In Chapter 1 of "A Tale of Two Cities," what is indicated about the character of the English people of this period of 1775?What is indicated by the methods of capital punishment, the scenes in the...

In Chapter 1 of "A Tale of Two Cities," what is indicated about the character of the English people of this period of 1775?

What is indicated by the methods of capital punishment, the scenes in the Old Bailey, and at Tyburn?  Please Help.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the very first chapter of "A Tale of Two Cities," Dickens draws parallels between the lawlessness of the two countries. France, under "the guidance of her Cristian pastors," entertains herself by having people severely punished if they do not bow to the passing clergy.  For instance, one youth has "his hands cut off, his toungue torn out with pincers" and is burned to death because he does not bow as a "dirty procession of monks passes him. Dickens also mentions that

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting.  Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, too place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsteres' warehouse for security; the highwayman in the dar was a City tradesman in the light, and being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the head and rode away....

Crime abounds, man's inhumanity to man is prevalent.  Especially in the justice system, this cruelty is apparent.  The hangman is busy, "today taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and tomorrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpense."  These allusions to the ease at which sentences of death were handed down in the Old Bailey are familiar to readers of Dickens's other novels. The difference, however, between England and France is that the English perceive themselves morally better:

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeing smoothness down hill.

Nevertheless, the foreshadowing of the declines of both countries in their moral degradation is apparent.  England will soon be engaged in a war with its colonies in the American Revolution, and France will be engaged in its bloodiest civil disruption, the French Revolution.  The first of many parallels that Dickens draws in his poignant tale of devotion and sacrifice, this turmoil of both countries acts as the background for the novel.


dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 1 of Tale of Two Cities, the author indicates that the English people at the time live in a state of complete lawlessness.  Crime is rampant, and little can be done to stop it.  The author describes "daring burglaries" which take place "in the capital itself every night", corruption so rampant that City tradesmen are highwaymen in the dark, and such callousness towards violence that when law enforcement officials try apprehend criminals by gunning them down, they are gunned down in turn and no one thinks anything of it.  The Lord Mayor of London himself is "made to stand and sight of all his retinue", and the perpetrator gets away with his audacious crime.  The hangman through all this is "ever busy and ever worse than useless".  Justice is arbitrary, and even though many are administered the ultimate punishment of death, which can only be characterized as barbaric, the harshness of the system does little to curb the preponderance of crime everywhere.  In short, England at this time is described as being completely lawless, and law enforcement and the penal system are ineffective.  The English live in a state of chaos.

Old Bailey and Tyburn are not specifically mentioned in Chapter 1, but the terms refer to the criminal courts and the gallows respectively.  The author indicates that the lawlessness of the English people has gone beyond the point where the courts and the threat of capital punishment have any impact at all, and he notes ominously that, while all this chaos is going on, the common people, "the Woodman and the Farmer", go about their business "unheeded".  Despite the fact that the common people traditionally have little stature in the greater scheme of things, they are quietly gathering strength while the lawmakers and nobles become increasingly ineffectual.  The story that will be told will be that of the overlooked masses, the common people in English (and French) society (Chapter 1).

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A Tale of Two Cities

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