What are significant events that happen in Book One: Recalled to Life of A Tale of Two Cities that set the mood for the rest of the novel?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Book I of A Tale of Two Cities acts as an exposition for the plot and subplots. There are several significant events that happen in Book I that affect this plot and the mood of A Tale of Two Cities:

  • In the first chapter, Dickens describes the historical setting, drawing parallels between England of the time and Paris. He foreshadows some of what will come to pass in his narrative by mentioning the Woodman, symbolic of Fate as the guillotine is fashioned from wood:

...rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawed into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history.

Fate is symbolized with the Farmer:

...there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrels of the Revolution.

  • Mr. Lorry, a very business-like man, is sent to the Tellson's Bank in Paris.
  • While riding in the mail coach to Dover, where he later takes a boat to Paris, Mr. Lorry receives a message from Jerry Cruncher, the runner for the bank, that reads "Recalled to Life." 
  • In Paris Mr. Lorry meets Mademoiselle Lucie Manette, the daughter of Dr. Manette in order to inform her that her father has been freed from prison.
  • In Paris, the enfeebled Dr. Manette is being kept behind the shop of the Defarges, who own a wine shop in St. Antoine. A cask is spilled in the street of this town, and the starving residents rush to gather up the spilled wine. Someone writes "BLOOD" on the wall, suggestive of their desperate sense of revolt.
  • In the shop of the Defarges, Madame Defarge, a sinister-looking woman knits continuously and gives others in the shop ominous looks. Her husband calls several by the name of "Jacques." One man enters of whom the Defarges are suspicious.
  • Lucie is led up a stairway to a room and is reunited with her father, who does not recognize her until he notices her hair. After a while he pulls from his shirt a lock of hair that belonged to her mother and makes the family connection. Still, he is a weakened man who is now disorientated after fourteen years in the Bastille.
  • There are several men called Jacques who peer in the opening of the door at Dr. Manette and whisper among themselves.

Thus, with the events, there is a mood of foreboding set by the mention of the rulers of England and France and the Woodman and the Farmer as well as the desperate acts of the residents of St. Antoine. Also, the sinister presence of Madame Defarge and the Jacques contribute to this mood of foreboding. Additionally, there is a mood of mystery with the messenger in the dark arriving at the Dover coach, and the strange history of Dr. Manette that has yet to be revealed.

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A Tale of Two Cities

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