A Tale of Two Cities | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Tale of Two Cities | Book 3, Chapter 6 : Triumph | Summary

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Summary

At La Force prison, the jailer reads the "evening paper"—the list of prisoners to be taken before the Tribunal the next day. Charles Darnay's name is on the list. The prisoners are transferred to the Conciergerie to await trial. The Conciergerie was a Gothic palace that was converted into a palace of justice in the late 1500s, at which time some sections became prison cells. Under the revolutionary government, its importance as a prison grew, and it housed the revolutionary tribunal.

After waiting in the Conciergerie, the prisoners are called one by one into the Tribunal. Fifteen are called before Darnay, and all of them are condemned to die. Finally, Darnay is called. The courtroom is packed with coarsely dressed and well-armed ruffians, and the Defarges are seated near Darnay. He notices that Madame Defarge is knitting and has an extra piece of knitting under her arm. He also notices they will not look at him. Darnay is charged as an emigrant, and the crowd shouts, "Take off his head! ... An enemy to the Republic!" But Darnay counters the accusation, saying he's not an emigrant; he was in England because "he had voluntarily relinquished a title ... and a station that [were] distasteful to him, and had left his country ... to live by his own industry in England, rather than on the industry of the overladen people of France." Gabelle and Dr. Manette could bear witness to this. The President of the Tribunal reminds him that he married in England, but Darnay explains that he married a French woman, Dr. Manette's daughter. Because of Dr. Manette's status, this information has a positive effect on the onlookers. Darnay also explains he came back to France to save a fellow citizen, Gabelle, who confirms this. Dr. Manette explains that Darnay was tried by the English "Aristocrat government" as an enemy for supporting the United States, and Lorry confirms this. The jury votes unanimously to acquit Darnay.

Before Darnay leaves the building, another five prisoners are condemned to die. But their trial has no audience. Everyone has followed Darnay to celebrate his reprieve. The onlookers lift him up onto a chair and process through the streets with him. He looks for the Defarges in the crowd but doesn't see them. He is carried home and reunited with his loved ones. The crowd then lifts a young woman into the chair to represent the Goddess of Liberty and moves off through the streets, dancing the Carmagnole. Darnay tells Lucie he is safe, and that "no other man in ... France could have done what [her father] has done for me." As she hugs the doctor, he tells her, "Don't tremble so. I have saved him."

Analysis

The presence of the Defarges near Charles Darnay during his trial is unsettling, especially because they won't look at him. Madame Defarge's knitting is a reminder that, although the crowd is emotionally moved by Darnay's marriage to Dr. Manette's daughter, not everyone thinks this absolves him from the charge of treason. In fact, marrying him condemns Lucie, especially in Madame Defarge's mind. Darnay is concerned about them and looks for them in the crowd. They aren't there, of course, as they are not about to celebrate his release.

The onlookers may go wild when Darnay is acquitted, but they are not to be trusted. Dickens mentions several times how fickle the people are. Many an innocent person have already been sent to the guillotine without a trial, accused of plotting against the revolutionary government.

This is the second time Charles Darnay has been on trial, but the courtroom atmosphere in this chapter is very different than that of the English courtroom at the Old Bailey in London, where readers were first introduced to him. The Old Bailey is positively peaceful compared to the Tribunal, where the atmosphere reflects the mob mentality. There are other differences as well. Here, Darnay speaks for himself and introduces his own witnesses. In the Old Bailey his barrister, Mr. Stryver, was in charge of his defense. Also, in London the prosecution called witnesses against him. But in Paris, all that is required is an accusation; the burden of proof falls on the accused.

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