A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 14 : The Honest Tradesman | Summary



Jerry Cruncher and his son are sitting outside Telson's Bank when they notice a funeral procession approaching. Jerry is alarmed at his son's "exultant" exclamations. As the procession nears, they see there is only one mourner and the crowd is "bawling and hissing" and "calling out: 'Yah! Spies!'" Jerry asks another spectator who the dead man is, and is told that it's an Old Bailey spy, Roger Cly. The mourner flees the crowd, who take over the procession, filling the carriage and clinging to its roof. After burying the spy, the crowd becomes a mob, hassling passersby, breaking windows, plundering pubs, and perpetrating general destruction. The crowd breaks up when they hear the Guards are on the way. Jerry, who has stayed in the graveyard, discusses the deceased with the undertakers and notes the location of the freshly dug grave. He stops in to see a surgeon before making his way back to Tellson's, where young Jerry tells him no jobs came up while he was gone.

After abusing his wife verbally yet again at the table, Jerry goes out to do his nighttime job, which is not legal, but helps the family make ends meet. His son, young Jerry, sneaks out to follow him, because his father claims he's going fishing, but doesn't bring a pole. Jerry is joined by two other "fishermen." Young Jerry follows and watches them "fish[ing] with a spade" and eventually pulling out a casket. When he sees his father is about to open the casket, he is so terrified he runs all the way home and hides in the closet, falling asleep. He wakes to the sound of Jerry beating Mrs. Cruncher while blaming her for "opposing ... his business."

As he walks to work with his father that morning, young Jerry asks what a "resurrection man" is; Jerry pretends he doesn't know. The boy asks if it has to do with dead bodies, and Jerry says it does, for scientific purposes. Young Jerry announces he wants to be a resurrection man when he grows up, which pleases his father.


The narrator tells readers that Jerry Cruncher is "joined by another disciple of Izaak Walton"; the reference is to the author of one of the most famous books on fishing, The Compleat Angler, published in 1653. Of course, this is meant ironically, as Jerry is not a fisherman, or angler, but a body snatcher, who digs up bodies and sells them for surgeons and their students to dissect for research or for teaching purposes.

It's interesting that young Jerry, who was so scared of what he'd see in the casket the night before, decides the next day that he wants to dig up bodies for science. Part of the reason he is insisting to his father that he follow in his footsteps, one can assume, is that the violence inflicted in his home may abate a little if he does something that pleases his father. He has spent the night in the closet listening to his mother being beaten and is likely willing to do anything to soothe his father's anger.

This rapid acceptance of a rather grotesque profession may also be due to the popularity of public executions at the time. Young Jerry has likely attended them and seen dead bodies. It's a testament to the culture and social conditions of the day that young Jerry not only accepts the idea of digging up freshly dead bodies, but also of doing something illegal in order to make enough money to live on.

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