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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Two: The Mail


The Dover mail coach makes its way laboriously up Shooter's Hill on a wet Friday night in November, 1775. Tired horses are dragging the coach while the passengers trudge alongside. Because of the general state of affairs in England, the passengers are suspicious of the driver, of the guard, and of one another; they are also afraid of ambush from the outside. A messenger arrives with a message for Mr. Jarvis Lorry, who is an agent of Tellson's Bank and one of the passengers. The message is that Mr. Lorry needs to wait in Dover to meet a young lady. Mr. Lorry sends a return message to the bank that states only, "recalled to life." The messenger thinks the message is very strange, but agrees to deliver it. Mr. Lorry goes back into the coach.


The second chapter of the book serves several purposes. It introduces Mr. Lorry, who will help the Manettes throughout the novel. It also introduces two of the main characters of the book, although they remain unnamed. The young lady that Lorry is to meet in Dover is Lucie Manette; the man who has been all but buried alive is her father, Dr. Manette.

The chapter also gives a reflection of the times through the isolated passengers who are wary of one another and fearful of ambush from the outside. As a group, they serve as a metaphor for everyone in England who is fearful of the anarchy that is rampant all around them. Through these symbolic passengers, the theme of human alienation is introduced. Since all people suffer some sense of isolation, Dickens philosophically concludes that at a basic level all people are equal, despite differences in class and status.

The chapter also sets the predominant moods of the novel. The times are dark and troubled, and the setting here is in the blackness of night with passengers who are troubled about their safety. The horses pulling the coach and the people travelling alongside are both very tired. There is fog overhead and mud underfoot, causing great discomfort for the travelers. In spite of the predominantly dark and troubled mood, Dickens' inevitable humor finds a place in this chapter. He paints a comic picture of the coachman and the guard as they ponder over the strange message that Lorry receives.

Finally, the chapter introduces an element of suspense. The reader is made to wonder who the young lady in Dover is and why Lorry needs to meet her. There is also curiosity about the man who has been buried away in prison for eighteen years. Finally, there is mystery in the cryptic message that Lorry sends back to the bank; the words "recalled to life" seem to suggest that someone is being resurrected from the dead.

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