A Tale of Two Cities Book the Second, Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis

Charles Dickens

Book the Second, Chapters 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis

Summary:

Five years have passed. Book Two opens with a grim description of Tellson’s Bank, which is old-fashioned and dark. Dickens connects Tellson’s dirty and gloomy appearance, as well as the highly questionable morals of its bankers, to England’s outdated stance on the death penalty. We learn that, during the time of the novel, people are being regularly executed for minor offenses.

The scene shifts to Jerry Cruncher waking up in his “decently kept” home nearby. He begins berating his wife, who is kneeling in prayer beside him. Cruncher thinks her praying will cause the family to have bad luck. He and his son, who bears a remarkable resemblance to him, continue to ridicule her throughout breakfast. They go to work outside of Tellson’s Bank, where they await orders from Lorry. Cruncher is called away to perform an errand. His son sits outside of the bank and wonders why his father’s fingers are always rusty.

Cruncher arrives at the Old Bailey (London’s largest court) for his errand. He is supposed to deliver a message to Lorry in the courtroom and then wait for Lorry’s instructions. Cruncher learns that the man on trial has been accused of treason, the punishment for which is execution. Cruncher enters the courtroom and speaks with a man who eagerly awaits the sentence. We learn that the man on trial is Charles Darnay, a twenty-five-year-old described as “well-grown and well-looking,” and that Lucie Manette and Jarvis Lorry have been summoned as witnesses against him.

Analysis:

Tellson’s Bank symbolizes not only the major economic ties between London and France but also the tyrannical and archaic systems of power (especially the aristocracy and corrupt politicians) that oppress the lower classes. The bank is “very small, very dark, very ugly, very incommodious”—attributes that are celebrated by the morally dubious partners who benefit from its “old-fashioned,” unjust policies. Furthermore, the bank’s connection to capital punishment for petty offenses (such as theft) strengthens the unfavorable parallels that Dickens draws between the two cities. England’s practice of brutal execution (which is awaited with sadistic excitement by spectators) is made immediately apparent through the trial of Charles Darnay, who, if convicted of treason, will be drawn and quartered (his body will be cut into four pieces after being “half hanged”).

Jerry Cruncher, who is Jarvis Lorry’s porter, is one of the novel’s other resurrectors; however, he performs the literal and grisly “resurrection” of dead bodies from graveyards so he can sell them. His superstitious fear that his wife’s praying will bring bad luck to the family suggests guilt; he is not the “‘honest tradesman’” that he purports to be. His family’s poverty, however, necessitates his secret and gruesome profession.