Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book II, Chapters 1-3
Chapter 1: Five Years Later
The second book opens with a description of the venerable Tellson's Bank. Its darkness and discomfort are much beloved by those who work there. Indeed, their conviction that it should remain inconvenient and deteriorating is so strong that they would have disinherited a son who disagreed with them.
Jerry Cruncher, who delivered the message on horseback to Mr. Lorry, serves as an odd job man for Tellson's. He lives in Whitefriars in a tiny apartment kept immaculate by his wife. He abuses this wife roundly for kneeling to pray, insinuating that her prayers interfere with the success of his business. He enlists the aid of his admiring son to prevent Mrs. Cruncher from praying against him. When she tries to pray, her son reveals her transgression to his father.
The young Cruncher follows his father to work, and he wonders where the rust on the straw his father is chewing comes from. His job at Tellson's does not involve rust, yet Jerry Cruncher is always rusty.
Chapter 2: A Sight
An old clerk at Tellson's gives Jerry Cruncher a message to deliver to Mr. Lorry at Old Bailey, where Charles Darnay is being tried. Jerry makes his way into the trial and is reassured by an onlooker that this is indeed the treason case. The man gruesomely describes the quartering that is certain to follow as punishment. When the young gentleman prisoner, Charles Darnay, is brought in, the whole courtroom stares at him. He had pleaded not guilty the previous day. Darnay's gaze rests immediately on Dr. Manette and his daughter, who are to be witnesses for the prosecution.
Chapter 3: A Disappointment
Charles Darnay is charged with shuttling back and forth between France and England in order to spy. John Barsad, who was his friend, is the chief witness against him. Darnay was allegedly involved in traitorous activities as far back as five years ago, during the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Mr. Lorry is called to give evidence against Charles Darnay, and he identifies Darnay as the man who came on board in the middle of the night at Calais on the way from France to England. Miss Manette is called and, though she identifies him, she strongly regrets that her evidence could bring him any harm. Lucie testifies that the prisoner confided in her that he was traveling under an assumed name on a delicate business. Dr. Manette testifies that he also recognizes the man.
The case is thrown into uproar and made fruitless, however, when a Mr. Carton reveals himself. Carton looks so much like Darnay that a positive identification of the defendant is made impossible. Darnay's defense counsel, Mr. Stryver, shows that Barsad was himself a traitor. The jury deliberates for a long time. Lucie faints and is taken out of the courthouse. Mr. Lorry tells Jerry to remain to take the verdict to Tellson's. Jerry receives a piece of paper on which it is written that Darnay is acquitted.
Chapter 4: Congratulatory
Dr. Manette, Lucie, Mr. Lorry, the solicitor for the defense, and Mr. Stryver all congratulate Darnay on his escape from death. Dr. Manette's face is clouded over by the negative emotions caused by being cross-examined about being imprisoned. The Manettes depart in a hackney-coach, and a slightly drunk Mr. Carton asks to be allowed to speak to Mr. Darnay. They dine in a tavern, and Mr. Carton proposes a toast to Miss Manette. After Darnay leaves, Mr. Carton looks at himself in a mirror and reflects that he does not like Darnay because he too much resembles what Carton himself could have been, had Carton not been so dissolute. He hates Darnay for inspiring Miss Manette to look at him with such compassion.
Chapter 5: The Jackal
Mr. Stryver is prone to alcoholism, and he is a drinking companion of Mr. Carton's--they had been fellow students in Paris. Mr. Stryver, despite all of his capacity to push himself ahead, became a much more successful lawyer when Mr. Carton began working on and helping summarize his documents for him. Thus Carton became Stryver's jackal. When Stryver talks about how pretty Miss Manette is, Carton denies it, claiming she is nothing but a blond "doll." Carton leaves Stryver's house and returns to his own, crying himself to sleep. He is haunted by the honorable glories that once were available to him but are now out of his reach.
Chapter 6: Hundreds of People
Four months after the trial, Mr. Lorry dines with the Manettes. The Manettes live in Soho, a charming part of London not yet fully urbanized. Dr. Manette has revived his medical practice out of the house and lives comfortably. He converses with Miss Pross, who is upset because, as she terms it, hundreds of people come looking for Miss Manette (whom she calls "my Ladybird") although Miss Pross thinks they do not deserve her. Mr. Lorry recognizes Miss Pross's devotion and values her more highly than wealthier women who have balances at Tellson's. He questions Miss Pross about whether Dr. Manette knows the identity of the person who caused him to be jailed for so long; she thinks he does. When Lucie and her father arrive, Miss Pross fusses over the girl, arranging her bonnet and smoothing her hair. Miss Pross had scoured the neighborhood for French expatriates to teach her cooking tricks, and she is now considered a sorceress in the kitchen. After dinner, Mr. Darnay comes to call. Dr. Manette is in good humor until he gets flustered when Darnay tells a story about the Tower of London, in which many prisoners' initials were carved. The only ones that couldn't be matched by a former prisoner were D.I.G., which the guards figured was an imperative to dig (they dug, but found only remains of a possible letter).
Mr. Carton joins the party as it moves inside out of a rainstorm. Lucy tells of her fancy that the footsteps that echo outside her house are the footsteps of people to come in and out of her life. Mr. Carton observes that this vision represents a great number of people who really will be in her life.
Chapter 7: Monseigneur in Town
Monseigneur is a powerful lord of France who holds receptions every two weeks in his hotel in Paris. It takes four men to muster the ceremony necessary to serve him his morning chocolate. His idea of general public business is to let things go their own way, and his idea of specific public business is for things to go whatever way is most profitable for him. Monseigneur found that these principles, in addition to the reduction of his finances, made it advantageous for him to ally himself with a Farmer-General by marrying his sister to one. Everyone in his court is unreal because none knows how to do a lick of work that is useful to anyone else. The Marquis de Evremonde, also known as Monseigneur, condemns him as he leaves, and then rides away in his own carriage.
Monseigneur's carriage, driving recklessly fast, runs down and kills a child. The Marquis gives Gaspard, the child's father, a gold coin, and gives Defarge another gold coin for making the philosophical observation that the child is better off dead. As the Marquis is driving away, Defarge throws the coin back at the carriage. Upper-class people continue to drive through Saint Antoine as the poor and hungry look on.
Chapter 8: Monseigneur in the Country
The Marquis continues driving in his carriage through another poor village, this one made destitute by over-taxation. He stops and demands to speak with one of the villagers, asking him why he stared so intently as the Marquis drove up the hill. The man replies that there was a man under the carriage hanging from the shoe. He describes the man as white as a miller and tall as a ghost. The villager claims that when the carriage stopped, the man underneath dived headfirst over the hillside. The Marquis loses patience with the story and asks Monsieur Gabelle, the Postmaster, to put the villagers out of his sight. The Marquis sets off again but is waylaid by a woman with a petition. Her husband has died and she wishes for a piece of wood or stone to mark his grave; too many have died and become heaps of unmarked earth. He pushes away from her without replying and continues the journey to his chÃ¢teau. When he arrives he asks if Monsieur Charles has yet arrived from England.
Chapter 9: The Gorgon's Head
The chÃ¢teau is all stone, as if a Gorgon's head had looked at it. Monseigneur sits down to dinner after complaining that his nephew has not yet arrived. When Charles Darnay does arrive, Monseigneur observes that he has taken a long time coming from London. Darnay accuses Monseigneur of an effort to have him imprisoned in France with a letter de cachet. Monseigneur does not deny this, but he complains about the inaccessibility of such measures and the privileges that the aristocracy has lost. He considers repression to be the only effective and lasting policy; Darnay replies that their family has done wrong and will pay the consequences. Darnay renounces his property and France. Monseigneur mocks him for having not been more successful in England, then mentions the doctor and his daughter but ominously refuses to say more.
Owls howl through the night, and when the sun rises its slanting angle makes the chÃ¢teau fountain seem full of blood. The villagers wake up first to start their toil, and the occupants of the chÃ¢teau awake later, but when they do arise, they engage in frenzied activity. Monseigneur was murdered during the night. There is a knife through his heart, containing a piece of paper on which it is written: "Drive him fast to his tomb. This, from Jacques."
As in Shakespearean tragedies, the great elements of tragedy are provided by the upper classes, while the lower classes provide comic relief, often by the distinct color and topics of their language. In Chapter 1, the Cruncher family provides comic relief from the heavy sentimentality of the reuniting of the Manettes. Jerry Cruncher uses laughably vivid language to censure his wife's sense of religion: "You're a nice woman! What do you mean by flopping yourself down and praying agin me?" There is humor in the fact that Jerry objects to the very characteristics that actually make his wife nice. For a man who claims not to believe in religion, Jerry has a very real fear of the success of prayer, believing that he has been "religiously circumwented into the worst of luck."
Physical appearance and names continue to be accurate indicators of the conditions of the humans they belong to. Despite Jerry's favorite appellation of himself as an "honest tradesman," the details illustrate that the opposite is more likely the case. The last name of Cruncher is illustrative of the morbid nature of his job, which is echoed by the younger Cruncher's hobby of "inflicting bodily and mental injuries of an acute description" on boys younger and weaker than himself on Fleet Street.
The boy is a physical double; he is destined to develop into his father. He wears a slightly less dangerous version of the spikes that adorn his father's head. These spikes, which an earlier chapter described as making him an undesirable player of leapfrog, are portrayed as more hazardous in this chapter; they might "tear his sheets to ribbons." The father and son are also united in their resemblance to animals, looking like a pair of monkeys as they absently survey Fleet Street.
Also in Chapter 1, Dickens drops more clues to foreshadow the unsavory nature of Jerry Cruncher's real business. One as yet inexplicable detail is the rustiness that surrounds Jerry. Others include the fact that while he returns home from Tellson's with clean boots, he wakes up in the morning to a set of muddy boots.
Like France, England has its prisons that admit young men and release old men. In England, the prisons are transformed into "acceptable" social structures. Tellson's Bank serves as one of these prisons. It has very elderly clerks who have committed themselves to service, or kept themselves "in a dark place" since their youth. It has a "condemmed hold" for those who need to visit the House. Everything in Tellson's points towards death and decay: the letters and deeds are decaying from being kept for so long. The Bank is also down the street from the Temple Bar Courts, which send several people to gruesome deaths everyday.
Old Bailey is described in Chapter 2 as a perfect example of the precept, "Whatever is is right," a direct quotation from Alexander Pope, an eighteenth- century satirist. The phrase is the last line of the first Epistle of his Essay on Man, which Pope wrote to laud man's abilities and the great possibilities of his relationship with God. The first Epistle is mainly concerned with theodicy, that is, explaining why a perfect God would allow suffering in a world of his own creation.
The French philosopher Voltaire challenged the optimism of "whatever is is right" in his satire Candide. In his own way, consistent with his self-image as a social crusader, Dickens also finds this optimism unlikely. It seems unforgivable that Old Bailey is allowed to continue in its abuses, despite the fact that it has handed down incorrect and probably unjust sentences.
Trials, like the famous madhouse named Bedlam, not only were designed to deal with criminals and the insane, but they also served as entertainment for the general public. Families would go on outings to Old Bailey to jeer at criminals. Dickens strongly critiques this excessive interest in human suffering, illustrating that the only reason for the interest in Mr. Darnay's person is the possibility of his severe sentence. Dickens condemns this monstrous interest in viewing a body that is later to be mangled as "at the root of it, Ogreish."
Dickens also presents another version of the Paris mobs - in this case, it becomes the English crowd at the courts. Dickens thus presents a foreshadowing of future events: the mob, hungry for blood, eagerly watches a man who is under the threat of death.
The accused man's name is Charles Darnay. Observant readers will notice that the CD of Darnay's initials are also the initials for Charles Dickens. Some scholars suggest that Darnay is an idealized version of Dickens. Darnay is clearly an idealized man, with his handsome looks and calm demeanor. However, he is placed under a mirror on the stand, and he looks into it. Dickens uses the mirror to suggest that Darnay will be presented with a mirror image of himself - an image we will see in chapter 3.
Darnay's acquittal in Chapter 3 is the second example of resurrection in the novel. His conviction is almost certain before the appearance of Mr. Carton, and this is what has brought out the crowd. Dickens compares the onlookers to blueflies, noting their buzz after any piece of evidence in Darnay's disfavor is disclosed. The title of the chapter refers to the crowd's disappointment when there is no blood for them to see, and the final image of the chapter is of the masses buzzing Old Bailey in search of other carrion to feed on.
Dickens included frequent biblical references, and these would have been very familiar to the audience of his day. In Chapter 2, he depicts the mirror that hangs over the bar as having recorded innumerable criminal faces. He reflects on how haunted Old Bailey would be if the mirror would give up its previous reflections, "as the ocean is one day to give up its dead." Dickens alludes here to Revelations 20:13--"And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works."
A more obvious biblical reference is the portrayal of Barsad by the defense lawyer as "one of the greatest scoundrels upon the earth since accursed Judas-which he certainly did look rather like." This is, of course, a reference to Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus in return for money. The assertion that he looks like Judas is absurd, because there is no record of how Judas looked, but it is representative of the wild accusations and poetic license used in courts of the day. Barsad's characterization as Judas highlights the thematic connection of Darnay's acquittal with Jesus's resurrection.
Dickens presents Sydney Carton as a lowly clerk. However, he is actually a powerful man. His power is a covert power that stems from his powers of observation. After all, he is the first one to see Darnay's resemblance to him, and he calls for help for the fainting Lucie, who is ignored by the crowd. Carton's observations will become a force later in the book, especially when his resemblance to Darnay holds importance again.
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- Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapters 1-3
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