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

Summary

Tellson's Bank in Paris is in a wing of a large house. In front of it is a courtyard that is shut off from the street by a high wall and a strong gate. The house had belonged to a nobleman who had fled France, running away from the troubles of his homeland. The house has been confiscated for use by the citizen-patriots. Tellson's wing, therefore, enjoys a peculiar safety.

Mr. Lorry is sitting in his room in Paris on the night of September 3, thankful that none of his friends are here to witness the terrors that surround him. A new revolutionary power, the Paris Commune, has usurped the government, including the police and prisons. Anyone suspected of being an aristocrat or sympathetic towards the aristocratic cause is immediately imprisoned. A tribunal has been appointed to decree summary justice, and the ruthless murder of prisoners, known as the September massacres, has begun.

Mr. Lorry's thoughts are interrupted by the ringing of the bell at the gate. Lucie and her father rush inside. He is astonished to see them and wonders why they are in Paris. Lucie informs him of Darnay's being held prisoner at La Force. Lucie is sent to an adjoining room so Mr. Lorry and Dr. Manette can talk.

Lorry shows the doctor what is going on outside. Thousands of people have gathered to sharpen their bloody weapons on a grindstone. The men using the grindstone are stripped to the waist and are stained all over with blood. Mr. Lorry tells Dr. Manette that the mob is butchering all the prisoners in La Force. He tells the doctor he must act quickly to save Darnay. Dr. Manette runs out to the crowd and tells them something. He then leaves with the mob as Mr. Lorry watches from the window. He goes in to tell Lucie that her father has gone in search of Darnay.

Notes

Tellson's Bank in Paris is housed in the splendid townhouse of Monseigneur the Marquis, who had earlier held a reception attended by Evremonde (Book Two, Chapter Seven). Ironically, this aristocratic stronghold that had witnessed the degenerate life style of the rich has become the headquarters of the citizen- patriots. Since the bank is situated in the building occupied by the patriots, it is peculiarly safe from revolutionary terror.


The scene outside the townhouse is horrifying. A grindstone has been set up so that the patriots can sharpen their knives and axes in order to participate in the mass murder of the prisoners in La Force prison. The mob has been reduced to a group of butchers-- a name that suits them perfectly, for they think of the aristocrats as animals. In truth, the mob has become more bestial than the victims they kill. As time passes, they will also become more violent, replacing the grindstone with the guillotine.

Dickens continues to include actual historic events within the novel. The formation of the Paris Commune and the cursory nature of the trials for the aristocrats are factual. His portrayal of the mob is also realistic; but it is obvious, that as the mob participates in ever increasing and senseless violence, Dickens becomes more critical. He mocks their motto of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The only freedom these revolutionaries have gained is the power to murder. Equality and brotherhood are hollow words.

Dr. Lorry wants to spare Dr. Manette from witnessing the terrifying scene around the grindstone, for he fears the doctor will have another relapse; but Dr. Manette has changed. He now has one purpose in life - to rescue Darnay; that is why he has come to Paris. He had promised, in Chapter 10 of Book 2, that he would never allow anything to come in the way of Lucie's happiness, and without her husband, she is miserable. Moreover, he feels he has a debt to repay to Lucie, for her love and compassion have resurrected him from death.

When Dr. Manette learns that the mob is killing prisoners at La Force Prison, where Darnay is being held, he knows he must act immediately. He goes out into the crowd, explains his story, and leaves with a group of them, obviously headed towards the prison to find his son-in-law.

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