A Tale of Two Cities: Novel Summary: Book II Chapter 15-16
For three days in a row there has been more than the usual number of early drinkers in the Defarge's wine shop. Monsieur Defarge has been absent for several days but Madame Defarge tends to her customers, many of whom come not to drink but to whisper conspiracies. When known spies for the government enter the conversation ceases and Madame Defarge knits steadily. At noon on the third day Monsieur Defarge enters the shop with the mender of roads from the small village where the Marquis was murdered. All the men refer to each other as "JACQUES." While the mender of roads takes a thin meal of stale bread and wine, various men get up and leave the shop to go to the garret apartment. Eventually Defarge and the road mender join the others. The road mender says that a man the Parisians know to be Gaspard, father of the child run over by the Marquis' carriage, was captured by the soldiers of his village. He was beaten and placed in a cage suspended above the prison and for many days the people in the town witnessed his suffering but could do nothing to help him. The villagers heard that a petition had been presented to the King to spare the man's life but they didn't know if it was true. Two of the Jacques interrupt the story and explain to the road mender that Defarge himself hazarded his own life by stepping in front of the King's carriage and was beaten for presenting the petition. The mender of roads says that the people of the village whispered that in Paris prisoners were horribly tortured before being killed and another of the Jacques affirms this fact. One morning the village awoke to find a gallows erected next to their communal fountain. That afternoon Gaspard was hung and his body left to rot with the murder weapon decorating the gallows. His story finished, the road mender is asked to wait outside while Defarge and the various Jacques confer. They all agree to include the Marquis' entire family and his chateau on their list of those registered for destruction. Defarge assures the men that the authorities will not discover his wife's method of keeping the list, sewn as code into her knitting. Before the road mender returns to his village the Defarge's take him to see a royal procession. The road mender is overcome by the gallantry and reach pageantry of the aristocracy that he cries out his enthusiasm. Later the Defarges commend his zeal and remind him that it will be useful when the time comes to destroy the aristocracy. The road mender returns to his village wiser and for the first time in his simple life, empowered.
The Defarge's return to the wine shop and Monsieur Defarge learns from a Jacques of the police that a new spy named John Barsad has started working the Saint Antoine district. As she shuts up the shop for the night Madame Defarge observes that her husband is depressed and he admits that he is sad that the revolution may not come in his lifetime. She reminds him that it could come at any moment and though it may not arrive while they live she is confident they have done much to help bring it to fruition. The next day a man Madame Defarge recognizes as the spy John Barsad comes into the shop and tries to bait her into revealing the district's sympathies for the executed Gaspard. As a signal to the others in the shop she places a flower in her hair and the shop quickly empties. As Barsad tries to bait her, Madame Defarge knits his name into the register. Monsieur Defarge joins them and the spy, knowing that Doctor Manette sheltered with the Defarge's, relates the news that Miss Manette is to marry the nephew of the murdered Marquis who is living under the name Darnay in England. Madame records this information in her register as well. After the spy leaves, Monsieur Defarge expresses his hope that destiny will keep Darnay out of France but his wife observes that fate will do what it will. That evening Monsieur Defarge admires the character of his wife as she goes throughout the street visiting the women.
Analysis of Chapters 15-16
These chapters juxtapose the horrible death of Gaspard with the increasing unrest in Paris. Significantly, the mender of roads from the village is the one to convey the news of Gaspard's death and his horror at effect upon his fellow villagers connects with the sentiments already being pursued by the society of Jacques in Saint Antoine. The manner in which the Defarge's use his zeal for the pageantry of the procession to remind him that such zeal can be turned to his own advantage encapsulates the manner in which the methodical planning of the Jacques and their agenda can be readily accepted by the rural peasants who have suffered as much under the wasteful aristocratic rule. Madame Defarge emerges from this section as a prime motivator for the revolution. She is differentiated from her husband in two ways. First, she is shown to be more patient and determined when she demonstrates to him that it is only necessary that their enemies suffer not that they do the actual persecution. Second, she does not express any sympathy for Charles Darnay whom she considers a member of the aristocracy and therefore irredeemable in her eyes.