Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrels carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in one realization, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.
In this concise and beautiful passage, which occurs in the final chapter of the novel, Dickens summarizes his ambivalent attitude toward the French Revolution. The author stops decidedly short of justifying the violence that the peasants use to overturn the social order, personifying “La Guillotine” as a sort of drunken lord who consumes human lives—“the day’s wine.” Nevertheless, Dickens shows a thorough understanding of how such violence and bloodlust can come about. The cruel aristocracy’s oppression of the poor “sow[s] the same seed of rapacious license” in the poor and compels them to persecute the aristocracy and other enemies of the revolution with equal brutality. Dickens perceives these revolutionaries as “[c]rush[ed] . . . out of shape” and having been “hammer[ed] . . . into . . . tortured forms.” These depictions evidence his belief that the lower classes’ fundamental goodness has been perverted by the terrible conditions under which the aristocracy has forced them to live.