Describe the events of the storming of the Bastille in A Tale of Two Cities.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charles Dickens capitalizes upon the image created by the usual expression, "the storming of the Bastille" by employing sea imagery in Chapter 22 of Book the Second in  A Tale of Two Cities as he describes metaphorically the beginning of the French Revolution as a "dreadful sea rising," a "raging sea" and "a whirlpool of boiling water."  In the previous chapter, Dickens writes that Defarge is "swept" from his wine-shop

.... over the lowered drawbridge, past the massive stone outer walls, in among the eight great towers surrendered!

So resistless was the force of the ocean bearing him on, that even to draw his breath or turn his head was as impracticable as if he had been struggling in the surf of the South Sea, until he was landed in the outer courtyard of the Bastille.

Swept along with the mob Defarge is led to cell One Hundred and Five, North Tower in the Bastille, an old prison for political enemies, where the initials A.M. for Alexandre Dumas are written as well as the words "poor physician."  Then, Defarge is caught in "the howling universe of passion and contention" as bloodshed begins and Saint Atoine's "blood was up," an allusion to Chapter 5 of Book the First in which the wine cask spills. 

Continuing the imagery of the sea, Dickens presages the destruction to come with the forces of Fate and the revolutionaries described as 

black and threatening water, and of destructive upheavings of wave against wave, whose depths were yet unfathomed and whose forces were yet unknown.

Defarge or any other has no control over this angry, headlong, and mad mob.  Reflecting upon the continuing revolution, Chapter 22 is entitled "The Sea Still Rises."  The metaphoric character, the Vengeance, emerges as the mob is led by Defarge and Madame Defarge, who has her knife in her girdle. "The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger" as they take any weapons they find, but the women are "a sight to chill the boldest."  They capture the old aristocrat Foulon who had said of the starved peasants that they might eat grass.  Binding him with ropes, they taunt him, saying "Let him eat it [grass]now!"  At this, Madame Defarge claps her hands "as at a play." 

Like birds of prey, the Jacques and Vengeance and Defarges and others drag Foulon taunting him as he is forced to keep a mouthful of grass.  The mob sets his head and heart "on pikes, and carried the three spoils of the day, in Wolf-procession through the streets."  It has been a day of raging passion, vengeance, cruelty, and carnage that will continue.It is worthy of note that Dickens imposes the present tense upon his last paragraph of Chapter 21, indicating this continuation to come. 

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A Tale of Two Cities

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