In A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First, Chapter 5, under what conditions do the people live?A Tale of Two Cities  by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter Five of Book the First in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities is a "set piece"; that is, it is a scene that stands on its own from the narrative.  "The Wine-Shop" introduces the reader to the DeFarges, who are engaged with others called Jacques in bringing about the French Revolution.  The DeFarges run the wine-shop, a covert place for the Jacques to congregate, and the villainous Mme. DeFarge, who sees nothing, but sees everything, knits the names of the aristocrats to be killed.

One day, a large cask of wine drops and breaks in the street.  The cask, symbolic of the heads of the French aristocrats who would be guillotined, tumbled and

lay on the stones just outside the door of the wine-shop, shattered like a walnut shell.

When this accident occurs, all the people nearby suspend their business, "or their idleness," in order to rush to drink the wine.  With "mutilated earthenware" they attempt to scoop the wine up; women take handerchiefs from their heads, soak them in the wine and squeeze the liquid into their infants' mouths.  Cheered by the wine, the people return to their preoccupations:

The man who had left his saw...set it in motion again; the woman who had left on a door-step the little pot of hot-ashes, at which she had been trying to soften the pain in her own starved fingers and toes, or in those of her child, returned to it; men with bare arms, matted locks, and cadaverous faces, who had emerged into the winter light from cellars, moved away to descend again; and a gloom gathered on the scene that appeared more natural to it than sunshine.

However, all the starving people are stained with the red wine, and one "tall joker" scrawls upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine "BLOOD."

These destitute and desperate people of Saint Antoine will soon join forces with other revolutionaries and, as Dickens foreshadows, "the stain of it [blood] would be red upon many there."

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