Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapter 22
A week after the fall of the Bastille, the revolutionaries learn that Foulon, a hated official who they thought was dead, is alive and has been captured. Apparently Foulon, who had said that starving people could eat grass, faked his death in order to escape the revolutionaries. Upon learning that Foulon is being held at the Hotel de Ville, Madame Defarge leads a mob to the hotel. With the help of the Defarges, The Vengeance (Madame Defarge's assistant), and Jacques Three, the mob seizes Foulon, stuffs his mouth with grass, and then hangs him from a lamp post. After he dies, they behead him and put his head on a pike. The crowd then captures Foulon's son-in-law, who has ridden into Paris under heavy guard. The mob kills him and places his head and heart on pikes. The men and women of the mob return to their homes that night, still hungry but happy and hopeful for the future.
The violence in Paris continues as Dickens again fictionalizes historical events. Joseph-Francois Foulon was an actual person who orchestrated his own funeral and was later killed in the way Dickens describes. His mock funeral and subsequent capture conveniently tie in to the resurrection theme found throughout A Tale of Two Cities. In describing Foulon, Dickens is sympathetic. Foulon is an elderly "wretched old sinner"who continues "entreating and beseeching for mercy"as the crowd drags him through the streets.
The mob, however, has no mind to understand mercy. Dickens depicts the process of people being transformed by the mob, stressing the change taking place in the women, who he believes should be the moral center of society. He describes the women as "a sight to chill the boldest"as they "lashed into blind frenzy, whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they dropped into a passionate swoon."
Madame Defarge is especially disturbing, for she is the one woman who seems to keep her sense of self. As she plays a game of cat and mouse with Foulon, she watches him "silently and composedly"as he begs for mercy. Her behavior here demonstrates her heartlessness and potential for cruelty, preparing us for her ruthlessness in Book III.