A Tale of Two Cities Book the Second, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

Charles Dickens

Book the Second, Chapter 14 Summary and Analysis

Summary:

Jerry Cruncher sits on his stool outside of Tellson’s Bank and watches the crowd. A funeral procession approaches. The crowd becomes riotous. Cruncher is excited and asks several people about the cause of the uproar, but no one seems to know. They loudly speculate: “Spies! Yaha! Tst! Spies!” We learn that the funeral is for Roger Cly, Charles Darnay’s former servant. His body is accompanied only by a single mourner, who is “dressed in the dingy trappings that were considered essential to the dignity of the position.” The crowd is convinced that Cly and his mourner are spies and grows violent. The single mourner is driven out of the coach but escapes by shedding his cloak and other trappings. The crowd tears these to pieces and storms the coach.

Tradesmen hurry to close up their shops because a crowd “in those times stopped at nothing, and was a monster much dreaded.” The “disorderly procession,” which now includes Jerry Cruncher, reaches St. Pancras, where Cly’s body is buried. The mob, still energized, lingers to harass casual passersby. Jerry Cruncher does not join them; instead, he returns to Tellson’s, where his son has been waiting. They walk home, where Cruncher berates his wife because he is convinced that her prayers are causing him to be unsuccessful in his business.

Cruncher leaves to go “fishing” in the middle of the night. His son, who is highly suspicious, stealthily follows him through the streets. Cruncher is joined by two other men. They arrive at a churchyard and, as the church tower looks on “like the ghost of a monstrous giant,” begin digging up (or “fishing for”) a coffin. Cruncher’s son is terrified and runs home. The next day, as they walk to Tellson’s, he asks Cruncher what a “Resurrection Man” does. Cruncher responds that a Resurrection Man is a “tradesman” whose goods are “a branch of Scientific goods.” Cruncher’s son asks if these goods are “persons’ bodies,” and Cruncher says he thinks so. His son says he would “so like to be a Resurrection Man when [he’s] quite growed up!”

Analysis:

The unruly English crowd is swept up by intense feelings of anger and hatred—feelings so intense that, though no one seems to know the cause or purpose of the riot, most of the peasants are compelled to join in the chaos. As we shall see, the power of these emotions (which may be characterized as “revolutionary sentiment”) will become very important when the French Revolution begins. Depictions of masses of rioters vandalizing shops and assaulting innocent passersby suggest that violent uprisings are not conducive to social progress. The lack of social progress is perhaps further underscored by Jerry Cruncher, who returns to the gruesome profession of grave-robbing that is necessitated by his family’s poverty.