieur and Madame Defarge. Their hatred towards the upper class is emphasized, for Madame Defarge’s sister had been mistreated badly by a nobleman and her brother had been killed by them trying to avenge this wrongdoing. The couple has become a leading force in the revolutionary and fan the flames of hatred in their friends by showing them the pathetic state of Dr. Manette. The bloodshed of the revolution is also foreshadowed with Gaspard, an important character to the plot, writes the word “blood” on the wall with his wine soaked finger.
It is important to notice the way both Monsieur and Madame Defarge are described,
for several important traits of each are described. They are a young couple,
neither more than thirty years of age. He is strong (bull-necked), hot-tempered,
and determined. He is also in a leadership role, as evidenced when he
indicates his displeasure with Gaspard’s action. Although he appears to
Lorry and Lucie as a secretive and angry man, in the wine shop he covers
these sentiments with an apparent good humor. Despite her husband’s strength,
Madame Defarge is able to hold her own. Dickens says that with a mere
shake of her head, she can direct both her husband and the activities
in the shop. Although she openly appears to notice nothing, burying herself
in knitting, she is really very observant and shrewd. Like her husband,
Madame Defarge is angry at the aristocracy and hungry for revolution.
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