A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 4 : Calm In Storm | Summary

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Summary

Dr. Manette returns after four days, and hides from Lucie the extent of the horrors he has seen. She knows there was an attack on the prisons and that some political prisoners were removed and executed, but her father doesn't tell her that 1,100, including women and children, were "killed by the populace."

Dr. Manette confides his story to Jarvis Lorry. He went before the Tribunal, which includes Monsieur Defarge, but was unable to get Darnay released; he received the assurance, though, that his son-in-law would not be executed. He stayed during the attack on the prison to make sure Charles Darnay remained safe. He was called on to dress the wounds of a man who had been released, but was accidentally stabbed with a pike by a "savage" who was unaware of his status. The people who helped him tend the victim later went back to "butchery so dreadful" that the doctor passed out. As he speaks, Lorry sees a change in the doctor. Now it is Dr. Manette who has strength, determination, and influence and who takes care of his family. Soon the doctor has become "the inspecting physician of three prisons," including La Force. Dr. Manette visits Darnay—who is no longer in solitary confinement—every week with messages from Lucie.

The king and later his queen are tried and beheaded. The Republic is caught up in "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death"—mostly death, as "La Guillotine" is so active that the ground is permanently red. Both the innocent and the guilty are executed. The rivers are clogged with bodies of people drowned at night, and prisoners are lined up and shot if they aren't beheaded. The terrors swirl around Dr. Manette, who treats anyone who needs medical attention; his special status makes him untouchable. An entire year and three months pass like this, without Darnay being released.

Analysis

In this chapter, Lucie and her father have switched roles, says the narrator, and Dr. Manette regains his authority as a father and his confidence as a doctor. He is kept busy, and this sustains him. Meanwhile, the doctor tends any patient, guilty or innocent, making no distinction between the two. He is a shining example of a doctor who has taken an oath to heal and not harm. His reputation sets him apart, and he is one of the few people who is beyond suspicion. It is as if he has experienced yet another resurrection. In fact, the narrator comments that it is as "if he had indeed been recalled to life some eighteen years before, or were a Spirit moving among mortals."

Still, Dr. Manette can't get Charles Darnay released. Eventually, the doctor will be able to get Darnay out of prison, but it won't be for long. It almost seems as if he and Darnay are being set up so that when Darnay is finally brought to trial, there is no way he will be declared innocent of the crimes for which he has been accused.

Dickens devotes several paragraphs to describing the Reign of Terror, in which many innocent people were killed based on suspicion alone. Mad with their new power, the formerly oppressed have become the oppressors, wreaking vengeance not only those who have wronged them but on many who have not. Dickens describes the guillotine as taking off 22 heads in as many minutes. (These were the heads of the leaders of a moderate political party that was defeated by the Jacobins and guillotined in October 1793. One had committed suicide but was beheaded anyway.) But apparently, one death per minute was not fast enough; the people also drowned and shot their victims.

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