Summary and Analysis
Chapter 2 - A Sight
Jerry is told to take a note to Mr. Lorry at the Old Bailey law court and to stay there until Mr. Lorry needs him. After arriving at the Old Bailey and giving the doorkeeper the note to deliver to Mr. Lorry, Jerry makes his way into the crowded courtroom. The court is hearing a treason case, punishable by the grisly sentence of being drawn and quartered. The accused, Charles Darnay, stands quietly and calmly before the crowd until he catches sight of Lucie and Doctor Manette , who are witnesses against him. The spectators follow his eyes and are touched by Lucie's expression of fear and sympathy for Darnay.
Dickens uses the courtroom scene to vilify the British legal system, with the Old Bailey embodying the uncompromising harshness of the law. Charles Darnay's case in particular highlights the bloody nature of criminal sentences: If found guilty, he will be drawn, half hanged, eviscerated while still alive, beheaded, and cut into pieces.
While such a sentence is gruesome in itself, more disturbing is the avid interest the courtroom spectators take in Darnay's fate. The man who describes the sentence to Jerry speaks "with a relish"and the "eager faces"of the crowd stare at Darnay with an "Ogreish"fascination. Dickens points out that such an interest in a condemned man is "not the sort that elevated humanity."
As Dickens shows repeatedly throughout the novel, crowds can bring out the basest natures of people. Interestingly, the one thing capable of elevating the sensitivities of the crowd is the sight of Lucie Manette's concern and pity for the prisoner.
Old Bailey London's historic main criminal court on Old Bailey Street.
Tyburn public hangings in London took place at gallows called the Tyburn Tree until 1783.
pillory a device consisting of a wooden board with holes for the head and hands, in which petty offenders were formerly locked and exposed to public scorn; the stocks.
a trap a hinged or sliding door in a roof, ceiling or floor, which lifts or slides to cover an opening.
Bedlam the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, a London insane asylum, where Londoners went to watch the mentally unstable for entertainment.