illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Second, Chapters 22 and 23 Summary and Analysis

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A week has passed since the Bastille was taken by the revolutionaries. Madame Defarge is sitting in the wine shop with a plump woman nicknamed “The Vengeance.” Ernest Defarge arrives, panting, and announces that “old Foulon,” who told hungry peasants that they could “eat grass,” has been captured. The peasants join together once more, and the mob arrives at Hotel de Ville, where Foulon is being held. Foulon is beheaded amid fury and excitement. His head is mounted on a pike and his mouth stuffed with grass. The peasants return to their homes, victorious but still starving.

The French countryside has become desolate, and its people seem worse off than before the Revolution began. The mender of roads has taken shelter from a hailstorm on a hot July afternoon. He sees a stranger—a “shaggy-haired man, of almost barbarian aspect”—approaching. They greet each other and join hands as though they are comrades. The stranger asks for directions to an undisclosed location. The mender of roads complies. That night, the Marquis’s chateau goes up in flames. Monsieur Gabelle, the village functionary (who collects taxes), is terrified that he will be murdered. The peasants spare his life, but we are told that “other functionaries [were] less fortunate, that night and other nights, whom the rising sun found hanging across once-peaceful streets.” Conversely, peasants in other villages were “less fortunate than the mender of roads and his fellows,” because the functionaries and soldiers “turned with success” and “strung [them] up in their turn.”


The novel’s interest in the hypocrisy of the revolutionaries deepens. The Vengeance, who has become close with Madame Defarge, is unusually “plump” for the wife of a starved grocer, suggesting greed and corruption. Moreover, the brutal violence does nothing to alleviate the peasants’ suffering; they are still starving when they return to their homes after beheading “old Foulon” (Joseph-François Foullon de Doué, a politician). Dickens therefore questions the efficacy of violence as a means of social reform. The futility of this violence is especially evident in the bloody conflicts between functionaries and peasants; rather than bringing about positive change that might alleviate poverty and starvation, the revolutionaries seem to have only brought about bloodshed on both sides.

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