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A TALE OF TWO CITIES: ONLINE STUDY NOTES / LESSON PLANS
Jerry Cruncher, the messenger from an earlier chapter, is still working at the bank as the handyman. In this chapter, he has just been called from bed to come to the bank. It obviously has not put him in a good mood, for he argues with his wife, complaining loudly about her prayers and throwing a boot at her. Although there was probably some comic intent in this domestic scene, it has lost some of its humor through the ages. But his tendency towards violence, as seen in this chapter, will have some significance later in the novel.
It is important to notice how the novel is divided into books and then further
divided into chapters. The reason for this structure was because Dickens
originally published it in a magazine in serialized form. In light of
this, it is amazing to see how he is able to present an accurate and “whole”
picture of many of his characters, like Lucie and Cruncher, early in the
novel, when the latter part had not yet been completed.
When he arrives at the bank, the clerk tells Jerry to go down to the courthouse, the Old Bailey, and wait for Mr. Lorry. The clerk gives him a note that he is supposed to pass to Mr. Lorry by way of the doorkeeper of the courthouse. The case being tried that day is for treason. The punishment is that the guilty be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Jerry Cruncher thinks the punishment is barbarous.
Due to the nature of the trial, a large crowd of spectators has gathered outside the Old Bailey. Jerry Cruncher makes his way quietly through the crowd to the door of the courthouse and hands the note to the doorkeeper, as instructed. A few minutes later the door opens allowing him to squeeze in. The doorkeeper takes the note to Mr. Lorry, who is seated amidst some gentlemen in wigs. Not far away sit two more wigged gentlemen. One is Mr. Stryver, counsel for the prisoner, while the other is Mr. Sydney Carton, who sits with his hands in his pockets staring at the ceiling. Jerry Cruncher manages to catch the attention of Mr. Lorry who nods and signals to him to wait there.
The prisoner is brought in. Everyone turns to look at him except Sydney Carton,
who continues to stare at the ceiling. The prisoner is a young man of
about twenty-five, good-looking, and obviously a gentleman. He is dressed
plainly in dark colors, and his hair is gathered in a ribbon at the back
of his neck. He is self-possessed, bowing to the judges and standing quietly.
He looks around the room, and his eyes rest on two witnesses, a young
woman of around twenty-five and a gentleman who evidently is her father.
The father looks remarkable due to the whiteness of his hair and the intense
look on his face, like a man who is absorbed with his own thoughts. The
daughter has one hand drawn through his arm and the other pressed upon
The conversation between Jerry Cruncher and the bank clerk reveals that the death sentence is frequently imposed even for the slightest crimes. Few in England, except for characters like Cruncher, seems to question the unjust and barbarous laws; there is an air of complacency, which causes the people to accept the laws, just because they are the law. The irony is that crime does not abate despite the extreme punishment.
The curiosity and eagerness of the crowd to see a man convicted and hanged points to a dormant thirst for blood. The onlookers have already preordained the verdict in their minds; the criminal is convicted to death even before the trial.
Charles Darnay, the accused, is the protagonist of the novel. He is young and handsome, and it is obvious that he is a gentleman by upbringing. His composure seems to be an indication of his innocence, for Dickens usually describes his virtuous characters as passive, having the ability to take a great deal of strain without showing it.
It is significant to note that all the key characters in the novel, whose
lives are going to be linked throughout the plot, are brought together
in this first chapter of the Second Book. Darnay is on trial, and Lucie
Manette and her father are to serve as witnesses for the prosecution.
Sydney Carton, a successful lawyer, is also present. Dickens intentionally
ends the chapter with a great deal of suspense. No explanation is given
as to why Darnay is on trial or why Lucie and Dr. Manette are going to
serve as witnesses. Carton’s role in the trial is also not disclosed.
Neither is any comment made as to the mental and physical state of the
doctor. Since he is supposed to serve as a witness, however, it can be
assumed that a significant improvement has taken place in his well being
in the five years that have passed since the end of Book One.
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