A Tale of Two Cities Book the Second, Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Charles Dickens

Book the Second, Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Summary:

Monsieur and Madame Defarge return to Saint Antoine. A policeman (“Jacques of the police”) warns them that an English spy is in the neighborhood. It is John Barsad, the “patriot” who lied during his testimony against Charles Darnay. Madame Defarge declares that she will knit his name into the register. Monsieur Defarge confesses to his wife that he fears the Revolution will not come during their lifetime. She responds that the Revolution is like an earthquake because it is “always preparing, though it is not seen or heard.” When it comes, however, it “grinds to pieces everything before it.”

The next day, John Barsad arrives in the wine shop and asks for cognac and water. Madame Defarge complies but appears to warn the other men in the shop by placing a red rose in her hair. The shop empties. John Barsad asks Madame Defarge about her knitting and pretends to sympathize with the peasants. Remembering that the Defarges knew Dr. Manette, he mentions that Lucie Manette is engaged to marry Charles Darnay—the nephew of the late Monsieur the Marquis. The Defarges are stunned, and Barsad leaves. Monsieur Defarge laments that Lucie Manette, toward whom the Defarges have been quite sympathetic, will marry a man who is to be executed with the rest of the French aristocrats on Madame Defarge’s registry. Madame Defarge is indifferent and adds Darnay’s name anyway.

Analysis:

Dickens foreshadows the eventual eruption of the Revolution by depicting the ever-intensifying paranoia among French peasants. Saint Antoine’s people are tired of their suffering and become increasingly agitated by the greed and corruption of their government and the aristocracy. Anonymous citizens, often assuming the name of “Jacques,” mobilize to monitor the activities of government officials, aristocrats, and spies. The citizens’ anger is evident, and the government sends spies to investigate any revolutionary plots that may be forming. Meanwhile, Madame Defarge continues knitting names into her coded registry with the notable addition of Charles Darnay. The novel’s preoccupation with fate, and particularly the inescapability of one’s heritage, is evident: Darnay, though sympathetic with the peasants and eager to shed his family name, will still be held responsible for his family’s cruelty when the Revolution begins.