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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Why does Jerry Cruncher say, "It wouldn’t do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradesman, it wouldn’t suit your line of business!" in A Tale of Two Cities?

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Jerry Cruncher—porter by day, body-snatcher by night—is the messenger who brings Mr. Lorry glad tidings of Dr. Manette's "resurrection," i.e., his release from the stinking hell-hole of the Bastille. As he drives away, Cruncher ponders what it would mean for his "honest trade" of grave-robber if people literally rose from the dead. He concludes, not unreasonably, that it would never do. In other words, he'd soon be out of a job. Resurrection in the euphemistic sense of digging up dead bodies and selling them to men of science is one thing, but in the literal sense, it would be bad for business.

Nevertheless, later on, Cruncher, like many characters in the book, will experience something of a figurative resurrection himself in that he'll abandon his career as a grave-robber and become a simple grave-digger instead. He clearly has the aptitude and the experience for it.

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Jerry Cruncher uses the term “honest tradesman” ironically.  He is really a grave robber!  He says that it would not do to recall people to life, because bringing people back from the dead would be bad business for a grave robber!

In Book 1, chapter 2, Jerry received a message to take to Jarvis Lorry.  The message was “RECALLED TO LIFE” (p. 8).  This means that Dr. Manette is alive.  Of course, Dr. Manette never was really alive.  He was just in prison in France.

It could scarcely be called a trade, in spite of his favourite description of himself as “a honest tradesman.” (p. 37)

Robbing graves just doesn't pay like it used to!  In a way, Jarvis Lorry and Jerry Cruncher are both resurrectionists—people who bring others back to life.  Dickens uses the ironic, basically sarcastic, description of Cruncher because he is a grave robber.  He is also called a ressurectionist, though he does not literally bring people back to life.

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