A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 2, Chapter 21 : Echoing Footsteps | Summary



Lucie hears the "echo of footsteps" of her family all around her and feels surrounded by love. Years pass. Lucie has a baby girl, little Lucie, and a baby boy, who doesn't live long. Carton spends time with the family, coming uninvited, as they said he could. Little Lucie becomes extremely fond of Carton, and he of her. But other, darker echoes are "rumbl[ing] menacingly." One day in 1789, when little Lucie is six, Lorry stops by for tea and mentions that Telson's Bank has been unusually busy because their Paris customers are insisting on sending their property to England, which Darnay finds worrying.

Meanwhile, in France, the Defarges and thousands of Jacques storm the Bastille. They batter the prison with cannons and muskets and send wagonloads of blazing straw across the drawbridge. After four hours the prison surrenders, and the revolutionaries release the prisoners. They search for records as well. Monsieur Defarge orders a guard to take him to the North Tower and asks him what "One Hundred and Five, North Tower" means. The guard tells him it is a cell, and Defarge orders him to lead the way to the cell. He finds the initials A.M.—Alexandre Manette—scratched into the stone wall along with the words "a poor physician," and a calendar. They search the cell, find nothing more, and burn the few furnishings.

Returning to the yard, Defarge finds the revolutionaries waiting for him. They have captured the prison governor. Once Defarge is with them, the mob bears the governor to the Hotel de Ville, where he is stabbed to death. Madame Defarge has stayed close to him the entire time; she now steps on "his neck, and with her cruel knife—long ready—hew[s] off his head."

The revolutionaries carry off with them seven released prisoners, who are stunned and confused by the hubbub around them; "seven gory heads on pikes"; the keys to the prison; and various belongings of dead prisoners. The narrator prays their bloody, "loudly echoing footsteps" stay out of Lucie Darnay's life.


The Darnays have a wonderful life together, but there is a shadow hanging over them, and that is Charles Darnay's heritage, his connection to the aristocracy against whom the peasants have revolted and declared war. Dickens uses the image of the storm and the way it sounds, like the footsteps of a crowd, to connect to the actual thundering footsteps of the swarm of peasants and the sounds of the cannons at the storming of the Bastille, where there is no mercy for anyone who is not with the revolutionaries.

The storming of the Bastille has become an iconic symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was used to hold people who were waiting for trial, but it was also used to hold political prisoners who were imprisoned by order of the king, which could not be reversed. It came to represent the corruption and overreach of power that the French monarchy had exerted with no input from the people. The day the peasants stormed the Bastille, they actually came to the prison wanting to ask the governor (the person whose head Madame Defarge cuts off after he is already dead) to give them the weapons and ammunition held inside the prison. He avoided them and wouldn't answer, and they stormed the prison, burning everything that would burn and releasing the seven prisoners who were still there. The revolutionary government later took down the entire complex. Bastille Day, July 14, did not become a national holiday until 1880, but by the time Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, the prison was already an icon for the revolution.

The differences in the characters of Monsieur and Madame Defarge is in the forefront in this chapter. Monsieur Defarge is considered the leader of the revolutionaries; Madame Defarge is influential enough to make them wait for her husband before executing the prison governor, but she is not their leader. She is, however, the commander of the woman revolutionaries. The main difference between them is that Monsieur Defarge is clear-headed; even in the midst of battle, he sets off to find Dr. Manette's cell and search it. His wife, on the other hand, is bloodthirsty. Even though she has waited for her husband before taking action, she won't move from her position beside the governor as he is taken to the city hall; as soon as he is dead, she cuts off his head. This bloodthirstiness was hinted at in the intensity of her knitting when she heard the story told by the mender of roads, and it will play an important role later in the novel as well.

At the end of the chapter, the narrator expresses a hope that Lucie Darnay will not come into contact with the bloody footsteps of the revolutionaries, but it seems that whenever the narrator hopes something won't happen at the end of one chapter, it happens within the next few chapters. Dickens uses this to foreshadow what will happen as well as to arouse the reader's interest in buying the next installment.

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