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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Four: Calm in a Storm

Summary

After four days, Dr. Manette finally returns from La Force. He tells of the horrors committed there by the mob and the thousands of people that have been killed. He has seen the self- appointed tribunal, which summarily tries the prisoners and sentences them to death. In an effort to save Darnay, he presents himself to the tribunal, one of whom is Defarge, and tells them of his past. He uses all his influence to have a quick and fair trial for Darnay, hoping he will be heard and released. He is told, however, that Darnay will remain imprisoned.

While he and Lucie wait for Darnay's trial and release, Dr. Manette devotes himself to working as a physician. Before long, he is appointed as the inspecting doctor for three prisons, among them La Force. As a result, he can regularly check on his son-in- law. He is delighted to find that Darnay is no longer in solitary confinement, but mixed with a general body of prisoners. He is also happy to be able to bring messages from Darnay to Lucie.

Darnay lies in prison for one and a half years. During this time, a new era begins; France is made a republic -- of Liberty, Freedom, Equality, or Death. The king is tried for treason, condemned, and executed by guillotine. A Law of Suspects is created to allow the government to imprison anyone who is suspected of any crime. A new tribunal is set up and given extraordinary powers to try summarily all those charged with any hostility to the state. A Committee of General Security and a Committee of Public Safety are formed to hunt down and punish political crimes. The Reign of Terror has truly set in. During all these changes, Dr. Manette never stops trying to have Darnay freed.

Notes

In this fourth chapter, Dr. Manette clearly takes over as the central figure and remains so for the remainder of this third and final book of the novel. He begins by averting Darnay's execution for the time being; as a result, there is a period of relative calm for Lucie and the family, despite the fact that the revolution rages on like a wild storm. While they wait for Darnay's hoped for release, the doctor devotes himself to being a physician, helping patients from all walks of life. In spite of the grave injustice done to him earlier in life, he now has no need for vengeance; Lucie's love has cured his hatred. His character, therefore, emerges as a sharp contrast to the revolutionaries, like the Defarges, who are filled with hatred and revenge.

Ironically, the years of suffering in prison have made Dr. Manette wise, strong, and patient. His sole purpose in life is to save Darnay. He gets himself appointed to the position of inspecting physician of La Force so that he can regularly check on Darnay's state and bring messages from him to Lucie.


Dr. Manette's vivid description of mob rule once again underlines the total absence of justice in the new order of France, which Dickens describes in detail. The ushering in of the Reign of Terror is marked by sweeping governmental changes that are depicted through a vigorous and dramatic prose style, filled with sensory images, metaphors, and sarcasm. The comparison of the mob to the sea still persists; but now it is a deluge--not caused by rain from heaven but by the opening of hell. A reference is made to Jason, who went in quest of the golden fleece and had to fight an army of thirty thousand men; the mention of the classical story points out the enormity of the task facing those who wish to restore order and justice to France.

The guillotine takes the form of a female figure and jests are made about her power as she cures headaches, prevents hair from turning gray, gives the complexion a delicate tinge, and is the National Razor for a close shave. Once again, the revolution is feminized in a negative way, as has also been done through Madame Defarge and the Vengeance. Dickens also stresses the total absence of Christianity from the Reign of Terror. The guillotine has replaced the Cross and is canonized like a saint; the patriots bow before it and wear miniatures of it around their necks.

Amazingly, because of Lucie's love and nurturing, none of these things make Dr. Manette slip into his past; he walks among these terrors with a steady heart, head, and hand. He has one driving purpose in life - to save Darnay and insure Lucie's happiness.

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