illustration of a guillotine

A Tale of Two Cities

by Charles Dickens

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Book the Third, Chapters 14 and 15 Summary and Analysis

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Summary:

Meanwhile, as “the fifty-two awaited their fate” in La Force prison, Madame Defarge meets with Jacques Three and The Vengeance in the wood-sawyer’s shop. She no longer trusts her husband, because he is too sympathetic toward Dr. Manette. She decides to denounce Lucie and little Lucie, saying that the Evrémonde family must die out. Jacques Three assures her that his “patriotic jury” will condemn them and then fantasizes about beheading little Lucie. Madame Defarge argues that Dr. Manette must die, too, because she allegedly saw him “signalling” to Charles Darnay with Lucie during Darnay’s first imprisonment. Madame Defarge decides to visit Lucie, armed with a knife and loaded pistol. It is a crime against the Republic to mourn for the condemned, so Madame Defarge hopes to witness Lucie grieving for her husband. While Madame Defarge makes her way along the city streets, Jerry Cruncher and Miss Pross prepare for their departure from Paris. Lorry, who did not want an inspection of his carriage to be prolonged by two extra people, ordered a second carriage to convey them out of the city as quickly as possible. Miss Pross, however, worries that two carriages departing the same location will awaken suspicion, so she asks Jerry Cruncher to stop the carriage and meet her at the cathedral. He leaves, but Miss Pross is soon confronted by Madame Defarge, who demands to see Lucie. Miss Pross does not comply, and the two women fight. Madame Defarge reaches for her pistol, but it accidentally fires—killing her and permanently damaging Miss Pross’s hearing. Miss Pross, however, meets with Jerry Cruncher, and the two safely leave Paris.

Sydney Carton and the young woman ride in one of six tumbrels that “rumble” toward La Guillotine. The “regular inhabitants” are so accustomed to the spectacle that many ignore the procession. Barsad sits on the steps of a church, watching. A man yells, “Down, Evrémonde!” The tumbrels arrive. The Vengeance, who sits with her knitting at the foot of La Guillotine, calls for Madame Defarge (who, as we now know, has very recently died).

One by one, each prisoner is called up to La Guillotine. The young woman is next. She thanks Carton for his kindness, and he tells her, “Keep your eyes upon me, dear child, and mind no other object.” When it is her turn, they kiss. She proceeds to La Guillotine, “is gone,” and “the knitting-women count Twenty-Two [heads].” Carton follows, imagining Barsad, The Vengeance, Roger Cly, and the other “new oppressors . . . perishing by this retributive instrument,” while Paris will, with its “brilliant people,” rise “from this abyss.” He imagines himself holding a “sanctuary” in the hearts of Lucie, Darnay, their children, Dr. Manette, and Lorry—and “in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence.” He steps up from the scaffold, and “all flashes away. Twenty-three.” Afterward, many people claim that his was “the peacefullest man’s face ever beheld there” and that he looked “sublime and prophetic.”

Analysis:

Sydney Carton’s selfless sacrifice facilitates the salvation of Dr. Manette, Charles Darnay, Lucie, and little Lucie. The novel’s treatment of redemption, however, seems closely intertwined with justice. Carton, whose love for Lucie has made him empathetic and uncharacteristically unselfish, is presumably saved by dying; conversely, Madame Defarge, whose hatred has made her ruthless and violent, accidentally shoots herself while trying to pull a pistol on Miss Pross. The intensely loyal Miss Pross, along with Jerry Cruncher, escapes Paris relatively unharmed (except for the tragic loss of her hearing). Dutiful Lorry, who is not the detached “man of business” he purports to be, successfully conducts Dr. Manette and his family back to England. Had Carton decided to return to England after Darnay’s trial, Madame Defarge would likely have denounced Lucie and Dr. Manette, and everyone would have been executed.

Furthermore, Carton’s prophetic vision suggests that, in the end, the revolutionaries will inevitably be brought to justice. While he imagines himself resurrected in the form of Lucie’s son, he sees the Republic consumed by its own lust for bloodshed. The Vengeance, Solomon Pross (Barsad), and Roger Cly will all eventually fall victim to the passions of the mob. The novel ultimately suggests that violent social rebellion is both hypocritical and futile; the Revolution has not brought about positive change.

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Book the Third, Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis