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A Tale of Two Cities | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Book 2, Chapter 21 of A Tale of Two Cities, what are the characteristics of the two groups of seven?

When the crowd stormed the Bastille, they found only seven prisoners in the Bastille, not the hundred or more initially rumored at the time. Dickens took care to be accurate in his recounting of that event. In the chapter, the crowd lifts up the seven released prisoners and parades them through the streets. Having seen the condition of Dr. Manette after his release from the Bastille, it is not surprising that these seven men are stunned, "all scared, all lost, all wondering and amazed, as if the Last Day were come, and those who rejoiced around them were lost spirits." This observation isn't far from the truth, as the crowd around them, the narrator tells readers, is full of "faces hardened in the furnaces of suffering until the touch of pity could make no mark on them." The common people have been so abused for so long that they are out for blood and revenge, so much so that they have lost their humanity. The hardening of their hearts is expressed in the murder and decapitation of seven men, one of them the governor of the prison. This is also factual: The crowd matched the number of heads to that of the released prisoners. The dead men's heads are placed on pikes and paraded through the streets along with the released prisoners, to "bear witness" to the people's revenge on their oppressors. Madame Defarge is the one to behead the governor. As his dead body falls at her feet, she steps on his body to steady it, and cuts off his head with her knife. This mutilation is reminiscent of the deaths and mutilation of peasants by aristocrats, which became so common that the peasants and other commoners became almost inured to the gore displayed on a regular basis.

In Book 2, Chapter 22 of A Tale of Two Cities, how does Dickens use the voices of women speaking of Foulon to explain the revolutionaries' extreme violence?

Dickens uses the voice of The Vengeance, a woman whose husband is a starving grocer, to raise the cry against Foulon, a government official who once suggested the starving people could eat grass. Foulon faked his death, but has been found alive, and is being brought to the city hall to be tried. The Vengeance's voice is described as "terrific shrieks," and the voices of the women she rouses are equally wild as they have all suffered under the regime and blame heartless officials like Foulon. The women cry, "Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother, Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter!" The women are "beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive!" The women speak of their elderly and their sick left naked and starving, and babies who have died because their mothers, also starving, can't produce milk. Their suffering has been so intense—and Foulon's comment so like a death sentence—that they feel bound by honor to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by killing this man. They find him at the city hall, bound and with grass tied to his back, which they find very appropriate. Impatient, though, they drag him out to hang him on a lamp. The rope breaks twice before he is finally hung. When he's dead, they behead him and place his head, the mouth stuffed with grass, on a pike. The women have given Foulon what he gave them—a mouth full of grass and death. In this example, Dickens shows both the extremes to which the French people went during the revolution and what drove them to those extremes.

In Book 2, Chapter 23 of A Tale of Two Cities, what has changed about the mender of roads?

When readers first met the mender of roads, he was one of the workers living in the village on the Marquis's lands. He alerts the Marquis that someone had been clinging to the bars beneath the Marquis's carriage. Later, it is likely that was the person who kills the Marquis, but the mender of roads warned his liege lord as a good vassal should. The next time readers meet him, he brings a message to Monsieur Defarge and is called Jacques, showing that he has joined the revolutionaries. But he's not committed; his reaction to seeing the king and queen in a procession indicates that he is still awed by royalty. Now, however, he is fully committed to the revolutionary cause. He meets a fellow Jacques on the road—apparently by design since the man never mentions the chateau, but the mender of roads gives him accurate directions on how to get there. The mender of roads the guards the Jacques as he naps and then wakes him and confirms the directions. When he gets home, the mender of roads gathers around the fountain with the other villagers and their cows, and whispers to the others what is happening. That night, when the chateau is in flames and the alarm bell ringing, like the other villagers, he stolidly does nothing at all: "The mender of roads, and two hundred and fifty particular friends, stood with folded arms at the fountain, looking at the pillar of fire in the sky. 'It must be forty feet high,' said they, grimly; and never moved." He has changed a great deal from the obedient and helpful vassal readers met in Book 1.

What role does dramatic irony play in Book 2, Chapter 24 of A Tale of Two Cities?

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows something a character or characters do not. Authors frequently use dramatic irony to heighten suspense. That is what occurs in this chapter. Charles Darnay receives a letter from his dead uncle's former servant Gabelle. Gabelle has been working for Darnay since he inherited his uncle's estates. During that time, at Darnay's request, Gabelle has been paying off the estate's debts and paying the taxes owed to the government, but he has not been collecting rents from the peasants. As far as possible, he has left the the produce of the land to live from. Thus, Darnay knows he has not mistreated the people who live on his estates. He also renounced his title because he disagreed with the practices of the nobility with regard to the common people. He himself has lived as a member of the middle class, earning his own keep and supporting his family through his work. Far from expecting to be a target for the revolutionaries, he expects to be able to arrive in France, explain himself, and become a valued adviser. However, readers know that the revolutionaries are beyond the reach of logic. They care more about a man's superficial ties of parentage and job affiliations than they do about his guilt or innocence. They have suffered unjustly for so long at the hands of the aristocracy that they are repaying that treatment in kind without concern for who may or may not deserve repayment. While Darnay thinks, for instance, that he can save Gabelle by explaining his own motives, readers know that his motives mean less than nothing to the revolutionaries; they just want his blood. This juxtaposition heightens the suspense because readers know that Darnay will be in danger from the moment he sets foot in his home country.

In Book 3, Chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities, why are emigrants automatically considered traitors in France, and how does this affect the plot of the novel?

Emigrants are considered traitors because they have left France to avoid being lawfully prosecuted for their crimes against the people—that is, their oppression and inhumane treatment of them. Their property is confiscated if they have left it behind. However, if they managed to retain some of their wealth by sending it abroad in advance, this was seen as a further crime. This new ruling affects the plot by ensuring that Charles Darnay is immediately followed when he arrives in France, is stopped several times, and is finally taken under escort to Paris. He is "mercifully" spared being hung from the nearest lamp but is transported directly to the guardhouse to be charged and then to La Force, a prison. He not only discovers that emigrants have no rights, but he will not be able to help Gabelle or communicate with anyone outside the prison. Darnay's arrest under this new law has also brought him into contact with Monsieur Defarge, who is now in a position to tell his wife that the main object of her personal revenge is now imprisoned in Paris. However, he is also in a position to help the family of Dr. Manette, to whom he also feels a great loyalty and who has also suffered at the hands of the Marquis; despite that suffering, he has welcomed Darnay into his family. This is a potential source of mental conflict for Defarge.

In Book 3, Chapter 1 of A Tale of Two Cities, how successful is Charles Darnay's attempt to convince Monsieur Defarge to help him?

Charles Darnay's exchange with Monsieur Defarge is inscrutable—to both Darnay himself and to the reader. Darnay realizes he shares a connection with Defarge through Dr. Manette and attempts to use any sympathy that wins him to get Defarge to answer a few questions and get a message to Mr. Jarvis Lorry. Defarge denies his requests for information and help, saying, "My duty is to my country and the People. I am the sworn servant of both, against you. I will do nothing for you." But Defarge is not alone; two other patriots are accompanying them. What could he say in front of them? When Defarge says, "Other people have been similarly buried in worse prisons, before now," Darnay replies, "But never by me, Citizen Defarge." Defarge's only answer is to look at him and remain silent. Darnay interprets Defarge's long silence as rejection without the slightest "softening"—"or so Darnay thought," says the narrator. The narrator's comment hints that there may yet be hope that Defarge will help Darnay.

How does Dickens contrast France and England in Book 3, Chapter 2 of A Tale of Two Cities?

Tellson's Bank has branches in both London and Paris. The Paris branch is now located in the wing of a mansion that once belonged to a powerful member of the nobility. For this reason, the bank looks out onto a courtyard in which orange trees grow and the walls inside are decorated with plaster figures, such as the cupid over the counter that seems to be aiming his bow at the people doing business there. This and other features of the bank would not be acceptable in the English branch, which, like Mr. Jarvis Lorry himself, is expected to be staid and proper. In short, what is acceptable in France would be considered unprofessional in England. In France, people still leave their money with the bank, but in England such surroundings would shake people's confidence. This highlights another difference, one that is more relevant to the themes of the novel. England is safe and can afford to be concerned with its image; France is in such a tenuous state that no one knows whether anyone will ever come to reclaim the money and valuables that have been entrusted to Tellson's there. When the decorative cupid takes aim at customers at the counter, he is a symbol of a much more real danger that may target them at any time. In fact, across the courtyard from the orange trees is a giant grindstone where, at night, the patriots sharpen stolen weapons to be used against just such people as might do business at Tellson's Bank. Tellson's Paris location is a sort of microcosm of the France of the novel: The remnants of the ancien régime are present but exist directly alongside the trappings of the Reign of Terror, which are taking over. In the light of day, the bank conducts business, but at night, its employees huddle inside in fear of what is going on in their courtyard.

In Book 3, Chapter 3 of A Tale of Two Cities, how have the attitudes of Monsieur and Madame Defarge changed toward Lucie Manette?

When Lucie Manette first met the Defarges, she had come to the wine shop to meet and rescue the father she had never known. She had relatively little to do with Madame Defarge, but was deeply grateful to Monsieur Defarge for caring for her father. Monsieur Defarge used his connections to help Lucie, Mr. Jarvis Lorry, and Dr. Manette get out of Paris and back to England. Since then, however, the Defarges have heard that Lucie has married Charles Darnay. This dominates Madame Defarge's attitude because she is set on vengeance on the Marquis's entire family. It appears in this chapter that Monsieur Defarge is more committed to his wife than to his conscience. At the request of Dr. Manette, Monsieur Defarge brings a very short note to Lucie from Charles Darnay. However, Monsieur Defarge's voice is "curiously reserved and mechanical," which bothers Mr. Lorry a great deal. Madame Defarge is also there, to get a look at Lucie and her daughter—supposedly so that she will know what they look like and can protect them, but Mr. Lorry suspects that this is not the case. Madame Defarge and The Vengeance are both extremely cold to Lucie and cast such a dark shadow with their presence that it terrifies Lucie and she shields her daughter in her arms. Madame Defarge speaks of Dr. Manette's "influence" with a "lowering smile." She knows his influence can only go so far because she has registered Darnay in her knitting, and no one escapes the register once Madame Defarge has recorded their name. In fact, as she leaves, she seems to be adding more names to the register, most likely little Lucie's and perhaps, as a member of Darnay's household, Miss Pross's.

In Book 3, Chapter 4 of A Tale of Two Cities, why couldn't Dr. Manette use his influence to get Charles Darnay out of prison right away?

Dr. Manette has become the doctor for the prisons, tending to revolutionaries and prisoners alike, but he still does not have the power to get Charles Darnay released. His influence is strong enough to be able to visit Darnay, but there appear to be stronger forces at work. The country is in the grip of the Reign of Terror. The monarchy has fallen, the king and queen have been guillotined. The "law of the Suspected" is in force, which means that anyone, innocent or guilty, can be executed on the basis of suspicion alone, with no evidence necessary. But this would not explain why Dr. Manette cannot exert his influence as a hero of the revolution. On the very first night the doctor made his presence known, he approached the revolutionaries' Tribunal and asked that his son-in-law be released. There was a moment when Darnay "seemed on the point of being at once released, [but] the tide in his favour met with some unexplained check (not intelligible to the Doctor), which led to a few words of secret conference." Because Darnay was once knitted into Madame Defarge's register and Defarge himself is a member of the tribunal, perhaps that explains the "unexplained check."

In Book 3, Chapter 5 of A Tale of Two Cities, what events foreshadow trouble ahead for the Manettes?

Three events bode ill for Charles Darnay and his family: an exchange with a woodcutter, a meeting, and some passing carts. For most of the 15 months she has waited for his release, Lucie Manette has stood where her husband can glimpse her from the prison, often taking her daughter with her. Usually, she sees and speaks with a wood-sawyer whose shop is nearby. In one of their early conversations, the wood-sawyer jokes about his saw being a guillotine and, as he is cutting pieces from his chunks of wood, pretends he is beheading them, saying he is decapitating an entire family—father, mother, and child. The wood-sawyer is the former mender of roads, so he knew (and hated) the Marquis and is closely associated with the Defarges. Therefore, he knows Madame Defarge has placed Darnay and his family on her register. It's likely he knows Lucie is there to support her husband, who's in prison. So it is not hard to imagine that this is the very family he is thinking of as he pretends to chop off heads. Also, even when Lucie has forgotten about the woodcutter, she often looks up to find him watching her. Perhaps he is there to spy on her for the Defarges; after all, he has worked for them in the past. One day when the wood-sawyer is not at his shop, Lucie gets caught up in a mob of revelers and is deeply disturbed. Her father calms her, saying Darnay will be freed the next day. Then Madame Defarge herself happens by just as Lucie is waving to Darnay in the prison window. They are alerted to her presence by "a footstep in the snow"—like the echoing footsteps the Manettes used to hear outside their Soho house. Madame Defarge does nothing more than greet them, but she casts "a shadow over the white road"—and over the hope Lucie had been feeling. Moments later, three tumbrils pass, carrying the condemned to the guillotine. Readers know Madame Defarge would like nothing better than to see Darnay, Lucie, and little Lucie make that same journey.

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