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A Tale of Two Cities | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Book 3, Chapter 6 of A Tale of Two Cities, how does Dickens warn readers that Charles Darnay might not be safe despite his acquittal?

Although this chapter seems to be about Charles Darnay's acquittal and triumphant return to his family—it is even called "Triumph"—there are a number of indications that his freedom may not last: By the time Darnay is called before the Tribunal, 15 of the 20 people with him have already been condemned to death, and before he leaves the building, the other five have been condemned as well. The jury is clearly as bloodthirsty as the rest of the "citizens," which shows just how precarious any prisoner's continued existence really is. During Darnay's trial the Defarges are present but seem emotionally remote. They don't even look at him. Instead, they "seemed to be waiting for something with a dogged determination, and they looked at the Jury, but at nothing else." Madame Defarge, as usual, is knitting, which is ominous in itself because she may, even now, be adding to her register of the condemned. She also carries an extra bit of knitting under one arm, which might be the section of the register condemning Darnay, Lucie Manette, and their daughter. At this point, it is still not clear what she has against Darnay, but it is certainly a great enough crime that her husband is supporting her despite his misgivings about Darnay's guilt and about Lucie's culpability. Despite their joy over his acquittal, the mob is fickle. As the narrator says, "tears were shed as freely as blood at another time." As he's carried through the streets, Darnay sometimes gets the feeling he's in a tumbril being taken to the guillotine. This seems to foreshadow coming events. Finally, Dr. Manette's certainty that he has "saved" his son-in-law just seems too good to be true, especially with Lucie trembling inexplicably and uncontrollably against his chest.

In Book 3, Chapter 7 of A Tale of Two Cities, how has Dr. Manette's situation changed?

As the chapter begins, Dr. Manette is absolutely certain that he has saved Charles Darnay from a death sentence. By the end, however, he again feels helpless. When Lucie Manette hears someone on the stairs, the doctor accuses her of being too fearful and insists that there is no one there. But Lucie is correct: Four men have come to take Darnay back to prison. Dr. Manette is incredulous and asks, "Do you know me?" as if to say he is untouchable. But no one in France is untouchable, and while the doctor's life is unlikely to be in danger, Darnay's life, just as Lucie feared, is at stake again. The doctor probably did not expect the Defarges to denounce Darnay; after all, Defarge was once his servant and friend. He also doesn't know Madame Defarge suffered personally from the Marquis's crimes, so he had no reason to suspect they would bring new charges against Charles. Under the new law, however, their accusation is as good as a death sentence, and the doctor's reputation as a victim of the old regime will not help. Under the current government, law trumps reputation. In any case, there is a third person who has denounced Darnay, and the men who come to take him are surprised that Dr. Manette is asking who that person is. They refuse to say more, but their surprise is a clue that it is actually the doctor himself who has unknowingly denounced his own son-in-law. Thus, his reputation, whatever its influence, is now more likely to convict Darnay than help him.

How does Dickens ensure readers will dislike Solomon Pross when they finally meet him in Book 3, Chapter 8 of A Tale of Two Cities?

From time to time, the narrator has mentioned Solomon Pross, Miss Pross's degenerate brother, who stole from her and disappeared. Up to now, readers have viewed him largely through the eyes of Mr. Jarvis Lorry, who very much admires Miss Pross and her obstinate refusal to think ill of her brother. Now he has been resurrected, and readers have the opportunity to judge him for themselves. Solomon Pross turns out to be the secret identity of another despised character in the novel: the lying spy John Barsad. Sydney Carton reminds readers that Barsad is the person who tried to frame Charles Darnay back at the Old Bailey. He also explains that Barsad is currently a spy for the prisons because he has seen him going in and out to share information. In addition, he has seen Barsad with Roger Cly, who is supposed to be dead, and it turns out Barsad was in on the fake funeral that cost Jerry a night's work. (By the end of the novel, Jerry has become a far more likable character than he was at the start. He functions as a protector for the Manettes and is friendly and civil with Miss Pross.) Barsad, readers learn, is not just a spy, but that lowest of the low, a counterspy. He appears to be working for the French government, but is actually spying on them for the British government. When Carton uses his knowledge to force Barsad into helping him, the reader is cheering him along. In a novel about how the people of France exacted a horrible vengeance for their oppression, this little bit of revenge on a nasty scoundrel is a welcome relief.

In Book 3, Chapter 9 of A Tale of Two Cities, what does Sydney Carton seem to be preparing for?

There are many clues in this chapter that Sydney Carton feels his life is ending. First, he's emotional enough to drop his hard veneer and show Mr. Lorry his true self, which up to now only Lucie has seen. The two men speak of Mr. Jarvis Lorry's accomplishments and the love and respect he has earned. The unspoken comparison is that Carton has not earned love and respect. Perhaps he hopes to rectify that before dying. They talk of Lorry's childhood, which feels closer now that he's older; when Carton says he knows the feeling, Lorry protests that Carton is young. Carton responds, "I am not old, but my young way was never the way to age." In other words, Carton never expected to grow old. His dissolute ways were likely to lead him to an early grave. However, now he seems to have some other end in mind. Carton then buys several substances at a pharmacy and is warned not to mix them. It is possible they are poisonous if combined. When speaking with Mr. Lorry, Carton didn't want Lucie Manette to get the impression that he might be taking Darnay "the means of anticipating the sentence"—that is, committing suicide before being taken to the guillotine. The narrator has mentioned several cases of prisoners killing themselves, so this is not impossible. However, the poison could also be meant for Carton himself. (Since he plans to replace Darnay if Darnay is convicted, perhaps he intends to cheat the guillotine.) Finally, Carton can't sleep and wanders the streets all night. Perhaps he's trying to get as much out of his last few hours of life as possible. The Biblical passage "I am the resurrection and the life," which was read at his father's funeral, forms a mantra as he walks. He hears it "in the echoes of his feet" and repeats it to himself. He examines his life and judges it purposeless. Things remind him of death. A boat "with a sail the ... colour of dead leaf" passes and "dies away." Carton prays for forgiveness, then goes to the Tribunal.

In Book 3, Chapter 10 of A Tale of Two Cities, how does the reading of the verdict reinforce the loss of humanity occurring at this point in the revolution?

At Charles Darnay's trial the day before, the Defarges did not reveal the document Dr. Manette had written so long ago denouncing the Evrémondes and all their descendants. They were, as the narrator said, "biding their time" to denounce Darnay and take revenge on his entire family. In the end, Monsieur Defarge's connection with Dr. Manette does not make a difference in sympathy for Darnay, because Madame Defarge does not have the same loyalty to the doctor that her husband has, and Madame Defarge is the more unyielding of the two. Although her husband has seemed on occasion to show some sympathy for Darnay, his first loyalty is to his wife. After all he knows her family's history. She is likely damaged psychologically. She is vengeful, but in Defarge's eyes probably needs protection. He acquiesces because he not only loves and admires her, but also wants to heal her if at all possible. For her part, Madame Defarge is gleeful regarding the doctor's supposed influence. She says to The Vengeance, "Save him now, my Doctor, save him!" In a way, she embodies the oppressed French populace who are now taking revenge on anyone they can connect with their former oppressors. The narrator says, "One of the frenzied aspirations of the populace was ... for sacrifices and self-immolations on the people's altar." This completely crazed thirst for blood and delight in the misfortune of others in the name of the Republic results in the president of the court, saying that Dr. Manette should be glad that an aristocratic family is being exterminated in this way. He says that the doctor should rejoice in "making his daughter a widow and her child an orphan." There is absolutely no sympathy for the doctor's sadness or loss. The desire to see another head roll at the guillotine is stronger than anything else.

In Book 3, Chapter 11 of A Tale of Two Cities, why does Sydney Carton send Dr. Manette to speak to the judges again?

It's clear from his conversation with Mr. Jarvis Lorry at the end of the chapter that Sydney Carton is sure Dr. Manette will not be able to get Darnay's sentence reversed. Mr. Lorry says that no one would dare overturn the decision "after the demonstration in the court." Carton agrees, saying, "I heard the fall of the axe in that sound"; the axe he "hears" is the blade of the guillotine. The condemned is clearly as good as dead. Still, Carton encourages the doctor to try. He likely has three reasons, only one of which—the one that is most important to both Mr. Lorry and himself—is mentioned in the chapter. That reason is Lucie Manette. He feels she may need to know every possible attempt was made to save him, so that she won't be troubled by thoughts that "his life was wantonly thrown away or wasted." Of course, he is thinking of himself, not of Darnay. He doesn't want her to think his life was cheaply cast aside. But right now he is the only one who knows that it is his life on the line and not Darnay's. Carton's second reason is that the doctor will need this consolation as well; otherwise he would feel guilty over Carton's death. Finally, Carton is hoping against hope that he will not have to go to the guillotine in Darnay's place. But this can only happen if Darnay receives a reprieve.

In Book 3, Chapter 12 of A Tale of Two Cities, what can be inferred from Dr. Manette's state of mind when he finally returns to Tellson's Bank?

In the early evening, Dr. Manette sets out to meet with the prosecutor, the president of the Tribunal, and other contacts of his to try to persuade them to reverse the judgment on Charles Darnay. When he finally returns to Tellson's Bank, he is several hours late, has lost his grip on reality, and is frantically searching for his shoemaking tools. This is not surprising. Much earlier, after the Tribunal sentenced Charles Darnay, he had already been unable to speak, raking his fingers through his hair and wringing his hands the way he had when he was insane. And before going out on his mission, his mood had been fragile despite his determination to try to save Darnay. When he returns, it is impossible for Mr. Jarvis Lorry and Carton to know whether he has actually spoken to anyone who might help Darnay. It may be that he tried, but couldn't find them or that he tried and failed to convince them; it may also be that he just wandered around the city, having taken refuge in his old madness. But one thing is clear: Darnay still has only hours to live.

In Book 3, Chapter 13 of A Tale of Two Cities, why does Sydney Carton have Charles Darnay write a letter to Lucie Manette?

Sydney Carton dictates a letter to Charles Darnay reminding Lucie Manette of what he promised her when they spoke with each other in private back in Soho: "there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you!" In the letter he asks her not to grieve over his decision. After all, in that conversation in Book 2, Chapter 13, he also told her, "I would embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you," making clear that he considered his life otherwise useless. He characterized his life this way: "I am like one who died young. All my life might have been." By having Darnay write the letter instead of doing it himself, Carton ensures he has the opportunity to drug Darnay so that Darnay can be taken out of the prison without giving the plan away. They have switched clothes, and Carton slips the letter into Darnay's breast pocket. It is written in Darnay's hand so that there is no evidence of Carton's being in the cell. In this way, he can save Darnay and console Lucie that he has only made good on his old promise and that he embraces his sacrifice.

In Book 3, Chapter 14 of A Tale of Two Cities, is the mender of roads better off than he was living in the village on the Marquis's lands?

Readers first meet the mender of roads when he tells the Marquis someone was hanging under the Marquis's carriage. Life is hard for him, and he is hungry, but he is willing to speak aloud to the Marquis and does not seem afraid despite the Marquis's reputation for cruelty. After all, he is useful to the Marquis. Some time later, the mender of roads is brought to Paris by Monsieur Defarge to join the revolutionaries. There, he meets Madame Defarge and rides with her and her husband to see the king and queen pass by. He finds that she makes him uncomfortable and somewhat afraid, which is how most people who know her react. By the end of Book 3, he has known Madame Defarge for years, and, if anything, that fear has grown. Then, he could not say what it was about her that frightened him, but now he suffers from "mortal fear." He even invents signals Lucie Manette is supposed to have made toward the prison in order to please Madame Defarge. He knows that she would denounce him without a second thought. He goes in fear "for his own personal safety, every hour in the day." At the same time, he is no richer and relies on tips from passersby like Lucie to supplement his income as a wood-sawyer. If anything, things are worse for him under the Republic than they were under the Marquis, which is saying a lot.

In Book 3, Chapter 15 of A Tale of Two Cities, how does Dickens wrap up the plot?

When reader last saw Mr. Jarvis Lorry, Dr. Manette, Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay, and little Lucie, they were speeding toward the coast in a hired carriage, fearful they would be caught. Dickens never returns to them. In fact, the story is told in three simultaneous episodes, each of which adds information about another. Readers only know, for example, that Miss Pross and Jerry Cruncher make good their escape because Mr. Lorry's carriage smoothly gets its changes of horse and postilions. But this sort of subtlety leaves too much to the imagination for Dickens, who winds up his novels with a summary of what happens to all the characters his readers have come to love. And that is what he does here—but in a unique way. Rather than having the narrator describe the futures of Mr. Lorry, Dr. Manette, Charles and Lucie, and the couple's family, it is Sydney Carton who tells their story. Instead of seeing his own life flash before his eyes in the seconds before his death, he sees the future lives of those he loves most, and it is through reading his thoughts that readers' curiosity is satisfied.

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