Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book II, Chapters 20-24
Chapter 20: A Plea
When the Darnays return from their honeymoon, the first person to greet them is Sydney Carton. He takes Charles aside and asks him to forget the fact that he ever said that he didn't like him. Charles assures him that it was enough that Sydney saved his life at the trial, and he gives Carton the privilege of coming back and forth to the Soho house whenever he likes.
Carton leaves. Darnay speaks generally of the conversation at dinner, remarking on what an odd and dissolute character he is. Darnay means no harm and is only speaking the truth, but later that night Lucie implores him not to speak of Carton in that way but to feel some sympathy for him, which Darnay readily agrees to do.
Chapter 21: Echoing Footsteps
Lucie grows older and continues to listen to the footsteps echoing around the house. She has an angelic baby boy who dies as a child, and she has a girl whom she names Lucie. Carton continues to hold a special and privileged place in the family. Stryver marries a wealthy widow with three children, offers these children as pupils to Darnay, and is offended when Darnay refuses.
When Lucie turns six, in 1789, events in France begin to affect the household. Mr. Lorry says that the Paris customers of Tellson's are so nervous that they are beginning to send their money to London. He asks if little Lucie is safe in her bed, and then wonders why he is so nervous, because there is no reason that she would not be. Meanwhile, in Paris, the attack on the Bastille is brewing. Saint Antoine arms itself with weapons and stones and descends on the Bastille, led by Monsieur Defarge. Madame Defarge leads the women in the attack. Monsieur Defarge forces a turnkey to show him to One Hundred and Five, North Tower, the cell that Doctor Manette formerly occupied. Defarge knocks on the walls until he finds the hiding place of a document, which he removes before the Bastille is destroyed.
The mob is waiting for Defarge to execute the governor. When he is beaten to death by the mob, Madame Defarge is close at hand with her knife to behead and mutilate the body. The mob carries seven prisoners released from the Bastille as heroes.
Chapter 22: The Sea Still Rises
A week after the storming of the Bastille, Madame Defarge is having a conversation with the Vengeance. Defarge bursts into the store with the news that the mob has found an aristocrat named Foulon, who told starving peasants that they should eat grass. The Defarges and the Vengeance immediately create a mob to punish Foulon. The women of the mob urge one another on.
When they see that a bundle of grass has been tied to Foulon, they clap as if they were at a play. They successfully hang him on a lamppost the third time after the rope breaks the first two times. The mob is still anxious for blood, so they murder his son-in-law. They return to their homes in Saint Antoine and, although they are still starving, they feel satisfied and bonded after the violence of the day.
Chapter 23: Fire Rises
Saint Antoine is a changed place without Monseigneur, as France is a changed place without people of his class. Although he was source of oppression, he was also a source of pride and a symbol of luxury. Two "Jacques" figures greet each other in the countryside. One explains that he has been walking for two straight days and asks the road-mender to wake him when he is done working.
The road-mender is fascinated with him and examines him while he sleeps. He wakes him at the appointed hour, and they both go into town. Monsieur Gabelle grows nervous because they are all looking into the sky, and he also looks. The chateau where Monseigneur had lived is on fire. The villagers watch the fire without offering to help put it out, and they follow Monsieur Gabelle to his house to persecute him for being connected with tax collection. Gabelle locks himself in his house and resolves that, if attacked, he will jump off his own roof and crush some of the men below. The mob sets fire to other chateaux belonging to noblemen and hangs functionaries who are less fortunate than Gabelle, but Gabelle escapes.
Chapter 24: Drawn to the Loadstone Rock
Three more years of revolution in France go by. Monseigneur's class is dying out, and the monarchy no longer exists. Because Frenchmen come immediately to Tellson's upon arriving in London to discuss financial issues, it has become a center of intelligence about the revolution. Charles Darnay visits Mr. Lorry at Tellson's to try to dissuade him from traveling to Paris on business. Darnay grows angry when he hears men of Monseigneur's class and Mr. Stryver discussing how they will punish the peasants when the revolution is over. He overhears another Tellson's clerk asking Mr. Lorry if he has found the man to whom to give a letter addressed to the Marquis St. EvrÃ©monde.
The address is shown around, and the other French noblemen admit that they don't know him personally but do know that he supported the revolution and parceled out his land among his peasants. Darnay claims to know the man and promises to deliver the letter to him. He opens it, and it is a plea for help from Monsieur Gabelle, who has been imprisoned after all. Darnay feels justified in having renounced his title, but he worries that he did not settle affairs in the manner that he should have, and he resolves to go to Paris. He assumes that his gesture of handing over his title will make him welcomed by the revolutionaries. He conveys a verbal message from the recipient of the letter (himself, though Mr. Lorry does not know that) to Mr. Lorry, saying simply that he will come and is leaving immediately. After writing two letters-one to Lucie and another to the Doctor-he leaves for Paris in the middle of the night, without informing either of them in person.
Chapter 20 reinforces the idea that Lucie is a moral heroine. She embodies the virtue which is perhaps most associated with Christianity, mercy. She has the Christ-like ability to forgive those who have sinned, and Carton feels this mercy as a sort of redemption. Her beauty, which once seemed her primary characteristic, is in reality secondary to and caused by her virtue.
Darnay is also portrayed as a moral hero. His wife's pity for another man, instead of making him jealous, makes him prize her even more. He responds to her beauty on a moral rather than a carnal level. The narrator reports, "She looked so beautiful in the purity of her faith in this lost man that her husband could have looked on her as she was for hours." He is attracted to her goodness, rather than merely her appearance, although her goodness does have a positive effect on her beauty.
The goodness of these two sets them quite apart from other Dickensian main characters. They lack the development and moral conflict of characters such as Pip in Great Expectations and Nancy in Oliver Twist. The setting in which Dickens places his characters in A Tale of Two Cities is itself the locus of conflict, rather than the characters themselves. Thus Dickens forgoes some of the human interest that makes his other novels great. Chapter 20 thus reads somewhat like a moral fable.
The title of Chapter 21 refers to Lucie's presentiment about the footsteps that echo around the Manette household in Soho. She worried in a previous chapter that the footsteps were the echoes of people coming into the family's life, and now the outside world does break spitefully into their happy circle. The echoes have not yet overtaken the family in the way that they will, however, because Lucie can still hear her own child's steps first and foremost. Little Lucie is a product of the novel in that she is bilingual, bridging the gap between the two cities.
Unusual for the novel, events in the two cities are brought together in Chapter 21, showing how linked the affairs of Paris and London are becoming. The two narrative threads of the Manette household and the Defarge household met briefly at the beginning of the novel, and now they are due to meet again. Events in Paris are becoming so extreme that even London is beginning to feel the shock waves or, to use Dickens's terminology, the echoes.
Chapter 21 also narrates one of the most recognizable events of the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille. The Bastille was the major prison in Paris, the most concrete symbol of the ancien regime. The attack on it was seen as heroic, especially because it preceded the reign of terror, and it is still celebrated as liberational in modern France. In recounting this historical event, Dickens focuses on the awesome power of the mob rather than on its intent, heroic or not. He describes the mob as an uncontrolled ocean producing a tidal wave. Finally, the water from the fountains has been corrupted into a human sea, the surging crowd that come to cleanse the Bastille. As Saint Antoine awakes, the people do not seem like a community of humans but rather a natural force, being a "forest of naked arms" and emitting a dull roar.
The title of Chapter 22 refers to the French mob, which Dickens compared in the previous chapter to a sea. It would be unnatural for a sea to continue rising past high tide except in extreme conditions, and the storming of the Bastille would seem to be the extent of furor that the mob has been capable of. Dickens suggests the unnatural character of the mob by saying that its level of engagement is continuing to rise. The brute force of the mob stems from the fact that it empowers those who have never been empowered before. Even if the lower classes are starving and their life is not meaningful, they have found new meaning in the fact that they have the ability to kill others.
Foulon provides another example of a resurrection. In addition to the more metaphorical resurrections of Doctor Manette and Darnay, who were almost sentenced to certain death, and the exhuming of bodies by Resurrection-Men, there are examples of more literal resurrections - that is, of men who were presumed dead. Both Foulon and the spy Robert Cly attempted mock funerals to trick their enemies into believing that they were dead, but both were apparently "resurrected," being found alive.
The metaphoric title of Chapter 23 reflects the progression of the Parisian mob into a still more dangerous phase. The French revolutionaries are shown in strict contrast with the English characters in the other chapters of the novel, who have a developed moral sense often associated with the influence of religion (in France, the Catholic religion was suspect among the revolutionaries, with high-ranking church officials being associated with the upper classes).
In this chapter, the road-mender does not "trouble himself to reflect that dust he was and to dust he must return," in an allusion to the curse of Genesis 3:19, in which God turns Adam and Eve out of Eden and reminds them that "dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." Also familiar would be the funerary oration "ashes to ashes and dust to dust," which was also common in Dickens's time. The French lower class had more pressing concerns than religion, as they were often at the point of starving and it was hard to follow the New Testament injunction not to worry about what one eats. The road-mender's lack of preoccupation also illustrates his naÃ¯vetÃ© in an unstable revolutionary society where anyone was liable to be denounced and return to dust at any moment. More broadly, rabid idealism tends to distract people from the realities of life and death.
Another biblical image in the chapter is that of the chateau on fire. The villagers describe it as a "pillar of fire in the sky," which they estimate is forty feet high. (This height matches the height of Gaspard's own gallows, illustrating the motive of vengeance for setting the house on fire.) The "pillar of fire in the sky" alludes to Exodus 13:21, in which God leads the Israelites out of Egypt: "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light." The house is lit afire in the night, and it serves as a symbol of deliverance for the French people. The fire also suggests the end of times, the destruction of the world in the book of Revelations. But for the French mob, revolutionary principles have temporarily displaced religion.
The title of Chapter 24 presents yet another literary allusion, now to a story in the Arabian Nights called "The Third Calender's Tale." A loadstone is a type of magnet which, in the story, irresistibly draws a ship towards it. Its force is so powerful that it draws the nails out of the vessel, shipwrecking it. The title illustrates the power that Paris has over Darnay; he is drawn back into the city as though unwillingly.
Indirectly, this chapter illustrates the political climate of England at the time of the French Revolution. Although the revolutionaries had some admirers in England at the outbreak of the revolution, public opinion turned swiftly and heavily against them over the course of the terror. Mr. Stryver speaks on behalf of many Englishmen when he is disgusted by the seizure of property and the carnage of the Revolution, and it is obvious by the freedom of their conversation at Tellson's that Frenchmen of Monseigneur's class found safe haven in England. This conversation reveals Darnay as even more of a free-thinker in his continued sympathies for the French people, since they run counter not only to his own family, but also to the opinions of his adopted country. The courage of his opinions will only make the revolutionaries' behavior towards him more shocking after he returns to France.
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