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How does Dickens use the description in Chapter V of Book the First of A Tale of Two...

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mpumpkin | Valedictorian

Posted March 31, 2013 at 4:34 PM via web

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How does Dickens use the description in Chapter V of Book the First of A Tale of Two Cities, starting with  " All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness................." to illustrate the desperation of the poor people in Paris in the time leading up to the French Revolution?  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 1, 2013 at 11:47 AM (Answer #1)

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The mis en scene of the people of Saint-Antoine, so long deprived of even the simplest of things such as bread or wine, depicts a desperate people searching for orderliness in a world devoid of even the simplest of things. Hunger prevails as the streets are empty of bread or firewood as "husky chips" of oil are burned in a few drops of oil. Therefore, when the oil cask spills, these starving people run to gather up the wine by any means that they can:

Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shouilders, to sip, befre the wine had all run out between their fingers.

At last, one tall scarecrow of a man writes "BLOOD" upon a wall with a finger which he has dipped into the wine.  When there is no more wine to be gathered, the men and women return to what they were doing beforehand. Yet, Want prevails throughout the scene, a condition that often breeds other conditions. Thus, in a manner suggestive of Tolstoy, who examines how forces of history come together, Charles Dickens suggests that the forces of poverty, want, and oppression will soon generate action. For, the behavior of the residents of Saint-Antoine presages revolution as the citizenry demonstrate a mob hysteria in gathering the wine by any means possible.

The time was to come, when that wine too would be sspilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be read upon many there. 

The "cadaverous faces" is a phrase that portends death; in addition, the phrase, "there was a little roughness in the sport, and much playfulness" foreshadows the cruelty to come in which the mass will engage.  This delighted cruelty and power of the mob is a motif that prevails throughout Dickens's narrative.

 

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