A Tale of Two Cities Book the First, Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Charles Dickens

Book the First, Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

Summary:

A large cask of red wine has fallen off a cart and shattered on the street in dirty, poverty-stricken Saint Antoine. People stop what they are doing to rush over and drink what has pooled in the uneven stone pavement. They create embankments in the mud to collect the wine so they can scoop it up in their hands. Faces and hands are stained red, and a man writes “BLOOD” on a wall.

Jarvis Lorry and Lucie Manette sit quietly in Ernest Defarge’s wine shop. Monsieur Defarge is discussing the spilled wine with three men, each of whom he calls “Jacques.” Madame Defarge, his wife, knits intently and appears to not take notice of the conversation. At length, Monsieur Defarge directs the three men to an apartment that they wish to see. They leave, and Lorry approaches Defarge to inquire after Dr. Manette.

Monsieur Defarge is visibly shocked by Lorry’s inquiry. He leads Lorry and Lucie up to a garret, far above the wine shop, where Dr. Manette has been hiding. They encounter the three “Jacques” outside the garret. Lorry is angry that Defarge allows anyone to see Dr. Manette, and Lucie is afraid to go inside. They enter the garret to find Dr. Manette making shoes in the dark.

Analysis:

Red wine symbolizes and foreshadows the blood that will later be shed in the French Revolution. Scenes of “gaunt scarecrows” frantically crowding one another to drink the spilled wine reveal two of the novel’s main concerns: the rise of revolutionary sentiment and its influence on large crowds of people—especially the outraged lower classes. The French peasants are starving, but Dickens suggests a distinction between physical hunger and a growing “Hunger” that will soon fuel the bloodthirstiness of the revolutionaries. This distinction is especially apparent in the imagery of red-stained faces and hands as well as in the writing of “BLOOD” on the wall.

The novel’s preoccupation with revolutionary sentiment intensifies with the introduction of the Defarges and their wine shop. The Defarges, though citizens of Saint Antoine, are quite different from the majority of the city’s people: their wine shop is “better than most others in its appearance and degree,” and Madame Defarge wears furs, rings, and scarves. Nevertheless, they appear to be interested in the wellbeing of the common people—and in the frenzy caused by the spilled cask of wine. Ernest Defarge seems especially conflicted about whether he should intervene, but he ultimately decides that it is not his “affair.” Madame Defarge appears distracted by her knitting, but her “watchful eye,” though never seeming to focus on anything, surveys everyone in the wine shop.