Beloved

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Toni Morrison

The next chapter in the book occurs after another long gap in time.  It is now 1789.  On the surface, events in England are idyllic.  Lucie and Darnay have been married for eight years.  They have had two children during that time, a boy and a girl.  The son died of a childhood illness, but the daughter, Lucie, is alive and healthy.  Carton has remained a friend of the family and developed friendships with both children.  Carton has not given any real outward indication of change in his behavior.  He remains the jackal to Stryver’s lion, has not married, and remains dissolute.  In contrast, Stryver has moved past his feelings for Lucie and has married and become a stepfather. 

In France, events are becoming increasingly tumultuous.  The aristocracy, which has long been oblivious to problems among the lower class, begins to realize that real problems are brewing.  For example, the aristocracy, fearing for its financial assets, makes a run on Tellson’s Bank in Paris.  When Mr. Lorry shares this information with the Darnay/Manette family, he seems to feel like those events will not remain isolated to France, but will impact their lives, as well.  At this point in the novel, this is not yet the case, but it certainly foreshadows the way that the Revolution will directly impact Darnay and the Manettes.

The aristocracy’s fears are well founded.  In San Antoine, the peasants are arming themselves in preparation for a violent revolt.  The Defarges lead the attack on the Bastille.  The Bastille is an important target for multiple reasons.  First, it is a symbol of oppression by the French government, because so many people were imprisoned for no real reason within the Bastille.  However, it is also an important plot device.  Dr. Manette was imprisoned in the Bastille, so if the Revolutionaries are to discover anything about Dr. Manette’s imprisonment, that location is a critical one.  In fact, Monsieur Defarge, who cared for Dr. Manette after he was released from prison, seems to know that he will find something in Dr. Manette’s old cell.  He searches it thoroughly.

The storming of the Bastille gives a hint to the reader that the Revolution will not end the violence in France, but will simply redirect it toward a different target.  The Revolutionaries take the prison’s governor to the Hotel de Ville.  He does not make it to his destination alive; the mob beats him to death before he can get there.  However, death is not enough for Madame Defarge; after his death, she cuts off his head.  This beheading is symbolically important, as the French government used beheadings and corpse mutilation as means of intimidation for the peasants.  The reader recalls that Gaspard was displayed as a way to inspire fear in the peasants.  The storming of the Bastille leads to the liberation of seven prisoners.  The Revolutionaries behead seven prison guards and display their heads on pikes to avenge the seven prisoners.  This is not simply a plot device employed by Dickens.  The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, did mark the beginning of the actual French Revolution.  Moreover, seven prisoners were liberated, and seven guards and the prison governor were beheaded during that siege.

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