In A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, why is Dr. Manette imprisoned?
This is something that we are only actually told in Book the Third, Chapter Ten, and this is one of the central questions that lurk behind the rest of the action of the novel. Let us remember that in this chapter, Defarge reads the letter that Dr. Manette wrote before be slipped into insanity whilst he was a prisoner. It details how Darnay's father and uncle raped a peasant woman, killed her husband and mortally wounded her brother. Dr. Manette is ordered to care for them. When Dr. Manette discovers the truth of what has happened, he refuses to agree never to divulge what he has seen and the horrific acts of the Evremonde brothers. As a result, they arrange for his wrongful imprisonment in the Bastille.
It is of course particularly important that this truth which is hinted at throughout the novel is only revealed at this critical juncture when Darnay's life is in the balance, and Dr. Manette believes that, as before, his presence can actually save his son-in-law. The tremendous irony of this event is of course that it is Dr. Manette who, out of his own mouth (or hand) condemns him to a certain death.
Dr. Manette’s imprisonment is one of the great plot elements for which Dickens is famous. He leaves the reader virtually in the dark until Book the Third to reveal the complex and twisted relationships that come about because of Dr. Manette’s past. Dr. Manette is an ethical man and it is this virtue of character that gets him in trouble. He becomes a witness to the atrocities perpetrated on to the peasantry by the Evremonde brothers: Charles Darney’s father and uncle. When Dr. Manette decides to act in accordance with his ethics and report the rape and murder, he is imprisoned. He leaves behind his young pregnant wife, who never hears from him again. The real twist then, becomes the connection between the young woman who is raped and Madam Defarge. This complex connection makes Dr. Manette both a hero and a victim of the revolution.