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Free Study Guide-A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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Chapter Twenty-one: Echoing Footsteps


It is now 1789, eight years later. Life is pleasant for the Darnays. Both he and the Doctor are earning good money. Lucie and Darnay have a little girl who is also named Lucie; they also had a son who died young. Lucie often feels as though she will also die soon, but the feeling always passes. Lucie also constantly hears echoes of footsteps that seem to come from afar and indicate trouble. On little Lucie's sixth birthday, these echoes seem to rumble menacingly and suddenly change in sound to that of a great storm in France.

Carton comes to visit the Darnays at least six times a year. He continues to work for Mr. Stryver, who is now married to a rich widow with three stupid children. Carton is always sober on his visits. He is also the first stranger that little Lucie reaches out to; during his visit, she grows excessively fond of him.

Mr. Lorry comes in one night. He is a bit grumpy since things are very busy at the bank. There is more work because of the unrest in Paris. Mr. Lorry recalls the footsteps that Lucie had heard earlier and confesses that he too can now hear footsteps converging upon them. Both he and Lucie have clear premonitions of the revolution in France having an affect on them.

The district of St. Antoine in Paris is a seething mass of raging women and men. Arms and weapons of all kinds are being distributed. Every woman and man seems to be mad with a fierce, implacable passion for revenge; they are ready to sacrifice everything. Finally, under the leadership of Defarge, the mob storms the Bastille and releases all the prisoners.

Defarge and Jacques Three then make their way to One Hundred and Five, North Tower, the number of the cell where Dr. Manette was imprisoned. The two men search the cell for something, which Defarge evidently finds and stuffs into his pockets. They then join the mob outside, which is continuing with their bloody rioting. They behead the governor and the prison guards and place their heads on long spikes.


The sound of echoing footsteps haunts Lucie through this period of eight years of married life. Sometimes the echoes are happy ones, representing the footsteps of her daughter, husband, father, and other loved ones. Sometimes, however, the echoes are menacing and seem to warn of trouble to come, a destructive force to unsettle the peaceful life of the Darnays.

For the most part Lucie's life is pleasant. She continues to be the golden thread who binds everyone together with her pure love and compassion. She is the ideal daughter, wife, and mother, looking after everyone's needs and never seeming harried. Her sorrow at the death of her son is bearable, for as a pious woman, she can accept it as God's will. Although Lucie's character seems too accepting and almost dull by today's standards, she was the Victorian idea of female perfection.

Carton continues to be a friend of the family and is the perfect gentleman in their presence. Little Lucie takes an instinctive liking to this seemingly worthless man. Mr. Stryver has changed little in the intervening years. He has married for money and judges people in a materialistic way. He is very rude when he brings his three wild sons to be tutored by Darnay. When Darnay politely refuses to tutor the boys, Stryver is indignant and warns him to "beware the pride of beggars."

He even has the nerve to tell his wife that Lucie had tried to trap him into marriage. Dickens clearly depicts Stryver as an incorrigible cad.

Mr. Lorry also calls on the Darnays regularly. He explains that the increased work at Tellson's Bank is due to the uneasiness that grips Paris. He, like Lucie, hears echoing footsteps of a crowd that does not portend good things. At the end of the chapter, Dickens describes in detail some of the bad things happening in Paris. Under the leadership of Defarge, the revolutionaries attack and capture the Bastille, freeing the prisoners held within its cells, many of them "patriots". They kill the prison guards and the governor and place their heads on posts for all to see. The Revolution has clearly begun.

When the scene shifts from a tranquil, domestic one to the turbulence of Paris, Dickens' style also changes. The rather dull, placid prose of the first half of the chapter is replaced by swift, vigorous descriptions, filled with graphic detail of the revolutionary actions. The angry mob is compared to a violent sea, washing over things with a fury; this image will be sustained through the next two chapters as well.

Although preoccupied with the theme of revolution at the end of the chapter, Dickens does not forget the main plot of the novel. Defarge's visit to One Hundred and Five, North Tower, Dr. Manette's old prison cell, is significant, especially in light of the fact that he seems to find something important there.

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