Tale of Two Cities Summary and Analysis
Book III, Chapters 1-7
Chapter 1: In Secret
The disorganization of France makes Darnay's trip long, and he is questioned at every step. When he nears Paris, he is woken in the middle of the night and told he is to be sent to Paris with an escort, which he is forced to accept and pay for. This escort is Monsieur Defarge. When they enter the town of Beauvais, people shout "down with the emigrant!" and Darnay knows he is in trouble. A decree had been passed the day Darnay left England, authorizing the sale of the property of emigrants and condemning those who return to death.
When he reaches Paris, Darnay is condemned to prison in La Force. Defarge reveals his identity and the fact that he knows that Darnay is married to Lucie Manette, but he refuses to help. Darnay is thrown into the La Force Prison, where he finds the other prisoners surprisingly genteel. He paces in his room and begins to understand what drove Doctor Manette to shoemaking.
Chapter 2: The Grindstone
Mr. Lorry occupies rooms in Tellson's Bank in Paris, preoccupied with the fact that the noblemen will not live to collect their money. He nervously hears the sounds of conflict on the streets and praises God that no one he loves is in Paris, at which point Doctor Manette and Lucie rush into his room with the news that Darnay is in prison. Manette is not susceptible to the violence of the revolutionaries, because they respect the fact that he was a prisoner in the Bastille.
Mr. Lorry asks Lucie to retire to a back room so that he can discuss the situation privately with the Doctor. They look together out into the courtyard, where a brutal-looking mob is using the grindstone to sharpen their weapons. Mr. Lorry explains to the doctor that they are murdering the prisoners. The Doctor descends to the courtyard, makes it known that he was a prisoner in the Bastille, and is hailed as a hero by the crowd. He is carried to La Force on the backs of the crowd, who are now as anxious to save Darnay for the Doctor's sake as they had been to kill him.
Chapter 3: The Shadow
Mr. Lorry worries that he is endangering Tellson's Bank by housing the wife of an emigrant prisoner, Lucie, in their lodgings. After shrewdly deciding not to ask Defarge for advice for fear that he might be wrapped up in the revolution, he finds Lucie, her daughter, the Doctor, and Miss Pross a suitable apartment near his own. Jerry Cruncher, whom Mr. Lorry brought with him as a bodyguard, now guards their house.
Mr. Lorry returns to his own lodgings, where he is visited by Monsieur Defarge with a message from Doctor Manette, who says that Darnay is safe, but that neither of them can leave prison yet. Defarge also carries a message for Lucie, and Mr. Lorry accompanies him to her new apartment. They are joined in the street by Madame Defarge, whom Mr. Lorry recognizes by her knitting. Lucie is overjoyed to receive her husband's message that he is safe for the time being and that her father has influence. She kisses Madame Defarge's hand in thanks, but the woman does not respond.
Mr. Lorry explains that Madame Defarge wants to see the whole family so she knows who to protect during uprisings in the street. Lucie begs her to help her husband if at all possible, but Madame Defarge says that after the poverty and suffering she has seen, the troubles of one woman mean little to her.
Chapter 4: Calm in Storm
Doctor Manette does not return for four days, during which time 1,100 prisoners are killed. Manette announced himself as having been a prisoner in the Bastille without trial, a fact which Monsieur Defarge reinforces, popularizing the Doctor immensely. He almost secured Darnay's immediate release, but the prisoner was arbitrarily returned to his cell. Doctor Manette gained permission to stay with him in the cell to ensure that he would not be murdered like the other prisoners.
The Doctor is asked to tend to a prisoner who was released but attacked with a pike anyway by mistake. He works hard to dress the wounds and save both the attacker and the attacked. Instead of reviving his old psychological problems, the Doctor's activities give him a sense of importance and help him become more confident. He has usee his influence to ensure that Darnay is not imprisoned alone but with others, and he has seen Darnay weekly to check on his health and convey messages from him to Lucy.
Try as he might to get Darnay released, the Revolution has moved too fast; the king and queen are tried and beheaded, and Year One of the Republic has been declared. Charles is to lie in prison for a year and three months.
Chapter 5: The Wood-Sawyer
Lucie is unsure for one year and three months whether her husband has been alive or dead. She establishes a routine in their new home, and she keeps herself hopeful by setting aside a chair or books for her husband and otherwise behaving as if he lived there, too. Her father informs her that there is a place that she can stand on the sidewalk during certain hours which is overlooked by a window in the prison which her husband may sometimes look out. Lucie faithfully walks back and forth on that sidewalk for two hours each day.
Jacques Four has now become a wood-sawyer and has a shack to cut wood near where Lucie walks. He notices that she is there every day, and he mocks her for knowing someone in the prison, pretending to guillotine the whole family with his saw. During December, a crowd of five hundred including Jacques Four and the Vengeance descend on Lucie while she is walking near the prison. She is frightened, but her father reassures her that they will not harm her. Madame Defarge walks by and salutes them. Charles is summoned to appear in court the next day.
Chapter 6: Triumph
Charles Darnay is on a list of twenty-three people to be tried the following day. He says goodbye to his friends in prison. The next morning, he is called to the Tribunal, where it seems that criminals are trying honest men. The Defarges are sitting in the front row. Darnay is charged with being an emigrant, and the public cries to take off his head. The fact that he renounced his aristocratic title has no bearing. When he reveals that he is married to Lucie, Doctor Manette's daughter, the crowd calls out in his favor.
Gabelle testifies on his behalf, as does Doctor Manette, who points out that far from being sympathetic to the English aristocratic government, that very government had tried him for his life for being a friend of France and America. Darnay is acquitted, and the crowd greets him with rapture. They lead him back to his home, holding him up in a chair. When Lucie comes to meet her freed husband, the crowd dances the Carmagnole around them. Lucie lays her head on her father's breast to thank him, just as he had laid his head on her when she had first met him in Paris.
Chapter 7: A Knock at the Door
Darnay has had to pay dearly for his food while he was in prison, so the household began to live very frugally. Even so, Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher, who usually went food shopping, had to shop at different stores to keep from raising suspicion or envy of their relative wealth. Before they go shopping, they staunchly pronounce themselves English citizens loyal to the King.
Once Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher have departed, four men pound on the door and re-arrest Charles Darnay without giving any reason. They say that he has been denounced by Saint Antoine, specifically by Madame and Monsieur Defarge, as well as one other person.
Chapter 1 continues to paint a very unflattering picture of revolutionary France. Thus far, attention has been focused on the suburb of Saint Antione and the actions of the Defarges' gang.
As Darnay travels through France, however, he recreates the journey to prison that Dr. Manette made long ago. Through this journey the reader receives a wider view of how the Revolution has affected society as a whole. The bloodthirstiness of the people has become routine, and it does not even need to be stirred up by a mob. Moreover, Darnay's escorts are irresponsible, and one of them is an alcoholic. Eventually he is thrown in prison, and soon after into solitary confinement, just as Dr. Manette was. All this happens without explanation. Thus Dickens is able to show the image of Darnay, in the same situation as Dr. Manette, pacing and saying, "He made shoes."
The two central themes of this chapter are reversals and death. The incarceration of aristocrats has become so common that no one in the street even notices Darnay being conducted to jail; it is as normal for an aristocrat to go to prison as it is for a laborer to go to work. Although Darnay has an understandable fear of the sort of characters he might find in prison, the refined members of society are jailed by coarse and vulgar men, rather than the other way around. Death is omnipresent in French society, and Dickens describes the imprisoned gentlemen as ghosts. The French Revolution has killed off the traits that were admirable in the French people, and the prison is filled with ghosts of beauty, stateliness, pride, and so on. Their jailors are also associated with death, but of a less attractive type. Their puffy faces recall victims of drowning.
By Chapter 2, the force of the mob is revealed as even more terrifying. Whereas Dickens formerly compared them to the natural forces of fire and water, they are now depicted in terms of savagery. Their thirst for blood dehumanizes them, and false mustaches and eyebrows stuck on their faces hide their identities so that they can kill with impunity. The crowd is "awry with howling" and seems bestial in its rage. The transgressive and hedonistic nature of the mob is illustrated not only in that the people's faces are smeared in sweat, blood, and wine, but also in that the men wear women's lace, silk, and ribbon on their clothing. The image of blood on stone is consistent throughout the novel in its association with the violence in France; the blood spattered on the grindstone connects this scene to the spilled wine on the cobblestones of Saint Antoine, as well as to the murder of Monseigneur (after which the stone faces of his château seemed covered in blood).
The position of the Manettes and Darnay in revolutionary France is complicated. Despite the fact that they all reside in England, they are all French, and as such they are not as clearly opposed to the Revolution as most emigrants are. Doctor Manette and Darnay have the most torn sympathies, with Manette angry at the aristocratic regime that imprisoned him but horrified at the excesses of the revolutionaries, and with Darnay concerned about the oppression that the peasants underwent but in fear for his life, being ultimately of the aristocratic class.
A threatening shadow in Chapter 3 is thrown by Madame Defarge, who only becomes more terrible as the novel continues. Her incitement of her husband to violence in previous chapters has given her the awfulness of Lady Macbeth, and her actions in Chapter 3 remain ominous. She interrupts her knitting to point a needle at little Lucie "as if it were the finger of Fate." Her sternness, combined with the fact that the Fates had the power to cut a life short if they wanted to, does not bode well for little Lucie.
Lucie is set directly into opposition with Madame Defarge for the first time in this chapter, and the contrast is described in terms of dark and light. Madame Defarge has dark, glistening hair emblematic of her dark nature, whereas Lucie is still the "golden thread," in her hair color and her sentimental, moral goodness. The darkness of Madame Defarge's nature is extended as a threat in this chapter when she stands over little Lucie, throwing a shadow over her. Recognizing the threat to her child, Lucie kneels next to little Lucie to protect her, which throws darkness over both of them. Madame Defarge seems to win the battle, at least in this chapter, because her darkness overwhelms their light. Lucie tries to appeal to Madame Defarge's femininity, highlighting the supposed bond between them on this count by calling her "sister-woman." But Madame Defarge has been dehumanized and dismisses these claims, always arguing that class struggle is more important than an individual's suffering.
Chapter 4 examines some of the ambiguities of the French Revolution. While Dickens has been extremely critical of the mob action driving it, this chapter adds some nuance to the depiction of the perpetrators of violence. A moral man like Doctor Manette sees fit to tend to both sides, and the duality of the revolutionaries is highlighted by the description of those who officiate the tribunal as both "stained and unstained" with murder. The same men who help Doctor Manette tend the wounds of a wrongly attacked man immediately launch another attack so savage that the carnage makes the doctor faint. This contradiction was also evident in an earlier chapter with the division of Darnay's escort as one sober man and one drunken man.
The theme of resurrection is raised once again in Chapter 4. The Doctor's newfound power is an affirmation of his full resurrection. The power of resurrection is depicted as something transferable, and Doctor Manette hopes to use his own resurrection to affect that of his son-in-law.
Now the role reversal of Dr. Manette and the Darnays is complete. This time, Dr. Manette must protect the prisoner and his family, when Lucie once protected the prisoner. In his power as temporary head of the family, Dr. Manette must protect Lucie, but he also does it to repay Lucie for her own loving care. In short, he is a new provider of magic: he protects Darnay and Lucie, and he motivates the mobs to peace. He has done precisely what the weak Darnay wanted to do, but could not.
The defining characteristic of the post-revolutionary society is its backwardness, demonstrated by the fact that criminals jail virtuous men rather than the other way around, the opposite of the storming of the Bastille. The inversions are evident in other aspects of the Manettes' experience in Paris. For example, the Doctor's imprisonment, which had previously been a source of darkness and shame, becomes the primary source of his pride and power. The very conception of resurrection is turned on its head in this chapter, with the description of the guillotine as "the sign of the regeneration of the human race." Dickens's ironic tone in describing a killing machine as a source of resurrection is made more biting by the fact that this was a common belief among revolutionaries, who wore miniatures of it on necklaces in place of a cross.
Dickens disapproves of this use of religious imagery in the secular French Republic. Describing the guillotine he writes: "The name of the strong man of Old Scripture had descended to the chief functionary who worked it; but, so armed, he was stronger than his namesake, and blinder." The executioner was known as "Samson" after the strong man in the Bible. The French Samson's blindness indicates that his work is counterproductive compared with what is intended by God. He also refers to the guillotine as the "National Razor which shaved close," punning on the part of the story of Samson in which he takes revenge on the Philistines for blinding him after a betraying woman named Delilah cut his hair.
In Chapter 5, the Carmagnole was a dance specific to revolutionary France. It was an equalizing and wild dance, executed in a circle with the combinations of dancers constantly changing.
The horror of the French Revolution is not only evident in its violence, but also in the role reversals and transgressions that the revolutionaries engage in. Dances tended to be organized in pairs, following a rigid pattern. The revolutionaries smash these patterns, with men dancing with women, women with women, and men with men. Dickens is more repelled by this sort of savagery than of an originally savage society, calling the dance a "fallen sport." It is repulsive to him because it represents the breakdown of an order that existed, rather than the absence of order to begin with.
The mender of roads has now transformed into a completely different person, the wood-sawyer. He has fully adopted the revolutionary fervor and has changed professions to prove it. One he fixed things that brought people together as the road-mender; now he kills and divides as the wood-sawyer. Lucie's weakness in such a violent world is brought home to her in the wood-sawyer's metaphor of cutting the family. Although the wood-sawyer has a lot of influence in the mob, there is still one larger than him - Madame Defarge, who walks by quietly, casting shadows.
The court scene in chapter 6 is one of the many manifestations of Dickens's dread of the power of mobs. Although the trial is ostensibly run by the president, it is really the reaction of the crowd to the trial that decides the result. When Darnay asks if it is a crime to hazard his life to save another French citizen, the populace shouts "no" and refuses to be silenced by the president's bell, continuing to shout until the shouting dies out of its own accord. The danger of this power is in the fickle nature of the crowd, who call for blood one moment and in the next moment cry in sympathy with the prisoner.
In this upside-down society, triumph is uncomfortably akin to its opposite. The mob descends on Darnay when he is acquitted in the exact same way that they would have if he had been condemned, with only slightly different results. The pike-decorated chair that the crowd places Darnay on seems more ominous than celebratory. The knowledge that the same crowd could just as easily decide to tear him to pieces almost makes Darnay faint, and the triumphal procession back to his home is so similar to the procession to the guillotine that Darnay has to remind himself which one he is involved in.
The connections between this trial and Darnay's trial in England are clear. As in England, Darnay's trial in France is also of treason - a class treason, of being a noble when all others are poor and equal. Being a man of two nations has troubled him in both trials - in England because of his French roots, and in France because of his years in England. In both trials, he was captured because he went on errands to save the family honor. Fortunately, this trial resembles the English trial in his triumphant departure on the arms of the wild crowd. In this third mob scene, the crowd that would have killed him now carries him home.
Dickens repeats "I have saved him," the last line of Chapter 6, as the first line of Chapter 7. To the readers of his serialized novel, it would have been a foreboding last line. The cliffhanger at the end of this chapter is the mystery of who the third person to denounce Darnay is.
Miss Pross's pledge of allegiance to the King ("my maxim is confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks, on him our hopes we fix, God save the King!") before she exits the shop is drawn directly from "God Save the King" or "God Save the Queen" (depending on the gender of the current monarch), a British patriotic anthem.
Before the Defarges enter, Lucie thinks that she hears footsteps on the stairs. This again ties the Defarges' malevolent intervention into her life with her previous fears of the echoing footsteps in her London home. Her earlier fancy that the footsteps that echo outside her house portended people coming to interfere in her life now comes true.
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