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Free Study Guide: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Free BookNotes

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BOOK THREE: The Track of a Storm

CHAPTER FIVE: The Wood-Sawyer


One year and three months have passed since Darnay's initial imprisonment. Lucie arranges her Parisian household as if her husband were there in hopes that he will soon appear. She also lives in fear. Every day she sees the tumbrels loaded with the condemned on their way to the guillotine and prays that Darnay is not included.

Every day she and little Lucie would walk to the prison, hoping to catch a glimpse of Darnay. She is informed by her father that Darnay sometimes catches a glimpse of her standing outside. Next to the prison is a woodcutter's shop, and the road-mender from earlier in the novel is the wood sawyer. Lucie is at first scared of him, but she still talks to him and offers him drinking money.

One day, there is a crowd rejoicing, as if there were a festival. A mob wildly rushes around the prison in a Revolution Dance called the Carmagnole. Lucie is frightened as the mob passes and is relieved to see her father standing protectively over her. He tells her that Darnay is to be brought to trial the next day. He also says that because of the activity it will be safe for her to signal Darnay. As Lucie gives her signal, Madame Defarge walks by; it is a bad omen.

Lucie and her father go to give Mr. Lorry the good news about Darnay. Mr. Lorry has a visitor that he does not want them to see, so he hurries the person into the next room before receiving the Manettes.


The reappearance of the road-mender as the wood-sawyer later becomes significant to the plot. Throughout the novel, he has been a symbolic figure who sends people to their doom, especially those that belong to the Evremonde clan. He has now been posted outside his wood shop to specifically spy on and report the nature of Lucie’s actions by the prison. He looks forward to the day when her husband and all the Evremondes will be eliminated. Lucie is bothered by this smiling, friendly villain and senses something is not right with him. In order to try and win his favor, she talks to him and gives him drinking money.

Dickens presents another, very different, mob scene in this chapter. The revolutionaries wildly dance about the prison in a feverish, bloodthirsty pitch. Dickens' prose catches the rhythm of the dancers, as they gnash their teeth and frantically whirl. He clearly indicates that this dance of devilry can only lead to destruction. In many ways, the dance, called the Carmagnole, is more threatening than a rioting mob, for it shows that a healthy pastime has turned into an arousing dance of impending death. Appropriately, Madame Defarge emerges from the confusion to greet Dr. Manette. It is the second time Lucie has seen her, and again she feels repulsed and threatened by her presence.

Amidst the wild behavior of the revolutionaries, there is a piece of wonderful news. Darnay’s trial is scheduled for the next day. Lucie and her father rush off to share the good news with Mr. Lorry. The chapter ends with an element of suspense. The identity of the mysterious person who is closeted with Mr. Lorry, and who has visibly upset him, is not revealed.



Darnay is brought in front of the dreaded Tribunal. Looking at the jury and the onlookers, he feels as though the usual order has been reversed and that now the felons are trying the honest men. The men in the courtroom are armed with various weapons while the women are wearing knives and knitting. Darnay notices Defarge and his wife; she has a spare piece of knitting under her arm and whispers into Defarge's ear.

At first, the onlookers seem hostile towards Darnay, but they respond favorably when they hear that he is married to Dr. Manette's daughter. They are sympathetic to the Doctor and appreciate the work he does. Because of this, their attitude towards Darnay changes from hostility to sympathy. With Dr. Manette’s testimony, Gabelle's letter as evidence, and the sympathy of the crowd, Darnay is released. As he leaves, the crowd follows him. They are jubilant, rejoicing, and dancing the Carmagnole; they lift Darnay up and carry him home. Along the way, Darnay looks for the Defarges, but they are nowhere to be seen. At first, he is a bit apprehensive about what is happening and imagines himself to be heading toward the guillotine. This feeling soon passes. Once he reaches home he hugs everyone, kisses his wife, and carries her upstairs. Lucie prays thankfully.


At last Dr. Manette succeeds in his efforts to bring Darnay before a Tribunal and have him released. The crowd that attends the trial is the lowest and cruelest of the populace. They comment noisily and applaud or disapprove according to their whims. It is obvious that their emotions control the verdict.

There are parallels between Darnay’s first trial and this one. In the first, he was accused of treason, of being a spy; now he is also accused of treason, for being an aristocrat. At both trials, being an emigrant has caused him problems. In London, he is accused of making several trips to France, and here he is accused of being unpatriotic as he has fled his country. On both occasions, Darnay is trying to help someone, and his very act of kindness gets him into trouble. His noble birth and upbringing cause his tribulations.

Dickens depicts the fickleness of the mob, who first condemn and then applaud Darnay. When they celebrate his acquittal with rejoicing and dancing, there is a dream-like quality about the action. It is no wonder that Darnay feels a little apprehensive, even after he is a free man. His fear that he is really heading to the guillotine is also prophetic. It is also significant that the Defarges disappear immediately after Darnay’s release.

Both Lucie and Darnay realize that Dr. Manette has been instrumental in gaining his release. Darnay thanks his father-inlaw, acknowledging his indebtedness. Lucie gratefully lays her head on her father's breast as he had done on hers, a long time ago. Dr. Manette is overjoyed that he has been able to make his daughter happy again; it is adequate payment for his long life of suffering.

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