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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Second, Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis

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The chapter begins in Ernest Defarge’s wine shop in Saint Antoine. The shop is crowded, though most people are too poor to drink any of the wine. Madame Defarge knits quietly, appearing to take little notice of her surroundings. Monsieur Defarge arrives, accompanied by a mender of roads. Defarge instructs his wife to provide their guest (“Jacques”) with wine, as he is “a good child.” Three men depart the wine shop while the mender of roads consumes a crust of bread and some wine.

After finishing his breakfast, the mender of roads follows Monsieur Defarge up to the garret where Dr. Manette used to live in confinement. The three men who left the wine shop earlier are standing outside the door. They are the same men who used to watch Dr. Manette while he made shoes. Monsieur Defarge informs them that the mender of roads is a witness and that he “will tell you all.” We learn that the mender of roads lives in the late Marquis’s village and that he was the man who told the Marquis about a suspicious person hanging by a chain under his carriage. This person was the father of the child who was killed by the Marquis. He took revenge by slaying the Marquis in his bed and disappeared before anyone could catch him. Months later, he was seen being marched by soldiers to the gaol that overlooks the village. He was to be executed for parricide (murdering a close relative). Petitions arose arguing that the man was driven to murder because of the death of his child and thus should be spared. Nevertheless, a gallows was built in the middle of the village, beside the fountain, and the man was hanged. Distressed, the mender of roads describes how the man’s body was left hanging from the gallows, casting a frightful shadow on the town below.

Monsieur Defarge confers with the three Jacques outside the garret. They agree to add “the chateau and all the race” to their registry, which lists the aristocrats they plan to execute when the Revolution begins. We learn that Madame Defarge has been knitting this registry in an elaborate code that the three Jacques fear she will not be able to decipher. Monsieur Defarge assures them that the code “will always be as plain to her as the sun.” Later in the week, Defarge and his wife take the mender of roads to see the King and Queen in Versailles. The mender of roads is overcome by admiration for the royal couple, crying, “Long live the King, Long live the Queen, Long live everybody and everything!” Defarge praises him, saying his enthusiasm will “make these fools believe that it will last for ever. Then, they are the more insolent, and it is the nearer ended.”


The disturbing shadow of the murderer’s body introduces two important implications: first, that revenge is deeply problematic, and second, that the hierarchy between rich and poor is crumbling. The father of the dead child, though justified in his hatred, only brought about his own death by murdering the Marquis—no other social justice was accomplished. Nevertheless, hanging the murderer and leaving his body to dangle over the peasants’ well is not effective; the peasants are only further outraged and do not accept their subjugation. Ultimately, the hanging of the Marquis’s murderer not only foreshadows the dismantling of an archaic social hierarchy but also raises questions over whether the French Revolution (which was initially rooted in revenge and social justice) truly alleviated poverty and suffering.

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