A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Course Hero, "A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide," September 15, 2016, accessed July 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Tale-of-Two-Cities/.

A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 2 : A Sight | Summary

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Summary

Jerry Cruncher is given the task of going to the Old Bailey, the courthouse where Charles Darnay is being tried for treason. The courtyard in front of the Old Bailey is filled with violence, crime, and disease, and the courtroom itself is packed with people straining to see the accused. The inside of the court has been fumigated with herbs and vinegar to prevent disease from spreading, but despite such precautions it was quite common for even the judge to contract a disease in court and die from it.

Jerry must give a note to the doorman for Mr. Jarvis Lorry, who is in the courtroom, and wait until Lorry needs him. He finds out that everyone's waiting to see the prisoner hung, drawn, and quartered, which means to be half-hanged, then sliced open alive, see his insides drawn out and burned, and finally be decapitated and cut into four quarters. The more hideous the punishment, the bigger the crowd. Jerry sees Darnay looking around the room, fully aware that all the people there are imagining him undergoing this exact punishment. Among the crowd are Lucie Manette and her father; they stand out among the crowd, both handsome and well-dressed. Word reaches Jerry that they are in the courtroom to provide evidence against the prisoner.

Jerry, who is thoroughly overwhelmed by the legal language, stands on the sidelines, sucking his fingers and hearing only about half of what is going on.

Analysis

Dickens spends a lot of time in A Tale of Two Cities telling the reader about horrific punishments for seemingly innocuous crimes. Treason is not an innocuous crime, but drawing and quartering goes far beyond straightforward capital punishment. Even Jerry Cruncher reacts vehemently: "Barbarous!" he calls it. Dickens wants the reader to know not only how inhumane punishment was during this time, but how the crowd went along with it and saw the death of another human being as entertainment.

It is interesting to note that the Manettes are in the courtroom to testify against Charles Darnay. This gives the reader another tidbit of information about Dr. Manette's backstory and another question to add to his mystery. Lucie Manette feels terrible about testifying against Darnay, which is the first sign that she has fallen for him—although, of course, Lucie is portrayed as such a flawlessly good character that she would feel bad testifying against almost anyone.

Their appearance in court also foreshadows events at Darnay's next court date in France, which will be even more dramatic and dangerous and far less successful. Because he is an aristocrat, there is almost no way that he can get out of being imprisoned by the revolutionaries when he dares to go back to France. Dr. Manette will prove to be the one person who can save Darnay from prison and death the first time he is imprisoned in France. But it will also be Dr. Manette's unwitting (and unwilling) testimony that will afterward seal Darnay's fate.

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