L’énigme des Blancs-Manteaux

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Jean-François Parot

This chapter reveals some of the underlying reasons for the French Revolution.  The reader is already aware that the aristocracy is able to commit violence and harm against the lower class without any real risk of retribution.  However, chapter fifteen demonstrates that those members of the lower class who do stand up for themselves do so at great personal risk.  As the reader may have suspected, it is revealed that Gaspard was the man who killed the Marquis.  The road mender goes with Monsieur Defarge to his wine shop and tells the Jacquerie that Gaspard was on the run following the murder.  Eventually, the authorities located Gaspard, hung him, and left his corpse hanging as a warning to the other people in the village. 

The chapter is full of violence, and this violence is an important part of the plot.  The violence demonstrates that without revolution, there really is no hope for France.  France is caught up in a cycle of revenge and punishment, and at each stage, the violence escalates.  This is demonstrated by the events surrounding the Marquis and Gaspard.  The Marquis remorselessly, albeit accidentally, kills Gaspard’s child.  Gaspard avenges his child’s death.  The government then hunts down Gaspard.  This leads the Revolutionaries, and particularly Madame Defarge, to put the Marquis’s entire family, the Evrémondes, into the register and target them for extinction during the Revolution. 

The Defarges take the road mender to the Palace at Versailles.  The road mender actually cheers the nobility, which upsets the Defarges on one level, but also serves their purpose.  They do not want the aristocracy to feel as if there is a coming Revolution.  Therefore, for the peasants to cheer the aristocracy reinforces a feeling of complacency, which serves the Defarges’ purpose.  However, the real reason that they take the road mender to Versailles is that they hope to show him the excesses of the aristocracy.  In fact, this visit to Versailles serves a purpose for Dickens.  He has already revealed much about how the lower class lives and has demonstrated individual conflicts between the upper and lower classes.  However, the opulence of Versailles demonstrates that these differences are class-based and not only individually based.  All of the upper class benefits at the expense of the lower class, and the visit to Versailles helps to illustrate this.

This chapter also introduces the real importance of knitting in the novel. Madame Defarge is keeping a register of people who will be targeted during the Revolution.  Defarge knits the names in the register.  She uses special symbols that she can decipher, of the people they are targeting in the Revolution.  The knitting of the register reveals important facts about the Defarges.  Monsieur Defarge is a leader of the Revolution, and the Jacquerie look up to him and respect him.  He deserves this respect; his behavior up until this part of the novel reveals him to be a fair and honorable man who is not seeking a personal advantage in the coming Revolution, but is seeking to better the living circumstances for all people.  He will put himself at risk for others, as he did repeatedly for Gaspard.  While Monsieur Defarge experiences a decline in morals and ethics as the novel progresses, it is important to understand that he is still an idealistic Revolutionary at this point in the novel.  However, Madame Defarge wields a significant amount of power in the Revolution.  She is the one who records those targeted for death.  Unlike her husband, Madame Defarge does not seem to be concerned about principles like fairness.  She is focused on the idea of revenge and is obsessed with bringing death to the aristocrats.  At this point in the novel, the reader has no idea why she is motivated to be so bloodthirsty in her quest for revenge.

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