A Tale of Two Cities Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


A Tale of Two Cities: Novel Summary: Book II Chapter 1-3

Average Overall Rating: 4
Total Votes: 3048

Book II
Chapter 1-3

It is five years later, the year 1780, and Tellson's Bank of London remains an old-fashioned place, proud of its smallness, darkness, ugliness and inconveniences. The old partners in the firm suffer no improvements and in this way mirror England as a whole. Death is meted out for all offenses, whether it be unlawfully opening a letter or stealing a horse. Though this policy increases rather than decreases crime it has the very satisfactory effect of dispensing with each case forever. All the men who work at Tellson's are old. The bank employs an odd-job man, named Jerry Cruncher, who waits outside its door ready at a moment's notice for whatever errand that he is assigned. While he is on these errands his son (age twelve) waits in his father's place. Mr. Cruncher's apartment, which he shares with his wife and son, consists of two cramped rooms that are very neatly kept by Mrs. Cruncher (first name Aggerawayter). He awakes one morning in 1780 to find his wife praying, or as he indecorously calls it "flopping", which he claims works against him. He throws a muddy boot at his wife and advises his son that his mother is praying away their income and food. The boy keeps an eye on his mother while his father cleans his unaccountably muddy boots. At breakfast, Jerry angrily stops his wife from saying a blessing over the meal claiming he won't have his "wittles blest off [the] table." Just before nine o'clock he and young Jerry (who like his father has spikes of hair upon his head) encamp themselves in front of Tellson's to wait for any work that might arise. Soon there comes a call for a porter and the elder Cruncher leaves the younger to ponder why his father always has iron rust on his hands.

Jerry is sent to the Old Bailey courthouse with a message for Mr. Lorry. He is instructed to make his presence known and then wait until Mr. Lorry needs him. Before Jerry leaves the clerk tells him that the Bailey is trying treason cases that day. Jerry observes that the punishment for that offense is quartering which he calls "barbarous." The old clerk responds that Jerry had better respect the law which is immutable and for the best. Using the note provided by the clerk, Jerry gains admittance to the courtroom (a privilege for which most people paid money) and is informed that the man to stand trial will most assuredly be found guilty. As instructed, he attracts Mr. Lorry's attention and then waits to be entertained by the trial.

When the prisoner enters the room everyone carefully examines him except a wigged gentleman sitting with the defense counsel. This man stares at the ceiling. The accused man is about twenty-five years old with dark good looks and the bearing of a gentleman. The judge announces that the accused, Charles Darnay by name, has pled "Not Guilty" against charges that he is a traitor in the service of the French king. The prisoner's eyes stray, and those of the spectators with them, to a young woman and her father who are seated beside the Judge's bench. The young woman obviously sympathizes with the prisoner. The spectators wonder who the father and daughter are and what part they will play in the trial. Standing far in the back of the room, Jerry learns that the father and daughter are called there as witnesses for the prosecution.

Using very grand language, the prosecuting Attorney General states that the prisoner has been engaged in traitorous activities against their king and that the prosecution will produce unimpeachable, patriotic witnesses to attest to the prisoner's guilt. Furthermore, the Attorney General states that these witnesses have procured treasonous documents that, though admittedly not in the prisoner's handwriting, will prove that the prisoner has been monitoring the England's military forces for at least five years.

Several witnesses are called. The first is a man named John Barsad, who claims to be a gentleman and corroborates the Attorney General's assertion. Upon being cross-examined, however, he is revealed to be a gambler and is made to seem ridiculous when he is made to recall being pushed for cheating and then falling down a staircase on his own volition. The defense attorney implies that Barsad may hope to profit by his testimony by receiving employment as a government spy. The next witness, the prisoner's former servant Roger Cly, also asserts that his motives in procuring the lists were purely patriotic. He testifies that the prisoner has traveled between England and France often. The defense casts suspicion upon his motives, however, when it reveals that Cly has known John Barsad much longer than he has served the accused man. The third witness is Mr. Lorry who is unable to say whether the prisoner was one of the men who shared the Dover mail coach five years before but testifies that Darnay did come aboard the return ship from France soon after midnight when he returned with Lucie and Doctor Manette. The Attorney General questions Miss Manette and she testifies that the prisoner helped her find shelter for her father and was very kind and considerate at the time. Under questioning she is forced to admit that she did witness the prisoner exchange some papers with some French gentlemen before boarding the ship and that while on board he made a joke about George Washington achieving as much fame as the English King George III. Dr. Manette is questioned about the journey but admits that he can not remember the crossing due to mental sickness at the time. The prosecution then tries to prove that Darnay took the Dover mail coach and alighted early in order to glean the strength of a nearby garrison. The last witness is a man who swears that on the night in question he saw the prisoner in a particular coffee-room near Dover. The wigged gentleman staring at the ceiling passes a note to the defense attorney who, after reading the note, asks the witness if his learned friend who just passed him the note looks just like the prisoner. Everyone in the courtroom is immediately struck by the previously unnoticed similarity, and the witness admits that the man does resemble Darnay. The judge asks Mr. Stryver (the defense attorney) if the purpose of this is to put his partner Mr. Carton on trial and Mr. Stryver replies that he is attempting to cast doubt upon the witness' memory. The similarity between the two men succeeds in destroying the witness' credibility.

The defense and prosecution sum up their cases and the judge, who obviously favors the prosecution, adds his observations. Jerry Cruncher remarks to his neighbor that Mr. Carton, who continues to look at the ceiling, probably doesn't get much law work. At this moment, Mr. Carton cries out that Miss Manette is in danger of fainting. She and her father are escorted from the room and the jury, unable to reach an immediate decision, retires to consider its verdict. Mr. Carton asks Mr. Lorry about the young lady's condition and learns that she will recover. He offers to take this information to the prisoner. Carton asks Darnay what verdict he expects to receive. Mr. Carton agrees with Darnay that it would be best to expect the worst, but offers the observation that the jury's failure to reach an immediate verdict should be taken as a positive sign. An hour and a half later the jury returns and Mr. Lorry calls for Jerry to take the message "ACQUITTED" back to Tellson's.

Analysis of Chapters 1-3
This section serves to introduce Jerry Cruncher, a decidedly comic figure but also a representation of the English urban peasantry at the time. He is a relatively simple man who is seemingly content and vigilant in his position as Tellson's only trusted messenger. He is determined to provide food for himself and his family and the hints, such as the rust on his hands or mud on his boots, that he may have a more dishonorable occupation as well, that he has another, secret occupation serve to underscore his devotion to his stomach. Significantly, Dickens uses Cruncher as his perspective on Charles Darnay's theater-like trial, which is portrayed to be little more than entertainment for the mob. As such, Charles Darnay's trial is a grand play attended by a rapt audience with only Sydney Carton uninterested in the result. Carton displays interest in his surroundings first when he notices the similarity between himself and Charles Darnay and later when he notices that Miss Manette is about to faint. In both instances his thoughts can be attributed to where his interest most lies, namely himself and his desires. His later dialogue with Darnay reveals that he considers himself to be beyond redemption and, as such, free to give his opinion with regard for another's welfare or feelings.


Quotes: Search by Author