A Tale of Two Cities By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapter 16 - Still Knitting

Summary

As the road-mender departs for home and the Defarges return to Saint Antoine, a policeman who is a member of the Jacquerie informs Defarge to be alert for a new spy in the area, John Barsad. When they reach the wine-shop, the Defarges discuss the progress of the revolutionary activity. Defarge admits that the slowness of the process makes him tired and depressed, and he worries that they won't live to see their work come to fruition. Showing a rare hint of sympathy, Madame Defarge acknowledges that laying the groundwork for monumental change takes a long time. However, she adds that once the revolution comes, it will be unstoppable, like lightning or an earthquake.

The next day, John Barsad visits the wine-shop and questions the Defarges about the unrest in Saint Antoine caused by Gaspard's execution. Both Defarges behave as if they don't know what he's talking about and, as Barsad attempts more conversation, Madame Defarge knits his name and description into her register. Barsad finally provokes an emotional response from Defarge when he mentions that Lucie Manette is engaged to marry Charles Darnay, the nephew of the Marquis St. Evrémonde. After Barsad leaves, Defarge remarks that he hopes destiny keeps Lucie and Darnay from France. Meanwhile, Madame Defarge knits Darnay's name into her register next to Barsad's.

Analysis

The differences between Defarge and his wife make themselves even more apparent after their return from Versailles. While Defarge shows a very human weariness with the seemingly endless road of revolution, Madame Defarge remains unswerving in her commitment to the cause. She views the movement as a creation process that will produce the relentless forces of vengeance and retribution. She explains to her husband, though, that "it is your weakness that you sometimes need to see your victim and your opportunity, to sustain you."In other words, the promise of an ultimate fulfillment drives Madame Defarge, while Defarge thrives on the concrete reality of day-to-day experience.

The private moment between the couple after their day of indoctrinating the road-mender also highlights how completely their revolutionary work has consumed them. Defarge's depression that they may not live to see the fruition of their efforts reminds the reader that the Defarges are childless, and in effect, the revolution is their child. Just as Doctor Alexandre Manette finds new life in his daughter, Defarge hopes to find a new life for himself and his country through the revolution. However, like the aristocratic women, Madame Defarge is an unnatural mother. She works not toward giving life but toward giving death.

The Defarges' differing focuses on life and death especially emerge when Barsad discloses the news of Lucie's engagement and Darnay's identity. As Defarge hopes for their sake that they stay out of France and therefore keep their lives, Madame Defarge coolly knits Darnay's name into her register next to Barsad's, condemning them both to death.

Glossary

Christian name the baptismal name or given name, as distinguished from the surname or family name; first name.

catechist a person who teaches, especially the principles of a religion, by the method of questions and answers.

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