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A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens
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2.) What does the defense lawyer try to do to John Barsad in his cross examination?

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In Book the First, Chapter III, at the trial of Charles Darnay, who is accused of "treasonable practices," after the Attorney-General presents his case against Darnay, Mr. Solicitor-General examines "the patriot," John Barsad:

The story of his pure soul was exactly what Mr. Attorney-General had described it to be--perhaps, if it had a fault, a little too exactly. Having released his noble bosom of its burden, he would have modestly withdrawn himself, but that the wigged gentleman with the papers before him,...begged to ask him a few questions.

When the barrister named Stryver begins his questioning, he immediately attempts to discredit this witness, asking him if he were ever a spy, then inquiring about how the man makes his living. When Barsad says that he lives on his property, but does not know where this property is, doubt is raised about him. 

Ever been in prison?...Never in a debtors' prison?....Come, once again. Never?...How many times?....Of what profession?...Ever been kicked? ....Kicked on that occasion for cheating at dice? Ever live by cheating at play?... Ever borrow money of the prisoner?...Ever pay him?.... Sure he saw the prisoner with these lists?...Had not procured them for himself?...Expect to get anything for this evidence?....Not in regular government pay and employment to lay traps?...No motives but motives of sheer patriotism?

With his questioning, orotund C. J. Stryver suggests that the witness Barsad is an unreliable witness--a man who himself has been imprisoned for debt, involved in espionage, and a thief himself.

Very critical of the justice system of England himself, the cynicism of Charles Dickens is quite evident in this satiric scene. For this "patriot" with the "pure soul" is certainly more suspect than the man on trial. This courtroom scene alludes to the opening chapter in which Dickens describes both the superlative crime as well as the excessive injustices committed against citizens. Certainly, this trial foreshadows some of the absurd inquisitions of the panel of bonnets rouges during the French Revolution.

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