illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Second, Chapter 21 Summary and Analysis

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Time passes. Lucie and Darnay have two children, a “little Lucie” and a boy, who dies young. Lucie listens to the echoes of Soho Square as the years go by. Though the echoes are sometimes sorrowful, they are mostly “friendly and soothing sounds.” There are, however, increasingly menacing echoes coming from France, and they “rumbled menacingly in the [street] corner all through this space of time.”

The French Revolution begins in Saint Antoine. Ernest Defarge and his wife are at the front of the mob, leading the peasants in their revolt. They descend upon the Bastille, whose prisoners are released. The prison guards are slaughtered, their heads mounted on pikes. Monsieur Defarge and “Jacques Three” demand to be taken to “One Hundred and Five, North Tower,” the cell where Dr. Manette had been held. They find his initials in the wall: “A.M.” for “Alexandre Manette.” Jacques Three and Monsieur Defarge burn everything in the cell. Meanwhile, the governor is killed, and Madame Defarge cuts off his head. The narrator hopes that the echoes of these sinister footsteps remain out of Lucie’s life, for “they are headlong, mad, and dangerous...and not easily purified when once stained red.”


As the years pass, Lucie can hear the increasingly troubled echoes that foreshadow the inevitable advent of the French Revolution. She weaves her “Golden Thread” even tighter, drawing her family closer together as the political situation continues to unravel in France. When the Revolution does begin in 1789, masses of outraged and starving peasants are reduced to bloodthirsty animals. The novel’s portrayal of the unruly mob suggests the potential hypocrisy of violent social uprisings: the Republic (the political body formed after the Revolution began) fights against oppression and tyranny by becoming oppressive and tyrannical. Furthermore, Madame Defarge’s cruel beheading of the governor foreshadows the coming of a much more efficient execution machine: La Guillotine.

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