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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 One: In Secret

Summary

Darnay's trip at the end of August, 1792, is very trying. The road between Calais and Paris is bad, and at every town-gate and village-taxing house, there are soldiers who stop and question him and all fellow travelers. While staying in a small town on the way to Paris, Darnay is awakened at night by a local official and three armed soldiers in red caps. They have come to escort him to Paris. On reaching the town of Beauvais, a crowd gathers to curse him angrily and call him a traitor. The innkeeper there explains that a decree has been passed that condemns any emigrant who returns to France to be put to death; since Darnay is a Frenchman who has abandoned France, the decree applies to him.

Upon arriving in Paris, an officer asks to see all of Darnay's papers and addresses him as a prisoner.

When the officer finds Gabelle's letter, he shows surprise and goes off into the guardroom. As Darnay waits for his return, he watches the city gate and realizes that it is easier for people to enter Paris than to leave.

After half an hour, Darnay is taken inside to another officer, who confirms that the prisoner is an Evremonde, and is told that he will be assigned to La Force prison. Darnay tries to explain himself, but the officer tells him that he has no rights. Darnay is instructed to follow Defarge, who inquires if he is the Evremonde married to Dr. Manette's daughter. When Darnay replies in the affirmative, Defarge reveals who he is and asks him his reason for coming to France. Darnay states that he has already explained himself; Defarge looks darkly at him.


Darnay is taken to La Force. Through the dismal prison light, the jailer accompanies him through various locked doors until they come to a large, low, vaulted chamber. The room is crowded with prisoners of both genders. The women are seated at a long table, reading, writing, knitting, sewing and embroidering. The men stand behind chairs or walk to and fro. Darnay recoils at the sight, but the prisoners greet him with refinement. He then recognizes the elegance, pride, and high breeding of aristocracy. As he passes through their chamber, they wish Darnay well and hope that his calamity will end soon. He turns at the grated door to thank them, and then finds himself in a lonely cell, where he is tormented by ghostly voices.

Notes

Darnay's return to his riot-torn homeland of France is meant to be a spiritual journey for him. He is not prepared for the terror that reigns supreme throughout the land; he is shocked by the violence that he sees on every stage of his journey towards Paris. Before he makes his destination, he is awakened during the night and arrested. In Paris, he is imprisoned -- at the hands of Defarge, who will show him no mercy. The irony of the entire situation is obvious. Darnay, an innocent man who has never been part of any atrocity, is thrown into prison, while the cruel, murderous mobs roam the streets inflicting violence. As a result of the Revolution, there has been a total inversion of social hierarchy and logic. Ironically, the Bastille, a symbol of injustice in the social order of the aristocracy, is replaced by La Force, which now is the symbol for injustice of the new order.

There are many echoes of Dr. Manette's life in this chapter. The mob tries to attack Darnay in Beauvais, the very village from where Dr. Manette hailed. Defarge, his interrogator, is the old servant of Dr. Manette; it is ironic he helped the doctor escape, but imprisons his son-in-law. Darnay's solitary cell is a flashback to Dr. Manette's solitary confinement. Echoes of the past haunt Darnay, and he hears voices reminding him of how Dr. Manette made shoes while he was confined to his cell.

Dickens builds the plot with great care so that the reader cannot miss the fact that Darnay is going to suffer the same fate as Dr. Manette. He is going to be prejudged, without any means of presenting his case, and "buried alive." There is no hope for his communication with his family. He will be lost to the world, just like his father-in-law had been lost.

It is important to note how Dickens describes the aristocrats in this chapter. Throughout the book he has presented their callousness and cruelty. When Dickens shows a group of them in La Force, he points out their refinement and kindness for the first time. It is almost like he has been made to re-evaluate his opinion of the aristocracy after viewing the mob's violent behavior. Dickens is obviously saying that there are two sides to every story.

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